Monsanto and Smallholder Farmers: A Case-study on Corporate Accountability
IDS Working Paper 277
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The Smallholder Programme (SHP) was an initiative undertaken by the transnational biotechnology, chemicals and seeds company, Monsanto. It had the stated purpose of providing smallholder farmers with a package of agricultural extension services, including technical advice, chemicals, seeds and other forms of support. Drawing on recent empirical research undertaken in the United States and India, this paper examines why and how the initiative was undertaken by the company, and considers its implications in terms of corporate accountability.
The accountability implications of the SHP were complex. This paper shows that the programme was created partly in response to pressure from Monsanto's critics and anti-biotechnology activists, but also rooted in the company's strategic determination to commercialise and develop the market for genetically modified (GM) crops and other products.
Accordingly, the SHP was only partially oriented around the needs of resource-poor farmers (more particularly, around a set of implicit, prior assumptions about their interests). It was also a strategic market-development tool, as well as a key part of a strategy to create and promote a positive association between GM crops and smallholder farmers. In some respects, the programme opened up new opportunities for farmers and empowered them to make demands of Monsanto's field staff, but the accountability that this allowed was limited and imperfect.
The story of the SHP is also interesting because it shows that Monsanto succeeded, to some extent, in integrating Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and sustainability aims into its operations. Partly as a result, however, the quasi-philanthropic purposes of the programme ultimately succumbed to competing commercial pressures and the programme was closed. The case therefore provides an interesting insight into challenges involved in 'mainstreaming' CSR.