Geographies of the bioeconomy: Agricultural commodity chains, agrichemicals and uneven development

Type: Virtual Paper
Sponsor Groups: Geographies of Food and Agriculture Specialty Group
Poster #:
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 1:30 PM / 2:45 PM (PDT)
Room: Virtual 42
Organizers: Christian Berndt, Marion Werner
Chairs: Ryan Galt


The biotech revolution in agriculture – including GMO seeds, intensive pesticide and fertilizer use, and digital platform technologies – is transforming agrifood production in increasingly dramatic and uneven ways. Long considered the domain of industrial agriculture in the Global North, the biotech-agrifood complex is undergoing important geographical shifts that throw into question the long-standing directionality of agrifood commodity chains analyzed in economic geography, political ecology, and environmental studies. In addition to the rollout of advanced production technologies (e.g. digitalization) in key southern countries, Global South agribusiness corporations are playing larger roles in the global production, trade and use of pesticides, fertilizers and other advanced technology inputs. These sociospatial shifts occur in tandem with major institutional restructuring of top-tier firms, evidenced by the mergers of Syngenta with ChemChina, Bayer with Monsanto, and Dow with Dupont in just the past five years. A “double movement” reaction to unprecendented corporate consolidation and chemical intensivity is underway as regulatory struggles break out unevenly over a multiscalar field. Consumers, workers, and scientists are challenging not only the use of known toxic pesticides, but also the legitimacy of the State to determine the safety of pesticides, biologicals and other inputs under monopoly corporate conditions. Beyond these struggles in North America, Europe, India, Argentina, and elsewhere, China is pursuing an aggressive policy of upgrading in the agrichemical industry, while mainstream development agencies and their philanthropic partners are seeking to extend the biotech-agrifood complex to smallholders under the sign of ‘climate-smart agriculture.’ Inspired by recent work on south-south value chains (e.g., Horner and Nadvi 2018), commodity chain socionatures (Bakker and Bridge 2006; Baglioni and Campling 2017), the political ecology of industry (Huber 2017) and off-farm capital (Galt 2014), and emergent research on the racial, gendered and colonial constituents of “chemical geographies” (Romero et al. 2017; Mansfield 2018; Williams 2019), this panel seeks to foster critical conversations on the chemicalization and digitalization of global agriculture. We are motivated by a concern for the uneven geographical distribution of the social and ecological gains and costs of agribiotech, as well as its intrinsic limits (e.g., incalcitrant socionatures, depletion of ecological surpluses) and social resistance. Who profits from the ongoing transformation of agrichemical commodity chains? How are profits distributed and captured? Who loses out in the uneven distribution of the gains and burdens of the chemicalization of agriculture? How can we take account of socionatural limits (e.g., ‘weed’ and ‘pest’ resistance to biocides) and human resistance? How to conceptualize the relationship between the two?


Type Details Minutes Start Time
Presenter Becky Mansfield*, The Ohio State University, Geographies of glyphosate (i.e. Roundup) regulation in the wake of international regulatory failure 15 1:30 PM
Presenter Maria Castro Vargas*, ICTA/ Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Marion Werner*, University at Buffalo, SUNY, Generics rule? Struggles over pesticide regulation in Costa Rica 15 1:45 PM
Presenter David Lansing*, University of Maryland - Baltimore County, Knowing Bodies: Antimicrobial governance across agrifood commodity chains 15 2:00 PM
Presenter Gideon Hartmann*, University of Cologne, Daniel Wilson Ndyetabula, Sokoine University of Agriculture, Peter Dannenberg, University of Cologne, Turning Global Value Chains upside down? Governing agricultural production through the supplier-driven fertilizer GVC 15 2:15 PM
Presenter Christian Berndt*, University of Zurich, Christine Wiederkehr, University of Zurich, Argentina’s place in global pesticide markets: Chemical agents, sociotechnical entanglements and uneven geographies 15 2:30 PM

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