Drought-resistant corn, wonder rice and cassava packed with vitamins are all promises of biotech for farmers in developing countries. But how has biotech delivered on those dreams?
That will be the focus of discussion from 1 to 3 p.m. (Central) March 12 as Glenn Stone, PhD, a professor of anthropology and environmental studies in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, joins National Public Radio host Ira Flatow for a broadcast of NPR’s Science Friday live from St. Louis.
The program can be heard live on NPR affiliates across the nation and archived for podcast on the NPR Science Friday Web site.
In this hour of Science Friday, the talk will be about transgenic crops. What does it take to get them from the lab to a small farmer’s plot? Are these crops turning traditional farming upside down? Plus, how far off are crops that could thrive in saltier, drier soils, and tolerate higher temperatures? A recent paper says biotech is key to safeguarding our food supply as the climate changes. But is it the only way?
Stone is an ecological anthropologist who has studied indigenous agricultural systems for the past 20 years. He describes his work as an exploration of “the social and political aspects” of agricultural systems, population increase and agricultural biotechnology.
He has written extensively on intensification, labor organization, sexual division of labor, ethnicity and production, spatial organization and especially relationships between population, conflict and agricultural change. His principal focus has been on sustainable farming systems in Africa, with a secondary focus on the American southwest.
He has recently begun research among cotton farmers in Andhra Pradesh, India, where controversial genetically modified crops have recently been introduced. In 2000, he took a National Science Foundation-sponsored leave to participate in research on genetic modification of cassava at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.
In 2001, he introduced a course on genetic engineering titled Brave New Crops: Ecology and Politics of Genetic Modification. The class examines the major issues surrounding the development and use of genetically engineered foods: the myths and realities, the health issues and the political pressure. For his work, Stone has been awarded an NEH Fellowship, a Weatherhead Fellowship and a Gordon Willey Prize.
“My present research focuses on ecological, social, and political aspects of the introduction of genetically modified crops in developing countries,” Stone adds. “I completed a semester of work in a laboratory specializing in transformation of tropical crops, and am now engaged in a multi-year NSF-sponsored project on information flow, farmer skill, intellectual property, and the political ecology of genetically modified cotton in India.
An Indian woman picks cotton in a field in the Warangal District of Ahdhra Pradesh in India. Glenn D. Stone, Ph.D., professor of anthroplogy and environmental studies in Arts & Sciences, has studied how the arrival of genetically modified crops has affected farmers in a key area of the developing world.
“My Nigerian research examined social and agricultural change among Kofyar and Tiv populations during 40 years of rising population density. With the Kofyar I analyzed the social organization of labor and landscape in an intensive, sustainable system. Comparative research on Tiv showed different responses to land scarcity, including conflict and the manipulation of local political processes to avoid intensification. A larger aim of this work has been development of stronger models of agricultural change that recognize cultural context and agency. I have also worked on Ancestral Puebloans (Anasazis), especially political and agricultural responses to population increase over long time spans.”
Other scheduled guests for the March 12 segment of Science Friday include David Fischhoff, Lead, Technology Strategy and Development, Monsanto, St. Louis, Missouri; Richard Sayre, Director, BioCassava Plus program and Director, Enterprise Rent-A-Car Institute For Renewable Fuels, Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, St. Louis, Missouri; Doug Gurian-Sherman, Senior Scientist, Food & Environment Program, Union of Concerned Scientists, Washington, D.C.
For morel background on Stone and his research, visit the links below:
2007 journal article: “The Birth and Death of Traditional Knowledge: Paradoxical Effects of Biotechnology in India” in Biodiversity and the Law: Intellectual Property, Biotechnology and Traditional Knowledge, edited by Charles McManis, pp 207-238. Earthscan. For discussion of this work, see: The Napster pirates of transgenic biotech (Salon.com)
2007 journal article: Agricultural Deskilling and the Spread of Genetically Modified Cotton in Warangal. Current Anthropology 48:67-103. For discussion of this work, see: Ganesh and Brahma bow to a new god (Salon.com)
New technologies coming too fast for Indian farmers
March 12, 2007 — Farmers relying on word of mouth to choose cottonseed in place of experimental testing. The arrival of genetically modified crops has added another level of complexity to farming in the developing world, says WUSTL sociocultural anthropologist Glenn D. Stone. He has completed the first detailed anthropological fieldwork on these crops and the way they impact — and are impacted by — local culture.