Gatekeepers of the maize web: dryers and silos

During our research we have repeatedly discussed how important dryers and silos are as part of the necessary  infrastructure in agri-food networks (see also previous post about the network of Spanish silos and our latest paper). In this entry I aim to share some of these thoughts with you.

Infrastructure is a major element of the global economy and manages the mobility of human and nonhuman entities through physical support facilities. In the case of commercial maize crops in Spain, since practically all maize is processed, dryers and silos become essential facilities to sustain the journey of maize through the agri-food system, specifically once it has been harvested in the fields and before it is sold to maize processing companies. The drying of the grains is a key activity for creating conditions for a good storage and further processing.

Dryer and silo infrastructure is very often found together in Spanish farmer cooperatives (which are at the heart of the Spanish maize production system). This means that, in order to dry it and store it, these cooperatives mix different types of maize produced in their surroundings. It is expensive to effectively separate GM, conventional and organic maize, so if there is some GM maize in the mix, the usual practice is that all maize is labelled as GM maize. In fact, we found that only a minority of farmer cooperatives in Aragon restrict the use of GM in their facilities and there are no specific dryers for organic maize either in Catalonia or Aragon.

Therefore these infrastructures exert a tremendous amount of power over both the possibilities for maize (e.g. for becoming an organic product for human consumption) and for the existence of different agri-food systems. Dryer and silos therefore act as a kind of gatekeeper in the journey of maize through the agri-food system.

Some organic maize farmers in Aragon have told us how the lack of existance of specific organic dryers is a huge problem for them, because it means they might have to invest more in finding an alternative, such as increasing transport costs to find a dryer in a different area that handles organic maize specifically; hiring a mobile dryer to come to them (which is more expensive), or try to dry the grain in the field (the viability of which is uncertain and subject to weather conditions).

Thus, it could be said that dryers and silos are political actants, as these infrastructures have a significant capacity for shaping both social and ecological realities in rural areas. They facilitate the existence (or lack of existance) of some forms of agri/culture over others, and can trigger explicit or latent conflicts among different agri/culture systems. For instance, one of the stories we were told was about a conflict between a farmer cooperative engaged in producing, drying and storing non-GM maize for human consumption and a local animal feed company. The former had been developing a strategy for convincing its members to not sow GM maize by ensuring them higher economic benefits. That meant that most of the local farmers were sowing non-GM maize for human consumption instead of GM maize for animal feed production. So the animal feed company tried to convince the farmers to return to GM maize by internalising and covering the drying costs, thus making it cheaper for farmers if they would grow GM maize.

Do you know of other rural stories in which infrastructure can be political?

No women farming maize in Spain

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During the last years working on alternative food systems and food sovereignty, I have had the opportunity to conduct research on agri-food systems from a gender perspective. In more concrete terms, during recent years I became particularly interested in aspects such as the role of peasant women in advancing socio-political changes like agroecology and food sovereignty, the situation of small-scale food artisan women in Spain and the links between food, environment and gender in alternative food systems in Spain (some of this research was done with my colleague in the Agri/Cultures Project Amaranta Herrero).

Unfortunately, it has, however, been rather difficult to link this previous work with women in agriculture with the work we are currently conducting in the Agri/Cultures Project. Basically this is because we are dealing with different cultures of agriculture for cultivating maize in this project and this is a task performed almost exclusively by men in Spain. After more than 15 years interviewing farmers producing maize in Catalonia and Aragón, I only heard from one woman cultivating maize commercially (who Amaranta had the opportunity to interview some months ago). We can also find some exceptions in the case of peasant women who are producing maize in backyards or small plots for the consumption of animals raised at home, but not at a commercial scale.

This absence could respond, however, to some of the conclusions of my previous research. First, maize production at a large scale is an expensive activity in Spain, with important investment costs in terms of seeds, irrigation, fertilizers, etc and the few available statistics indicate that women are usually not the holders of the land on family farms (the most common land tenure form in Spain) and when they are, they hold the smallest farms. They also tend to be in charge of non-mechanised tasks on these farms. We have also observed that women are usually linked to small-scale agricultural projects that prioritize quality, diversity and local food production, which is a very distant model from the highly mechanized and super-specialized commercial maize production in Spain in which maize is essentially considered a commodity used for the production of feed (around 85% of the maize in Spain).

It may be interesting to compare this situation in Spain with what we see in South Africa, although also there we see indications that women are the primary people running the farming activities when they are on a small-scale for subsistence but as soon as it moves into large-scale commercial business, it becomes a mans business. Does anyone else have any information on these kinds of gender issues and dynamics within maize farming in their own context?

In context trajectories: participation in an international symposium in Paris

Last Thursday (6th October) I participated in an international symposium titled “Studying the social, ethical and economic impacts of GMPs. Implementation of the EU Directive 2015/412” which was organised by the Haut Conseil des Biotechnologies of France. I introduced our proposal to use four different cartographies that represent the different journeys of a kernel of maize in GM, chemically-intensive, certified organic and agroecological agri-food systems in Spain, as a systems-based approach to assessing socio-economic and ethical aspects related to GMOs.

Screenshot from 2016-10-10 12-14-24The symposium was divided in two parts: the morning was devoted to the analysis of the implication of the Directive 2015/412, that allows EU Member States to restrict or prohibit cultivation of GMOs in their territory (or parts of it) on grounds that were not previously admissible. This includes grounds relating to public policy, socio-economic impacts or the impossibility of achieving “coexistence”. This session included presentations on different national approaches (France, Germany and the Netherlands) as well as a presentation on the position of the European Commission and a former representative of the World Trade Organization. Practical difficulties for applying the Directive were discussed. It was a very interesting debate, and it was really illuminating to see how the different countries related the Directive to their own contexts in practical terms. It was concluded that despite difficulties, the Directive opens the possibility to debate concerns on GMOs on another level and complements traditional risk assessment focused on health and the environment with other tools and approaches.disyuntivaThe second part of the symposium was devoted to presenting different socio-economic analysis methods. First, the recommendation issued by the HCB to the French Government was presented. It is a very valuable document worth taking the time to read. Firstly it was explained that this methodology should be seen as an analytical method (rather than an assessment methodology), thus it aims to create the opportunity to reflect on the socio-economic process in order to work towards a decision, instead of placing the focus only on the final product. Secondly, it adopts the “in-context trajectory” perspective: this is to say that impacts will be analysed in comparison to impacts of other possible solutions for a given problem (this requires a transparent problem formulation) in a specific context. Social and political values that are implicitly and explicitly embedded in a given technology’s trajectory should be made transparent. Thirdly, it is important to account for the existing uncertainties related to GMOs, and thus avoid the “quantification myth” that creates false security by  only using quantitative indicators. Finally, it is also important to keep in mind that the socio-economic and ethical analysis is complementary to environmental and health risk assessment.

In addition to the HCB presenattion and our presentation on using comparative cartographies for sustainability assessment of GMOs (based on our paper published in Sustainability), Sylvain Aubry presented a recent study conducted by the Office Fédéral de l’Agriculture of Switzerland. The study analyses GM crops in Switzerland from the point of view of sustainability using a multi-criteria model. It was interesting to see different perspectives on methodologies on the table, and to discuss and compare their applicability and approaches. It was also rewarding to hear that more proposals are trying to adopt systems-based approaches that could take into account the full agri-food system and allow for comparison of different cultures of agriculture in order to foster the discussion on the different possible futures of agriculture.

The symposium ended with a round table which included members of the HCB and stakeholders outside this body. The discussion focused on advantages and limitations of ex-ante socio-economic analysis and the role of stakeholders. This stimulated a dynamic debate in which members of the public also participated.

Systems perspective on GMOs at the EASST Conference

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Last week we attended the European Association of the Study of Science and Technology (EASST) Conference in Barcelona. It was an enormous conference (around 2000 participants) which was exciting but it also made it challenging to stay on top of everything that was going on. Conferences such as this one are useful platforms for networking with people who are working on similar issues in order to build and strengthen academic communities.

The interdisciplinary nature of our project makes us somehow academically promiscuous in the way that we do not belong to a single academic community of reference, but rather we transit and have conversations with people from a multiplicity of academic worlds that speak to different dimensions of the project. EASST is one of these communities we transit, as it contains part of the academic community who does Science and Technology Studies (STS). For us this is a very interesting academic community to be in contact with since GM crops have a major technoscientific component.  The project hugely benefits from dialogues and reflections related to the roles technoscience plays within the GMO socio-political controversies.

We participated in a track called “Governance of agricultural biotechnologies”, facilitated by Andrew Stirling and with other very knowledgeable speakers such as Robert Smith, Georgina Catacora-Vargas, Anne Ingeborg Myhr and Brian Wynne. Our presentation was about how a system perspective can be useful when assessing and regulating GMOs. This presentation stemmed from one of our papers:

Seeing GMOs from a Systems Perspective: The Need for Comparative Cartographies of Agri/Cultures for Sustainability Assessment.

For this presentation we focused on the cartographies that we have been producing over recent months, which illustrate interesting differences between GM, chemically intensive, certified organic and agroecological systems.

The audience seemed to really enjoy the presentation and one participant said she felt that we were developing – a very much needed – ‘applied STS’. 🙂

Visibility and Invisibility in Maize Agriculture Systems

Image edited from original Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bacillus_thuringiensis

Image edited from original Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bacillus_thuringiensis

In Klara Fischer’s recent (2016) article she queries the term ‘scale-neutral’ that has recently resurfaced in the literature in relation to GM seed technologies (having been used decades ago in relation to hybrid crops). This term has been used to describe the supposed dual suitability of GM seeds for both large-scale and small-holder agricultural systems.

Fischer (2016) argues that using the term ‘scale neutral’ to refer to GM seed technologies is too generalizing and fails to take into account “both crop biology and context”. She argues that there has not been enough evidence provided to support this claim and how, in fact, much research points to the opposite conclusion. Her previous work has illustrated in detail how GM maize varieties being used in South Africa are often unsuited to use by smallholder farmers.

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In recent months, having spent a lot of time on small-scale maize farms in KwaZulu Natal, I have become interested in how the Research and Development (R&D) part/node of the maize agri-food system relates to the on farm part/node. What has been apparent when talking to small-scale maize farmers is that there are many areas in which the communication between these two spaces is not a clear channel. A number of authors looking at the benefits and impacts of GM maize varieties on small-scale farming in South Africa have also pointed to the lack of clear communication channels.

Fischer (2016) points out that often studies or assessments are not tailored to specific contexts – therefore while crop technologies could potentially have benefits, she argues that in order for this to be possible “it must be appropriate for African farmers’ practices and contexts” which “requires a clear understanding of the function of any new crop technology per se and how the technology is co-shaped by its host crop, its end users and their contexts.” There is a deep need for research that is engaged with looking at the complex social-ecological agricultural systems in which seeds are being used.

While certain facts, ideas, world views, substances are visible within the R&D space, they may not be visible in the same way on small-scale farms (or any farm for that matter – but my focus is on small-scale farms). In the same thread, aspects of the complex socio-ecological systems on farms are not always visible to scientists working in the R&D space. Research that tests the effectiveness of new technologies and risks associated with them is often not carried out in the specific places that the technologies end up being used.

For this reason I have decided that I would like to focus on these two nodes – R&D and ‘on the farm’ – as sites for in depth research. I hope that through collection of interviews in addition to the gathering of visual and sensory data, I can begin to build up an archive of narrative and visual information about each space and explore the communication and ‘lack of’ communication between these two spaces.

This image has been adapted from this Source: https://www.researchgate.net/figure/280528037_fig2_Figure-2-Application-of-the-bidirectional-p35S-and-tNOS-DNA-walking-methods-on-GM-maize

This image has been adapted from this Source: https://www.researchgate.net/figure/280528037_fig2_Figure-2-Application-of-the-bidirectional-p35S-and-tNOS-DNA-walking-methods-on-GM-maize

Following maize seeds through time and space – grounding some fieldwork sites in KwaZulu Natal

For this week’s post I wanted to reflect on how my fieldwork is unfolding in relation to the methodology i have proposed using. As discussed previously the team in Spain and myself are using a follow the thing methodology and actor network approach as a basis for gathering information about the multiple sites in maize agri/culture systems, how these systems function and have changed over time and in relation to seed. As Fern explained in her July 2015 post “We find it incredibly useful when explaining our project to talk about how we are following the journey of a kernel of corn through different cultures of agriculture and mapping the various places, people and processes we encounter”. This July post reflected on the compelling-ness of using a kernel of corn as a character (actor), specifically for the purpose of the internet documentary that the team in Spain is putting together.

Over the past few months I have found following a kernel of maize to be a very useful methodology. The sequential approach it provides offers a good framework from which to proceed and begin plotting fieldwork sites but also allows space for other tools and methodologies to be added in. The recognition drawing from Actor-network Theory that maize seed is not just an object but a powerful actant and force provides much space to explore the complexities of relating at play in each site.

In previous posts I have spoken about the multispecies and sensory methodologies that I wish to bring in as a way of mapping, noticing, recording and interacting within each site I visit as I follow the journey of maize seed through 3 small-scale maize agri/culture systems. In addition to the maize seed, the multi-species lens has opened up space for a conversations around a multitude of other living organisms that enter into the conversation and how they affect and are affected by the other actors and actants involved. After having done some preliminary trips i feel excited about the possibilities of combining these methodologies in the field.

At this point having spent much time discussing theory and methodology in previous posts i wanted to provide an update on the sites that I will be visiting over the next few months. Having done two short scouting trips to different maize growing regions in South Africa as well as doing much desktop research I am starting to get some insight into who I may be speaking to, what places I will need to travel to and what processes I may be encountering by means of following maize seed through the system. Below i have outlined some of the sites and also located them on a map.

As mentioned previously I have decided to focus my attention on small-scale maize farming systems in KwaZulu Natal. Firstly I will be visiting the area of Hlabisa, 3 hours from Durban where GM maize has been grown since 2001 by small-scale farmers. I will also be interviewing farmers in nearby KwaHoho where farmers are using traditional varieties using ago-ecological methods.

I will then be traveling up North to Pongola where GM, hybrid and traditional varieties are grown. It is an interesting area to explore issues of coexistence because here there are farmers growing different varieties of maize side by side or on neighboring plots of land. I am told that some are farmers in the area believe strongly in GM technologies and others who are very against it and would like to be able to talk to farmers of both opinions and perhaps others that have perhaps not chosen a strong opinion. I was told in Hlabisa that the GM maize seed depot that was established by the department of agriculture which was formerly in Hlabisa has now been relocated to Pongola. I would like to visit this depot and see if i can establish any contacts for interviews here. From what I am able to gather online I have established that Pongola is also the home to a relatively new micro milling facility that was established in 2013 by the Department of Agriculture in collaboration with a business cooperative called the Sikulungele Pongola Enterprise who run the mill. Before the establishment of this mill small-scale farmers were unable to mill their maize and sell it as maize meal and so it is likely that this has had much influence on the neighboring agri/culture systems. I would like to see if it is possible to visit the mill and interview key stakeholders about the changes this mill has facilitated and put into motion. I am also interested in using a multi-species lens here to ask questions around maize storage, pests and how these are managed.

Further, I hope to also visit the Kuvusa Mill* located just outside Durban. This mill was established in 2013 and described as “The first small-scale mill in Durban“. Its objective like that in Pongola is to provide milling capacity in rural areas and thus reduce the milling cost and accessibility to small-scale farmers. The company hopes to continue rolling out more mills of its kind. I would like to set up some interviews with Kuvusa Mills.

I will also travel North East to Ngwavuma where traditional varieties are grown and there is a local market where I hope to find traditional seed being exchanged and sold. I am interested in mapping maize seed systems around this market.

  • Update May 2016: It had been my intention that i visit this mill in Pongola but I found out recently that it had never gotten off the ground and had closed down last year. I will explore the details surrounding small-scale farmers experiences of selling their produce in my next field visit.

I hope that these sites will offer a good start into mapping the relationships around maize seeds in KZN of course the follow the thing methodology is all about seeing what actually happens on the ground so I will see as I go.

Next I am starting to try and gain an understanding into the research and development stages which happen upstream from the farms!

Assessing the Ethical Justifiability of Agricultural Biotechnology?

Later this week I am heading to Montreal for the annual conference of the Society for the Study of Nanoscience and Emerging Technologies (S.Net). At the conference I will present a paper that I have been working on together with Dr. Christopher Preston (an environmental philosopher from the University of Montana) on what happens if we look at agricultural biotechnologies through the lens of feminist care ethics.

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This is part of the work of the Agri/Cultures project to contribute to the requirement within the Norwegian Gene Technology Act to assess GMOs for their ethical justifiability. Not an easy task!

In today’s political decision-making on emerging technosciences, two frameworks dominate the landscape of ethical assessment: consequentialist and deontological approaches.

Within consequentialist approaches, a technology is judged to be good or bad on the basis of its consequences. This is typically tied to utilitarianism, in which the aim is to maximise the utility or the good (e.g. often referred to as creating the greatest happiness for the greatest number). Within this approach, a technology would be assessed as ethically justifiable based on the consequences of its development, uptake and use.

In contrast, deontological approaches to assessments of what is good or bad, right or wrong, are based on the actions themselves, rather than on their consequences. Within this approach, ethical judgements are based on whether the action follows appropriate principles, rules or norms. In our case, this can be interpreted to mean that the ethical justifiability of a technology would consider the extent to which its creation, uptake and/or use violates social norms, rules or principles.

There are, however, other approaches that have received less attention. The first of these is virtue ethics, which was the dominant ethical framework applied in pre-modern societies and focuses on the underlying attitude rather than the action. That is, an ethical assessment within this approach does not primarily consider the nature of the action, or the consequences of the action, but the attitude that motivates the action. Virtue ethics is going through somewhat of a revival now as an increasing number of scholars explore what it may offer the range of socio-ecological challenges facing the modern world.

The approach that I have started exploring in the current paper though, is that based on an ethics of care. A ethics of care comes out of feminist scholarship and emphasises the importance of the concrete and context specific relationships that people are engaged in when making an ethical assessment. In this sense, an action is not considered right or wrong based on whether it follows agreed rules/norms, or solely on utilitarian calculations of consequences, but rather on how it impacts relationships. For our purposes, this includes not only relationships between human beings, but also relationships with and between other types of beings as well. Furthermore, feminists emphasise ethical assessments as not only involving a set of rational calculations, but also importantly involving emotional reactions.

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In the developing paper, we outline six key themes within feminist theories and care ethics – relationality, contextuality, dependence, power, affect, and narrative – and show how considering emerging technologies through the lens of these themes can shine a light on a number of salient issues that are typically missed by the dominant and largely consequentialist risk assessment frame used in political decision-making today. We also argue that the care ethics lens is a better fit when technologies are understood not simply as devices designed to create a certain end experience for a user but as transformative systems that smuggle in numerous social and political interests. Exploring the advantages of these feminist care ethics themes for the assessment of agricultural biotechnology, we show how this lens might have anticipated the very questions that have proved themselves to be the sticking points for GM crops.

For example, a focus on relationality allows you to see how the relationships between farmers and seeds change in significant ways with patented GM technologies. A focus on contextuality opens for different countries, regions and contexts to make different assessment choices. Being attentive to issues of dependence and power allows friction points such as concentration and monopolies within agri-food systems to be deemed relevant for the assessment. Opening for affect allows emotional responses to the roll out of these crops to be taken seriously, while a commitment to narrative encourages people to tell their own stories, which can reveal the underlying worldviews and socio-technical imaginaries that are often in conflict in GM debates.

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Through the paper we therefore argue that applying a care ethics lens can significantly broaden the frame of appraisal processes used for the governance of emerging technologies and usefully grant legitimacy to questions and concerns that are prominent in public discourse but typically left out of practices of risk assessment.

Hopefully we get some great feedback on the  paper at the conference and we would absolutely welcome comments and interactions with our ideas here as well!

We published a paper!

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We are thrilled to announce you that we published the first paper of this project! Woohoo!

Its title is Seeing GMOs from a Systems Perspective: The Need for Comparative Cartographies of Agri/Cultures for Sustainability Assessment. It is open sourced and it explores the methodological tools and challenges we foresee when studying GMOs as systems and it also outlines a new approach to map agri-food networks.

You can access the paper here:

And here you can read a short summary:

In this paper, we aim to make a unique theoretical and methodological contribution by advancing a systems-based approach to conceptualising and assessing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The paper takes as a starting point that agricultural biotechnologies cannot be usefully assessed as isolated technological entities but need to be evaluated within the context of the broader socio-ecological system that they embody and engender. The paper then explores, compares and contrasts some of the methodological tools available for advancing this systems-based perspective. The article concludes by outlining a new synthesis approach of comparative cartographies of agri/cultures generated through multi-sited ethnographic case-studies, which is proposed as a way to generate system maps and enable the comparison of genetically modified (GM) food with both conventional and alternative agri-food networks for sustainability assessment.

The challenge of categorising maize seeds and systems

If we are to transparently report on our research process (as we intend to do in this blog), we must say that we have been experiencing some difficulties with the framing of our task. With this entry, we aim to reflect on the process we have been going through to try and categorise the different seeds and systems we are investigating in this research project.

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Our first idea, presented in the funded project proposal, was to map and compare different models of agrifood systems, namely organic, conventional and GM. This initial approach made sense since it is a common distinction made between agricultural systems of production by both policy makers and publics. Since the regulation of GMOs typically uses what are labeled ‘conventional’ alternatives (i.e. chemically intensive, industrial models of agriculture) in comparisons of risk acceptability, while much of the social resistance to GMOs draws on organic farming models as the relevant comparator, we thought it was interesting and important to empirically consider and compare all three systems of production. However, we were also aware from the beginning that this distinction implied many difficulties, especially since in the realities of practice, these systems are often not as clearly separable as the theoretical categories imply. For example, in Spain, many farmers cultivate both conventional and GM maize at the same time. There are also significant differences between organic farms depending on whether they are large or small scale, as recognised in what the academic literature calls the ‘conventialisation of organic farming’ as it increasingly adopts mainstream models of large-scale production, globalised distribution and supermarket-based consumption.

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Furthermore, our early research has uncovered that in Spain, the maize seeds that are produced to be sown in commercial organic fields are not actually organic themselves. That is, they do not come from organic parental lines. They are seeds that are produced in a ‘conventional’ way. The difference is that before the ‘organic’ seeds are put into the packages to be sold to farmers, they are not treated with fungicides and insecticides, as conventional and GM seeds are (indicated by their bright pink or orange colour). The reason behind this is that in Spain, organic parental lines are not available and therefore, the Organic Farming Certification Scheme accepts untreated but conventionally produced seeds.

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Becomingly increasingly uneasy with the distinction we had originally adopted for our mapping exercise, and after many difficult discussions, we therefore decided to try shifting the criteria we were using in order to approach the different systems. We decided to try mapping different agrifood systems by following different types of seeds, namely GM seeds, hybrid seeds and traditional varieties.

After two months working with this new distinction, however, new difficulties have arisen. We are forced to recognize that in practice we are actually sliding between the two differential criteria (both the gm-conventional-organic system distinction and  the gm-hybrid-traditional seed distinction). This is because the former is, whether we like it or not, widely used among all the stakeholders we are engaging with while the latter is marginal and only found in very few nodes of the food web. Also, when referring to hybrids, there are significant differences between their use in conventional and organic models of production. We also met an organic farmer with a small family farm who was sowing both hybrid and traditional varieties. He was sympathetic towards and valued the traditional varieties, but was also very keen on the hybrids, because they performed well and helped him to get a living. So, in that case, we saw that both distinctions were relevant and complementary for the study. This means that the research is currently employing both frames, depending on the situation. How this challenge develops in the future, and how it influences the maps of different agrifood webs that we produce, remains to be seen and described in a later post.

The Agri/Cultures Project

The Agri/Cultures Project is a four-year research project funded by the Norwegian Research Council’s FRIPRO programme. The project is focused on developing novel concepts, methods and empirical knowledge for understanding and assessing the complex relational networks embodied in and performed by agricultural biotechnologies.

The use of biotechnologies has been one of the most controversial developments in modern agriculture and remains an issue of ongoing debate and unresolved social and political tension around the world. Norway has been internationally pioneering with a Gene Technology Act (GTA) that explicitly requires that the introduction and use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is socially and ethically justifiable, with considerable weight given to societal benefit and contribution to sustainable development. Despite this intention, there is currently a lack of available knowledge on GMOs concerning these issues, a lack of concrete methods for their research, and a lack of clarity on how to approach socio-economic assessment. This makes it very difficult in practice to operationalise the assessment of GMOs (for both cultivation and import) according to their social and ethical justifiability, as currently required by Norwegian law.

To help address this problem, the Agri/Cultures project seeks to:
a) develop new ways of thinking about and researching GMOs that sees them not as isolated technological objects that can be assessed on their own but rather as dynamic networks of social, ecological and technical relations that have to be considered and assessed as a package,

b) generate relevant knowledge that can enable both the assessment of the relational network of GMOs against criteria of sustainability, societal benefit and ethical justifiability, and the comparison of this network with those of conventional and organic agri/cultures.

c) explore novel ways to capture and visualise these relational networks so that the information is accessible, engaging, relevant and useful for publics and policy-makers.

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Photo: ©IITA Image Library #DSCF0086 CC-licence

The project will first generate cartographies of the socio-ecological and techno-cultural networks involved in different agricultural systems, focusing on the case study of Bt maize and comparing this to conventional and organic systems of maize. The project will also explore the interaction and potential for co-existence between these three agri-food systems. To create analytic depth, the cartographies will also explore the worldviews and human/nature relations that are embedded in and performed by the different agri/cultures. In later years, the project will focus on a particular set of stakeholders within the relational networks that are crucial yet particularly vulnerable actors in agri-food systems: bee/keepers. In this work, the aim will be to understand how the three different systems of maize production effect and are affected by bee/keepers and how the assessment of sustainability, social utility and ethical justifiability are perceived and assessed from their perspective.

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Photo:©Roberto Vinicius CC-licence

In addition to standard academic deliverables such as publications in international peer-reviewed journals, policy reports and articles in the popular press, this project also seeks to be innovative in its approach to communication. With a specific intention to explore novel ways to capture, visualise, and assess the relational networks involved in modern agri-food systems, and to ensure that its results will be disseminated to various audiences, the project will develop an online identity and digital transmedia platform.

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