Mexico and India, are two different countries in two different hemispheres, yet they are both affected by the same homogenizing movement. The effects of the Green Revolution were experienced at the same level of detriment by countries in what’s considered the Global South. What claimed to be a relief program based on the “modernization” of their agricultural systems, resulted in massive loss of biodiversity and shifts in the structure of their economies. However, due to the resilient efforts of concerned natives, environmental movements for conservation have been started.
These natives have mobilized their communities and created networks in response to the loss of biodiversity through community seed banks. The history of the circumstances which led to the creation of these networks is analyzed through a human ecological perspective, and the function of these networks isbyh actor-network theory. One could argue that the shared history of these countries is why their natives have adopted similar action strategies given the mutual consequences.
The following proposed explanation is a culmination of ideas found in the work of Latour 1983 and Callon 1986.1Actor Network theory was developed by Michel Callon and Bruno Latour in the 1980s. The goal of the theory was to demonstrate how the growth and structure of knowledge could be interpreted through the interactions of actors and networks. The theory shows how networks come together to act as a whole. To create meaning within the network, the actors involved look for clear strategies which connect different entities. At first, these networks are fragile and are constantly being re-made.
As a result, actions need to be repeated or the network can fall apart. Similarly, the network being created is not inherently coherent and conflicts may arise, so actions must be performed continuously. If successful, the network will become a part of the actor world.
The actor world is what chooses what entity to enroll within its networks. The actor world also determines the relative size of the entity within the network (Callon 1986). Within the actor world th, ere are actants, and they can be human or nonhuman, Those actants are made up of other smaller actants which allow for the larger actant to function (Callon 1986). Michel Callon refers to actants as “ingredients”, he states that if one ingredient is missing then the entire network can break down. He continues, that without the actor world, the actant ceases to exist. ‘An actor-world associate’s heterogeneous entities. It defines their identity, the role they should play, the nature of the bonds that unite them, their respective size, and the history in which they participate’ (Callon, 1986, pg 24).
To understand t, the process that entities go through to become coherent with the actor world, one must continue to explain Michel Callon’s “The Sociology of an Actor-Network”. Callon lays out the three-step process; spokesman, passage, and development. The actor world takes on the role of spokesman, after its enlisted entities. In its role as the spokesman, the actor world will define the roles and voice the ambitions of its entities (Callon 1986). However, there’s no guarantee that the entity will fall into order with the actor world. The translation is not to be taken for granted because it can be met with resistance, if the entity “becomes able to counter-attack it can refuse to enter the actor-world to expand into others” (Callon, 1986, pg 25).
The next step in the process is the passage, the actor world will make itself a crucial element indispensable to the entities so that they feel as if they are unable to survive without the actor world. Through the other established larger actants, the newly enlisted entities will be forced to pass through (Callon 1986). The more actants, the actor world can make an entity pass through, the entity becomes “translated” (Callon 1986). This is done in numerous different ways, the most common in science and technology is problematization. Actor worlds will say that to solve one issue first they must solve this other issue, but to solve that other issue, they have to solve a separate issue before that. This is creating checkpoints at which the entities consider that their future is now dependent on the obligatory passageway if they wish to exist and develop (Callon 1986). The final step is development, entities are converted then displaced, and then brought back into the actor-world, then informational centers which focus on and control the displacements re-connect the entities. By anchoring the actor-world to movements in material and money, the translation becomes more effective. Through social and physical displacements of entities, as well as accumulating resources the actor-world becomes more durable (Callon 1986).
To understand how actor-network theory applies to an environmental conservation movement, the history of the circumstances must be explored. The Green Revolution was an agricultural relief program heavily funded by the Rockefeller Foundation (Perkins 1990). The foundation focused on how improved agricultural technology could help agricultural productivity in third-world countries. The foundation would work by the government of these countries and finance the building of agricultural universities, develop “technology packages”, and alter the structure of their agricultural practices. The Green Revolution was responsible for bringing genetically modified high-yielding varieties into the Global South, as well as chemical fertilizers and pesticides (Lansing 1995). The impact of these practice on Mexico and India were massive, immediate results were positive, but the long-term negative effects caused irreversible damage to their environments.
Focusing on Mexico, Mexico was one of the first places the Rockefeller foundation applied its model and would be used as an example for the other countries (Sonnenfeld 1992). The new agricultural technology brought in by Rockefeller needed massive amounts of water, to accommodate, the Mexican government spent 3.3 billion pesos building rural infrastructure to support it (Sonnenfeld 1992). The Green Revolution in Mexico managed to rapidly industrialize its agricultural force and they eventually became self-sufficient. For example, corn production increased from 1.6 million tons (1940) to 14.1 million tons (1985); wheat grew from 464,000 tons (1940) to 5.2 million tons by 1985 (Sonnenfeld 1992). However, what managed to grow the most under the Green Revolution policies was the consumption of chemical fertilizer, an increase of over 350 times more tons by 1979 (Sonnenfeld 1992). The increase of wealth caused by this growth was not received by the average Mexican because of the structure of the agricultural policies, it was large commercial farms that benefitted. The large commercial farms began buying out all the small farms and began pumping the rural environment with increasingly massive amounts of chemicals. ‘The rural environment has been greatly altered by a new rural infrastructure, overuse, and contamination of water supplies, new agricultural technologies, and misuse of agricultural chemicals.'(Sonnenfeld, 1992, pg 39). Eventually, the negative impact on the environment began to catch up to the citizens, and the weakened environmental conditions called for action to be taken. The people of Mexico began to demonstrate and voted for politicians that called for environmental policy control; ‘ecological deterioration in Mexico has given impetus to a growing environmental movement…’ (Sonnenfeld, 1992, pg 46). The adverse effects of the Green Revolution push those affected into action.
Stepping away from the origins of the Green Revolution and focusing on a conservation case study in Mexico about the Zapatistas. In 2001, Scientists David Quist and Ignacio Chapela found evidence of a gene belonging to a transgenic species of corn in several indigenous landrace varieties of maize. The Mexican government banned genetically modified corn in 1998, but not the importation of it. the genetic material of the transgenic is difficult to regulate and when the public found out it sparked demonstrations (Brandt 2014). The Zapatistas are a political militant social group with ties to the indigenous Mayan community in Mexico. In response to the demonstration, they began to farm the maize that they could ensure was pure and ‘based on Mayan knowledge that was nearly lost in the wake of the Green Revolution projects…’ (Brandt, 2014, pg 881). The Zapatistas originally demanded access to farming equipment from the government, but then dropped these demands because using these technologies created a dependence on gasoline, chemical pesticides, and industrial fertilizers. The next step for them was to create a conservation effort and they chose to begin a seed bank. A seed bank is a collection of frozen seeds that can still be unfrozen and allowed to germinate if that variety was ever to go extinct. The seed bank was soon to be created, but it depended on the translational practices of actor-network theory (Brandt 2014). The first step was they needed to define a problem, then interest others in a solution, and finally enroll them in the project. This is by the passage step of actor-network theory, where the entities are made to consider what will be their future if they aren’t involved (Callon 1986). Once enrolled in the project they taught classes on genetic and seed banking to the others. This is a form of displacement when the entity’s intellectual efforts are directed into the network. Most Zapatista villages were in rural and poor areas with no access to information so they relied on what is known as ‘promoters’ to share knowledge (Brandt 2014); these promoters played a key role in communicating the goals of the seed bank to the communities. Promoters exist within actor-network theory as a way to define the roles of entities, the promoter for the Zapatistas informed the public of their roles within the project. The actor-network theory explains how this network of relations was created and why the public felt so obligated to contribute.
Shifting focus to India, the historical context shares many similarities with Mexico. After the Bengal Famine of 1943, the Indian government was desperate to increase agricultural productivity. Only certain regions of India can farm due to irrigation, but the use of high-yielding varieties allowed them to double their agricultural production (Parayil 1992). The green revolution turned peasants into farmers, skilled laborers were paid in cash, and the increase in agricultural productivity called for a larger labor force creating more jobs (Parayil 1992). However, this created a rush to farm for profit (Cleaver 1972). The green revolution drove land prices up 500% and landlords began converting tenants into hired laborers to turn a profit. The unemployed and farmers who were unable to keep up are pushed into urban slums (Cleaver 1972). The diffusion of high-yielding varieties through India was rapid; for wheat for example the percentage of acreage using high-yielding variety seeds increased from 4% to 30% within two years (Brainerd 2014). The rapid patterns of growth as seen in Mexico are found in India, posing the same threat to the loss of biodiversity. Farmers begin only wanting to grow high-yielding varieties and those that require chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The use of chemicals begins to degrade the soil and damages the same land they try to harvest from. After decades of damage to the environment, more concern for the effects of the Green Revolution become realized. According to US News, a Punjab village known for growing cotton is experiencing toxic reactions to long-term exposure to chemicals. The same practices that were once viewed as the path to self-sufficiency have created enormous health risks for their population.
In response to the concern, environmental activist Vandana Shiva created a seed banking network similar to the Zapatistas called Navdanya. According to her website, Navdanya, the creation of seed banks was to preserve the indigenous biodiversity. ‘Navdanya has set up 120 community seed banks in 17 states of India in the last 26 years”(Navdanya). The seed banks are managed by the local farming community and upwards of 4,000 rice varieties have been conserved; including the ‘forgotten food crops’ that they attribute the Green Revolution to pushing out. Navdanya has also helped set up a direct marketing network, as well as creating training and a conservation center. “Navdanya has also trained and created awareness amongst 750,000 farmers…over the past two decades,’ (Navdanya). When analyzed the creation of Shiva’s seed banks are also by actor-network theory. She has created a world that is indispensable to these farmers which falls under passage (Callon 1986). The seed bank has one collective issue that they’re trying to solve before moving on to a larger issue, which isproblematizationn. Problematisation pushes the entities to question whether they’ll develop outside the actor world (Callon 1986), most of these farmers are aware of the negative effects of using chemicals now and won’t use them out of fear for their health. Finally, Shiva has created an informational control center through her training and conservation efforts. This falls into accordance with displacement because after Shiva trains them they will reconnect with the network following (farming communities) the information they’ve been taught.
Ultimately, the effects of the Green Revolution drastically affected the conservation movements of Mexico and India. If both places had not been introduced to genetically modified plants they wouldn’t have felt that their indigenous biodiversity was disappearing. The threat to their indigenous biodiversity forced them into long tlong-termes conservation approaches such as seed banking. The effectiveness of their efforts is explained by actor-network theory.