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Tropicalization and the Politics of Knowledge Production in Brazil

Authors: Ryan Nehring*,
Topics: Agricultural Geography, Latin America, Political Geography
Keywords: Brazil, science and technology, ethnography, agriculture
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Colonial and postcolonial history has shown that scientific knowledge production is inherently transnational and laden with power relations – from the local to the global level. This paper focuses on the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa) as a window into the politics of nationalizing scientific knowledge production. In the paper, I draw on two cases of research projects that ‘nationalized’ scientific knowledge in the agricultural sector. The first analyzes the social relations of knowledge production in the ‘tropicalization’ of the carrot, a crop that was previously only produced in temperate climates and had little to no importance in the Brazilian diet and food market. Due to the research undertaken at Embrapa, the carrot is now a staple of Brazilian diets and a robust market crop. The second case looks at the interaction between public agricultural research on indigenous vegetables and a sample of small producers who are beginning to produce these ‘non-conventional’ crops. Researchers and small farmers are working together to produce and market native Brazilian vegetables for a growing niche of consumers. These plants have been overlooked as potential market crops despite being present in many Brazilian diets for centuries. I utilize these two examples of research at Embrapa as lenses to analyze the different ways in which social relations of knowledge production is both transnational and also situated within the distinct materialities of the political economy of agriculture. The paper is based on 18 months of ethnographic research in Brazil at the headquarters and laboratories of Embrapa.

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