This working paper by Dominic Glover is about the social construction and social shaping of agricultural biotechnology in relation to international development. Genetically modified (GM, transgenic) crops have come to occupy a prominent place in contemporary debates on agricultural development, in relation to a diverse range of issues including productivity and economic growth, food security and nutrition, sustainability and climate change.
Yet the types of GM crops and traits currently on the market are widely acknowledged to have been designed to meet the needs of farmers in industrialised countries and to offer little to small-scale farmers in the developing world. Though a range of more relevant crops and traits may be in the pipeline, they appear to be some way off.
This paper examines how it came about that a technology widely recognised to have such marginal relevance to developing-country agriculture nevertheless came to be talked about as if the challenges of development were one of the central justifications for the rapid commercialisation of GM crops in both developed and developing countries.
Focusing on the case of the international agribusiness company Monsanto, the paper demonstrates that stories about sustainability and feeding the world played an important role in driving and shaping that company’s technological and commercial strategies over a period of twenty years, even though they had little influence over the actual content of the technologies that were being developed in Monsanto’s laboratories.