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Glyphosate as Mother’s Little Helper: A Feminist Political Ecology of West Africa’s Herbicide Revolution

Authors: William Moseley*, Macalester College, Eliza Pessereau, Macalester College
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Africa, Agricultural Geography
Keywords: Agriculture, Feminist Political Ecology, Herbicide, Labor Constraints, New Green Revolution for Africa
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Architects of the New Green Revolution for Africa (GR4A) have sought to improve food production and nutrition by encouraging small farmers to purchase improved seeds and inputs and increasingly sell their crops at market. While the discourse often depicts African farmers as slow to adopt outside technologies, it ignores a long history of strategic adoption by these actors. Furthermore, there are many shifts happening in global agricultural input and commodity markets that overshadow the GR4A as a force for change, suggesting that the green ‘revolution’ may be a ripple in a larger shifting sea. During fieldwork in Southwest Burkina Faso in 2019, we found that 92% of 141 female farmers interviewed are now using herbicides on a routine basis, representing a dramatic increase from previous decades. What factors are driving this uptick in herbicide use by female farmers? Using a feminist political ecology framework, we explain this shift as primarily driven by three factors. 1) Women have limited control over household labor and thus face serious labor constraints in their own farming efforts. 2) The rise of generic herbicide production in India and China since the early 2000s means that this labor saving technology is increasingly affordable in West African markets. 3) Artisinal gold production has siphoned labor away from farming systems across West Africa, further constraining female farmers’ access to labor. While increasing herbicide use is a rational response to labor constraints, it also contributes to growing health risks as well as the spread of herbicide resistant weeds.

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