The University of Arizona

Redefining success: the political ecology of genetically modified and organic cotton as solutions to agrarian crisis

Andrew Flachs


The transnational spread of law and technology in Indian agricultural development has passed through three distinct phases since the mid-19th century. In each case, a narrative of agrarian crisis allowed for new state and corporate interventions, conceived by American and British agribusiness, within the existing logics of Indian smallholder agriculture. These begun with colonial British industrial cotton projects in the 1840s, continuing with Green Revolution agriculture, and on contemporary GM and organic cotton farms. In each case, farmers developed strategies through a frictive, contentious adoption of new technologies and built new avenues to success that worked for some farmers and failed for others. In this article I draw on ethnographic fieldwork and household surveys conducted in nine villages from 2012-2014 in Telangana, India. As with previous development initiatives, the US-born legal structures that defined high-tech GM and low-tech organic agriculture were adopted in India without major changes. I argue, however that their actual implementation by farmers has required a significant shift in the ways that people manage the agricultural economy.

Keywords: Genetically Modified crops, organic agriculture, development, South India


This paper was winner of the Eric Wolf Prize, Political Ecology Society, 2015.

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