Accepted Paper:

Who is the farmer in promises about biotechnology for development?  


Koen Beumer (Utrecht University)
Sjaak Swart (Energy and Sustainability Research Institute Groningen)

Paper short abstract:

This paper discusses issues of credibility in promises about biotechnology for development. In particular, we investigate how subjects of development are constructed in diverging promises about biotechnology’s impact on development.

Paper long abstract:

This paper examines the regime of promising in the case of biotechnology for development by focusing on the figure of the smallholder farmer. The promise that agricultural biotechnology can benefit development is widely contested. This controversy revolves around diverging accounts of the impact of biotechnology on smallholder farmers, who are considered the main subjects of development (Stone & Flachs, 2014).

We investigate the different farmer subjectivities that are constructed in this controversy in Africa. Based on semi-structured qualitative interviews with a wide range of stakeholders in Kenya and South Africa, this paper demonstrates that the diverging assessments biotechnology's promise for development are rooted in different ideas about the smallholder farmer.

The paper will highlight that depending on how the farmers is constructed as subject of development, different forms of evidence are required for promises to be credible. For example, evidence about the decreasing pesticide requirements fall on deaf ears for those who consider farmers as guardians of cultural heritage while evidence of increasing farmers debts have little meaning for those considering farmers as agents in achieving national food security.

STS literature on emerging subjectivities in regimes of promising has predominantly focused on issues of democracy and the construction of publics (e.g. Irwin, 2006; Michael, 2009). By drawing upon anthropological literature on the construction of farmer identities (e.g. Burton, 2004; Haggerty et al., 2009; Schneider, 2015), this paper extends the scope of this literature to include emerging subjectivities in issues of development.

Panel T094
Emerging science and technology : questioning the regime of promising