Haunting fungus. Re-imagining Philippine banana plantations as more-than-human interaction
Robin Thiers (Ghent University)
Paper short abstract:
A fungus threatens Philippine banana plantations. I argue practices of "producing despite" push us to understand plantations as being shaped through more-than-human interactions. This in turn opens a window to imagine new and unknown futures.
Paper long abstract:
Since around 2010 a parasitic fungus (fusarium oxysporum f.sp. cubense TR4) is attacking monocrop banana plantations in the Philippines. Banana companies, government authorities and international scientists respond to a supposed "Bananageddon" with disease containment interventions and resistance-breeding. These responses are based on an exogenous framing of the disease, as inflicted by an external intruder (the fungus) to an otherwise stable and controlled plantation environment. This framing sustains a modern imagery of the plantation as a space in which man and nature can be mobilized as 'alienated' (i.e. 'as if the entanglements of living did not matter', Tsing 2015) production factors in a benevolent process of capital accumulation. Alternatively, I suggest the haunting presence of the fungus - microscopic, enduring and highly mobile - draws us to the more-than-human interactions that shape plantation geographies, and to new and unknown possible futures. The paper builds on fieldwork conducted from 2015-2018 with sector participants in the Philippines and abroad, engaging with the fungus in a variety of ways. In their practices of "producing despite" the fungal threat different types of growers mix science-sanctioned advice with on-field experimentation and knowledge-sharing in daily interactions with neighbors, suppliers and friends. While possibly encouraging further spread of the fungus, these practices also generate their own forms of knowledge and new opportunities for innovation and accumulation. More radically, thinking with the fungus encourages some people to question the modern agro-industrial plantation altogether, alternatively grounding their agro-ecological advocacy and practice in the "more-than-human" entanglements of plantation soils.
Liveability in a time of ecological destruction [Humans and Other Living Beings Network]