Handbook on the Globalisation of Agriculture
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Handbook on the Globalisation of Agriculture

Edited by Guy M. Robinson and Doris A. Carson

This Handbook provides insights to the ways in which globalisation is affecting the whole agri-food system from farms to the consumer. It covers themes including the physical basis of agriculture, the influence of trade policies, the nature of globalised agriculture, and resistance to globalisation in the form of attempts to foster greater sustainability and multifunctional agricultural systems. Drawing upon studies from around the world, the Handbook will appeal to a broad and varied readership, across academics, students, and policy-makers interested in economics, trade, geography, sociology and political science.
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Chapter 12: Biotechnology and the global food riots: why genetically modified foods will not end world hunger

Simon Nicholson


This chapter takes a critical look at the notion that genetically modified (GM) crops are ‘pro-poor’. This is a claim – or, more properly, an article of faith – that underpins much of the global rollout of GM crops. It can be discerned in industry statements, in a host of important policy and scientific briefs, and in an influential stream of academic writings. The chapter looks particularly at the influence of the ‘GM crops are pro-poor’ notion on the US government’s flagship ‘Feed the Future’ initiative. Through interrogation of this large-scale development effort, the chapter shows the extent to which an uncritical dependence on the technologies of genetic modification threaten to undermine the livelihoods of the world’s poorest smallholder agriculturalists. The chapter argues there is much potential good to be had through the rapid development and deployment of new GM crops. The problem lies not with the technology itself, but stems, rather, from the social and political effects of a too-closed, silver-bullet mindset. The reality of programs like ‘Feed the Future’ is that the privileging of single-shot technological solutions too often crowds out the sorts of initiatives that make a demonstrable difference to the world’s poor. Just as importantly, too strong a focus on GM crops limits the extraordinary potential value of the technology itself, by cultivating blindness to the astonishing complexities of the social systems into which GM crops are inserted. The overriding concern of the chapter is ‘What does such lack of attention ultimately mean for the world’s smallholder farmers?’

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