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Not Too Big To Fail? Theorizing Agricultural Biotechnology Trajectories in Africa

Authors: Joeva Rock*, University of San Francisco, Rachel Schurman, University of Minnesota
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Agricultural Geography, Africa
Keywords: biotechnology, political economy, agricultural development, GMOs
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In this paper, we use a mix of ethnographic research and case studies from Ghana, South Africa and Burkina Faso to explore why, despite 25 years of impressive effort from some of the world’s largest philanthropic organizations, aid agencies and agribusiness companies, agricultural biotechnology (GMOs) has gained relatively little traction on the African continent. GMOs are controversial globally, and this conflict has not escaped the continent, where, we argue, the debate has become hyper-inflated and binaried between those who believe Africa is “starved for science” and those who view efforts to push GMOs as indicative of “biohegemony.” In staking their respective claims, both proponents and opponents of the technology present GMOs as stable and certain, when in fact the technology is anything but. In this paper we identify a complex choreography of conditions that must be in place for biotech to succeed, a choreography that rarely occurs. Yet regardless of whether or not GMOs successfully come to market, proponents of the technology are reconfiguring the political, legal and media spheres in many African countries in the name of supporting agricultural biotechnology. It is these reconfigurations, we argue, that are having real-time impacts on African agricultural futures and thus cry out for scholarly attention.

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