The Agricultural Frontier and the Construction of Truth: BT Maize in Kenya

By Fatuma Emmad

The excess of biopower appears when it becomes technologically and politically possible for man not only to manage life but to make it proliferate, to create living matter, to build the monster, and ultimately to build viruses that cannot be controlled and that are universally destructive. This formidable extension of biopower, unlike what I was just saying about atomic power, will put it beyond all human sovereignty.1


Food and security are issues which have plagued human beings but become mobilized at particular historic moments in different organizational analogues which can determine/ push out fundamental questions about social and political relations that are at stake.

Africa’s agricultural sector, long forgotten in the logic of modernization projects, has now become a major concern of the world development community. While there are specific arguments that pertain to why any nation may be concerned about the food security of any other nation3, the basis of this paper seeks to situate these claims within a historical context of what such focused development has ‘produced’ for Africans. The underlying argument this paper is based on is specific to a technology which marks the direct entry of a new form of domination and submission into Africa’s agricultural world. As most racist and colonial enterprises based exploitation on the language of ‘rights’ and ‘needs’ it is not surprising that the introduction of genetically modified seeds has been based on a similar language of the right to expropriation for public purposes and specifically the greater good for Africans. The purpose of this paper is not to argue that all science or attributes of genetically modified seeds are necessarily bad, but rather to examine the sources of the knowledge relative to their production and how truth claims surrounding the technology are circulated in the context of African countries.

We have seen that the beginnings of modern Africa’s states or that the structural adjustment programs of the nineteen eighties only granted a veneer of sovereignty and range of choices for development paths while opening the ways to greater marginalization of different African sectors.4 The presentation of universalizable and scientific answers to a myriad of problems that relate to types of social relations specific to Africa asks us to be cautious. This paper is not based on an idealistic view of Africa’s ‘tribal’ past or an essentialized view that sees colonialism as a rude interruption in the self realization of Africans, but rather it seeks to examine how the land and people within a specific country in the continent continue to interact with a logic which attempts to ‘modernize’ not only a sector of a state but a way of life. This paper situates the push for genetically modified seeds within a logic of biopolitics— as the disregard and control over the relations between man as species being and the control over food as the basis of what makes man live—and argues that it is the upshot of what we are promised through market value oriented reforms and the fetishization of universalizable truths. The subject of this paper is to examine how scientifically qualified systems of knowledge production can neglect practices and ways of life that cannot be reterritorialized into universal practices that are easily controllable. With agriculture in Africa, the introduction of genetically modified seeds as the alleged answer from the West to issues of food access that plagues the continent is much more violent than we think.

Background and Methodology:

The first realization of the ability to alter the genes of an organism occurred in 1953 when scientists James Watson and Francis Krick at Cambridge University discovered the structure of the basic building block of life—deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). This discovery electrified the scientific community with its potential for the greater entry of scientists into control over the biological structures of living organisms. In the 1980’s scientists began to work on genetically engineering seeds and a particular discourse about biotechnology began to emerge from these techniques. This new ‘gene revolution’ and the access to the genetic make-up and manipulation of seeds, as well as obligations to seek and share the truth about the productive potential for these technological innovations, were placed under the domain of large private corporations. In 1983 three independent groups simultaneously announced the creation of transgenic plants.5 As biotechnology emerges as an object of knowledge it becomes a subject of domination under corporations who pioneered the research in the field. This point in time indicates the emergence of the term biotechnology based on research originally done by independent scientists and it also marks the entrance of those who saw the potential for profit from these technological innovations.

The introduction of genetically modified corn in the context of Kenya circulates around the production of certain truths that are at once political and scientific, contentious and technological, and are articulated as a problem for both biology and power that will be settled by truth. Kenya was chosen because it is a developing country that is currently shrouded in the debate about permitting genetically modified seeds and crops into the country. This paper will examine the debate surrounding the productive effects of access to the genetic structure of a crop as the scientific construction of a metaphor for revealing truth. This metaphor builds on selective meanings attributed to the green revolution, the gene revolution, and food security within the African continent. The methods upon which this is based will be explored in relation to material and discursive practices that point towards biopolitics, marking the emergence of a power of regularization which consists in ‘making live and letting die.’ As Michael Pollen puts it in the Botany of Desire: A Plant’s Eye View of the World,

It’s probably not too much to say that this new technology represents the biggest change in terms of our relationship with plants since people first learned how to cross one plant with another. With genetic engineering, human control of nature is taking a giant step forward. The kind of reordering of nature represented by the rows in a farmer’s field can now take a place at a whole new level: within the genome of the plants themselves. Truly, we have stepped onto new ground.6

As food is in essence what makes live, the claims surrounding the power to normalize and manage its production are based on knowledge claims for food issues confronting mass populations. These universalizable knowledge claims, based on the allegedly objective revelations of science, mark the limits for the intelligibility of countertruths that challenge the technological and productive revolution of access to the gene.7 As this paper will argue, the construction of this analytical front is accompanied by an attempt to disqualify other knowledges relevant to farming in Kenya.

Revolutions and the Rise of Food Security: The hierarchy of knowledge from Green to Gene

What I think you and I and a few others are working on is a definition of agriculture as up against mystery and ignorance-based. I think we think that this is a necessary definition, just as I think that we think that several kinds of ruin are the necessary result of an agriculture defined as knowledge based and up against randomness. Such an agriculture conforms exactly to what the ancient program, or programs, understood as evil or hubris. Both the Greeks and Hebrews told us to watch out for humans who assume that they make all the patterns.8

We see clearly that the Agricultural Revolution is technological. Less visible is the fact that it is also social, and more obscure is its political impact.9

Many changes in the world occur in an amply plodding way so that the term revolution does not necessarily apply. Those beginnings which occur suddenly and arrive in full regalia justify a turn so dramatically different that ‘revolution’ seems to be the appropriate term.10 These claims of revolution accompanying crop management in the twentieth century are specific to technological innovations that the employment of the term ‘revolution’ marks some sort of discursive and violent rupture with past ways of dealing with the seemingly uncontrollable conditions of the growth and production of food crops.11 The green and gene revolutions are predicated on the greater capacity of science to bring man closer to a knowledge of the truth about food crops in such a way that can facilitate the placement of crops under the domain of man. The key features of these revolutions are technology, management, and the increased consolidation of both. As proponents of the terms argue, “During the fifty year period from 1936 to 1986 the modern agricultural revolution occurred, in which, for the first time, science was properly harnessed to the improvement of agricultural productivity.”12 How does greater knowledge specific to science imply a greater control of crops that will necessarily lead to greater ‘food security’ for the world’s hungry? As the ‘green revolution’ and ‘gene revolution’ are accompanied by the projection of food and security as an automatic outcome of greater access to knowledge about crops, a historical arch must be recast in order to understand the sequencing that facilitates the deployment and compounding of a term ‘food security.’ The main argument of this section is that food security is centralized around a particular dominant knowledge, creating a giveness of this knowledge which can appropriate effects of power at marked moments. The approach in this section is to assess, as Kenneth A. Dahlberg puts it in his work on the ecology and politics of global agricultural development, “how theories are relative to specific cultures and periods, as well as to the realities they attempt to describe” which is particularly relevant to understanding the historical dimensions of agriculture that will come to bear on Kenya.13

The Green Revolution and Seeds of Change: Did Knowing More About Science Deliver The World From Hunger?

Since Malthus, the core argument of the population n scare (??) has been food availability.15 From the 1960’s on, however, agricultural production has increased keeping equal to the rate of population growth in all countries of the developing world except Sub-Saharan Africa.16 Some attribute Malthusian pessimism to an underestimation of the variable technical progress would make. Building from these assumptions that place technology at the center of ‘food security,’ Africa’s problem with sufficient food production relative to its population growth rests on its missing the boat of the first major dissemination of technology from the Western worlds.17 As former Kenyan President Moi states in a letter to then president Bill Clinton, “While the Green Revolution was a remarkable success in Asia it largely bypassed Africa. Today the international community is on the verge of the biotechnology revolution which Africa cannot afford to miss.”18 Fundamental to the approach of the ‘green revolution’ is the idea that science comes first, and naturally development follows. The ‘green revolution’ was not the complete success in Asia that it is projected to have been by those who suggest the new ‘gene revolution’ will be Africa’s missed ‘green revolution’ and more. Nor is it true that Africa missed it, so much as it was found to be largely ineffective and undesirable for the relative conditions found in many African ecologies.19

The beginnings of the ‘green revolution’ can be traced back to a program launched in 1941 under the Rockefeller Foundation. The major ecological insight with which the program centered its new experimental research station in Mexico was that “improved varieties for semitropical areas would have to be developed from the semi-resistant seed stock of the climatic zone rather than from varieties developed in the temperate zone.”20 The problem with this central assumption was the belief that other countries could be led into greater productivity with the right biological and technological inputs. Many of the side effects that have come to haunt the ‘green revolution’ in its application across the developing world are that the productivity of the new varieties has been largely dependent on the inputs of Western industrial agricultural systems such as: mechanization, pesticides, fertilizers, large markets, and access to credit.21 Biologists paid little attention to geographic and cultural relativity of other parts of the package, while placing the burden of production on those relative areas of developing countries, revealing that the proclaimed neutral techniques carried a great deal of cultural and environmental baggage.22 In many ways, the blueprint model for agricultural change expected relative conditions to change in order to meet the requirements of the new seeds and viewed socio-economic and historical conditions as impediments to be overcome. From the early 1960’s to the 1990’s the world doubled in size from three billion to six billion, meanwhile the earth did not grow in size, the portion dedicated to growing crops only increased by 12 percent, and yet we did not all starve to death.23 What happened, we are told is the ‘green revolution.’ Three of the basic arguments against the green revolution have been: (1) the transformation of yield may have been a humanitarian and technical achievement but would only be a temporary solution to the problem of growth; 2) the technology for higher yield transformation allowed more wealthy farmers access to the inputs (education, capital or political power) necessary, enabling them to outcompete the lesser endowed farmers; (3) the transformations in the particular high yielding crops led to losses in biodiversity, soil erosion, and unhealthy dependencies upon pesticides and fertilizers, resulting in water source contamination.25 Or as Norman Borlaug, the Nobel Prize Winner for his work with the high yielding varieties of the green revolution puts it, ” Food insecure farmers generally live in areas that are marginal for agriculture, either because of biophysical constraints, extreme remoteness, or extreme poverty. Such farmers were bypassed in the Green Revolution that swept through…”26

Whatever side of the argument people fall on, Amytra Sen’s analysis of famines across the developing world in Poverty and Famines: An essay on Entitlement and Deprivation, points to the problematic connection between higher yields and increasing ‘food security’: “Starvation is the characteristic of some people not having enough food to eat. It is not the characteristic of there not being enough to eat.”27 The same point is now agreed on by Borlaug,

A comparison of China and India—the world’s two most populous countries, both of which achieved remarkable progress in food production—illustrates the point that increased food production, while necessary is not sufficient to achieve food production. During the 1990’s huge stocks of grain accumulated in India, while tens of millions who needed more food did not have the purchasing power needed to buy it.28

Amytra Sen and Norman Borlaug point out that greater production of food is never a means for guaranteeing food for the alleviation of starvation.

The issue with the term ‘food security’ and its connection to the ‘green revolution’ is succinctly analyzed in a ground-breaking case study by physicist and environmental activist Vandan Shiva in her book The Violence of the Green Revolution.30 In her case study of Punjab, Vandana details how a state that emerges as India’s most prosperous area following the application of the ‘green revolution’s’ techno-political strategy for peace paradoxically becomes riddled with the highest levels of insecurity and violence in the nation. While most scholars attributed Punjab prosperity to the ‘green revolution’ and conflict to religious and ethnic divisions, her case study “illustrates that ecological and ethnic fragmentation and breakdown are intimately connected and are an intrinsic part of a policy of planned destruction of diversity in nature and culture to create the uniformity demanded by centralized management systems.”31 Vandana’s work shifts the paradigm which attempts to link higher food production to the term food security through her examination of a particular locale that became the face of ‘green revolution’ success yet neither provided greater security (and in fact caused more violence) nor greater food access to its most vulnerable citizens. Her analysis shatters the notion that there is some intrinsic link between food and security, and “that said, it is obvious that there is no such thing as a silver bullet for achieving food security. The fact is, there are never simple solutions to complex problems, and anyone who says otherwise should be met with skepticism.”32

What was characteristic of the ‘green revolution’ across the board, was the system of the nation as the administrative unit. The two crops at the center of the project were rice and wheat and new seed varieties were generally made available in many countries as a public good.33 The ‘gene revolution’ marks a new way of dealing with crops in both the production of technology and the management of those technologies.

The Gene Revolution and Seeds of Control

Like the ‘green revolution’, the ‘gene revolution’ in crops is being brought to Africa from the global North. Consistent with a notion of biopolitics is the giveness of the necessity for the flow of specific ‘revolutionary’ knowledge to come from the North to those in the ‘developing world.’34 Inherent in the term ‘developing’ is the unrealized and not yet applied ‘developed’ knowledge that certain nations have been restrained from due largely to their own internal national conditions. The framing of the debate about genetically modified foods as a necessary truth to be realized by developing countries is symptomatic of a system of what Michele Foucault calls “modern racism”:

The specificity of modern racism, or what gives it its specificity is not bound up with mentalities, ideologies, or the lies of power. It is bound up with the techniques of power, with the technologies of power. It is bound up with this, and that takes us as far away as possible from the race war and the intelligibility of history. We are dealing with a mechanism that allows biopower to work. 35

The mechanism for the genetic revolution comes in a more condensed and yet inherently directed, controlled, and potentially sprawling form.36 Since the initial introduction of genetically modified crops, biotech industries have been the producers of both the knowledge and the new crops, and are accompanied by regimes of patents in their enterprises. Millions of people worldwide suffer from malnutrition and hunger, and the economy of food and hunger has been a long established debate. It has been mobilized for some in the form of commercial opportunities and for others as a means to draw attention to humanitarian crisis. As some argue, “GM food and its development and consumption must be seen as an extension of the politics of humanitarian relief, free trade and sustainable development. Within these discourses are issues of economic hegemony and the politics of world trade.” 37 Furthermore, those with trade supremacy and power such as the United States have long used ”hunger as justification for trade supremacy and the promotion of genetically modified (GM) crops owned by northern multinational corporations—much to the delight of pro-GM advocates.”38

Over the past decade, the locus of agricultural research and development has shifted dramatically from the public to the private multinational sector. Panaglai and Traxler detail the transition in their working paper, “From the Green Revolution to the Gene Revolution: How will the Poor Fare?” and attribute the transformation of the logic behind the system, which claims to provide improved agricultural technologies to the world’s farmers, to three interrelated forces: “The first is the strengthened and evolving environment for protecting intellectual property in plant innovations. The second is the rapid pace discovery and growth in importance of molecular biology and genetic engineering. Finally, agricultural input and output trade is becoming more open in nearly all countries.”39 According to Pangali and Trexler, the new developments in genetic modification and its concentration in the private sector has “created a powerful new set of incentives for private research investment, altering the structure of the public/private agricultural research endeavor, particularly with respect to crop improvement.”40 The hierarchies of credibility41 are built into the seeds of genetically modified crops. The genetic changes introduced to new crop varieties, as well as to the specific crops that have been the subject of research for agribusiness companies, are reflective of a set of profit interests. It also insures the perpetuation of those interests in the management of the main sector that provides food, employment, and income for people in underdeveloped countries—particularly those in Africa. The evolution in biotechnology has been driven by profitability and profits rather than the needs of food scarcity and economic development. This can be demonstrated by looking at the technologies available in the market today.

The proponents of biotechnology argue that resource poor farmers can gain from the cultivation of bioengineered crops. The advocates point out that a third of the 5.5 million who benefit from these crops are resource-poor farmers, “What biotech proponents fail to mention is that most of these ‘poor’ farmers are in China and South Africa, and grow BT Cotton, a non-food crop. These farmers have to annually purchase the GE (genetically engineered) cotton by contract, as the seed companies forbid farmers from storing a part of the seed harvested for sowing in the next year.”42 As cotton is a cash crop, success is not only measured by productivity but by market price. Dependence on cash crops, accompanied by economic liberalization, makes countries specifically vulnerable to price fluctuations: “For example, in 2000, the largest cotton crop in China in ten years flooded the market and, even though other areas were undergoing slumps in production, global prices fell sharply.”43 The primary focus of biotechnology has primarily been the production of export or commercial crops.

Herbicide tolerance and pest resistance remain the main GM traits that are currently under commercial cultivation while the primary crops are soybean, maize, canola, and cotton.

Kenya, BT Maize and the GM Debate:

Agriculture in Kenya is the primary sector of gross domestic production and comprises seventy five percent of the labor force occupation while ninety percent of the poor depend on agricultural income.48 Additionally, the country’s agriculture is dominated by smallholder farming which accounts for more than 75% of the countries agricultural land.49 Kenya is one of the largest consumers and producers of maize in Eastern and Southern Africa and it is considered at this point to be one of the most important crops in the country, with most rural households dependant on it for food and income. This was not, however, always the case for countries like Kenya.

Before its status as a colony, first under German administration in the 1880’s, and later (following World War I) as a British Crown Colony from 1920 through 1963, Kenya was recognized for its diversity in agricultural crops. In a study of Kenya’s agricultural system at the height of the Great Depression in the 1930’s, I.D. Talbot points out that “The chief characteristic of traditional Kenyan agriculture was its diversity…Traditional farming in these diverse geographical areas was influenced by a wide range of peoples within their varying agrarian heritages and political organizations who occupied this area of eastern Africa.”50 The prominent position of corn is not a natural evolution of crop selection in Kenya, but rather a development at a particular moment in its history that is strongly linked to the superimposed European cash crop farming system which supported European farming and the interests of the colonizing home country.51

The constraints on maize production in Kenya are numerous and range from political to environmental issues. In a study conducted by Insect Resistant Management for Africa Project, a leading advocate for GM crops, a participatory rural appraisal model asked farmers to first rank major constraints to maize production and secondly, to rank the importance of different pests. The major constraints listed were: lack of rainfall, lack of cash, credit and tools, cost of fertilizer, lack of technical know-how, and problems with the high cost and low availability of quality maize seeds.52 The second ranking qualified a specific pest of maize stemborers as one of the major pest problems after Striga (a root parasite) in most zones. A stemborer is a pest which begins by attacking the leave whorls and after reaching a certain size penetrates and consumes the maize stem. The reason for detailing this study is that BT maize is specifically being developed in Kenya to target the stemborer pest and in a book based on a risk-assessment analysis of introducing GM seeds into Kenya the authors state, “More detail is given for stemborers, being the target pests of BT maize in Kenya. Other weeds, termites, soil microorganisms, storage pests (including vertebrates, insects, and microbes) and vertebrae pests, such as rodents are not discussed further in this chapter.”53 It is important to keep these studies in mind as the whole discourse around the introduction of BT Maize centers around the potential to create a seed that counters this specific pest problem of the stemborer, which is not even listed as a serious concern in particular agroecological zones of Kenya, such as the moist mid-altitude zone.54 While the study by a leading GM advocate reveals stemborers as a concern listed after many other concerns, almost all articles this author has read in regards to GMO’s in Kenya, present stemborers as the main problem facing corn cultivation in Kenya.55

The advocates of BT Maize in Kenya often argue that it is a necessary tool to fight hunger in the country. The following is a list of statements compiled by Devlin Kuyek of what advocates of BT maize in Kenya say:

Florence Wambugu, Director of the AfriCentre of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agribiotech Applications: “The farmers and hungry people of Africa need this technology.”

James Schroeder, Deputy Under-Secretary US Department of Agriculture: “The USDA is committed to a long-term strategy to support research and technical assistance aimed at improving African
food production and security. Biotechnology to improve African food production and security
must play a role in this strategy.”

John Mugabe, African Centre for Technology Studies: “National economic and industrial
competitiveness are now dependent on the ability of a country to effectively develop, apply
and trade in biotechnology.”

Per Pinstrup-Anderson, Director General International Food Policy Research Institute, USA: “What really bothers me is the increasing opposition, especially in Europe, to using biotechnology for agriculture . .. I don’t want to be melodramatic but there are several hundred million hungry people in this world.”56

The current debate about the introduction of genetically modified foods is often centered on two types of issues that Koehn and Leisinger distinguish between: technology inherent risks and technology transcending risks.57 Technology inherent risks are those that pertain to the specific dangers inherent in genetically modified seeds such as their ability to cross-pollinate and alter non-gm crops, the stability of the inserted genes, and the adverse health effects they may have on human health. The technology transcending risks are primarily those that have to do with: aggravation of the prosperity gap between North and South, growing disparities in the distribution of income and wealth in poor societies, and reduced biodiversity.58 While both sets of issues are not mutually exclusive, the comments made by supporters of the genetically modified crops, as illustrated in the comments above, are often technology inherent risk specific. Placing the argument at the level of the technology inherent risks of the seeds allows proponents to refer to studies and science which can only verifiably produce a certain kind of ‘truth’ about the genetic structure of the seeds. Proponents attempt to frame the debate around the exclusion of those without specific scientific knowledge and to dismiss their claims as ignorant and unaware of what they are rejecting. A clear example of such a view can be seen in how Jane E. Body puts it in “Facing Biotech Foods Without the Fear Factor,” as a matter of pitting ignorance against progress, “It is no secret that the public’s understanding of science, and genetics in particular, is low…Without better public understanding and changes in the many arcane rules now thwarting development of new gene-spliced products, we will miss out on major improvements that can result…”59 These types of arguments coupled with the acknowledgement that there are only “three national-level research laboratories in sub-Sahran Africa (outside of South Africa) using molecular application of biotechnology,” does not lead the proponents for GMOs to argue that there should be greater testing within particular conditions even when acknowledging further that, “available applications of plant biotechnology are highly suited to magnetic genetic traits of importance to tropical agriculture.”60 Rather, the conclusion is that not applying these new technologies would only cause Africa to lag further in development and with the result “that would probably be continued low producing fields and higher food costs than those enjoyed across the rest of the world.”61

The types of statements which circle around technology inherent claims have led to increased pressures on Kenya’s agricultural system to adapt GMOs. This has led some lawyers and activists who still want further conclusive evidence about GMOs to accuse powerful governments and chemical corporations of ‘ecocrimes’ based on a state-corporate crime model. In Reese Walter’s article on the Zambia GMO food struggles, she defines these eco-crimes as “ways that powerful governments and corporations seek to dominate global food markets whilst exploiting, pressuring and threatening vulnerable countries.”62 In Kenya, the state corporate model has become particularly symptomatic of the ways in which BT Maize has been tested as well as promoted. Kenya’s government and public research institutions have not challenged GMO developments but rather have become transnational corporation allies, and the leaders in the call for the commercialization of GMO crops. This can be demonstrated by examining the relationship between charitable foundations, research centers, and other powerful governments that stress rural extension networks.

Rural extension networks (REN), are at the most unbiased level, programs which have been launched to extend agricultural technologies and knowledge to farmers through education which is often spread through state centered practices. Their roots can be traced to colonial practices in Africa and to the spread of the ‘green revolution’ packages across the world. The privatization of RENs provides a vehicle through which private corporations can spread their products to farmers, making them initially familiar with the products and later dependant on them. In the case of GM crops, an effective way to create dependency is to begin by providing farmers with free herbicides as a way to later create a desire and ultimately a need for herbicide resistant crops. It has been alleged that in Thailand and India -and importantly for the scope of this paper- and in Kenya as well, that farmers have been given genetically modified seeds not knowing what they were. In a report by John Mbaria for the Sunday Nation,63 he chronicles how DuPont seeds were discovered by officials of the Kenya Biodiversity Coalition (KBioC), a body that brings together 45 farmer groups, NGOs and civil society bodies. KBioC took samples of maize seeds from shops in various towns in the Rift Valley to Eurofin GeneScan, a specialized laboratory in Europe. The studies conclusively showed that the maize seeds sourced from DuPont had been contaminated with traces of a genetically modified seed variety owned by Monsanto.

The Syngenta Corporation (formerly Novartis) has currently launched three projects in Africa, under the name the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Development, of which insect resistant maize in Kenya is one of them.64 According to its website, “Sustainable development – and sustainable food security – will not be achievable without better governance and a new dimension of solidarity between the rich and the poor of this world – but also not without new technologies such as genetic engineering and biotechnology.” The Insect Resistant Maize Project for Africa (IRMPA) has been working on a stemborer resistant genetically modified maize through the expression of a bacterial (Bacillus thuringiensis) BT toxin which is poisonous to insects and pests. The project is presented as being conducted by Kenya’s own Kenyan Agricultural Institute (KARI). KARI has long been in partnership with USAID, its website proclaiming that the alliance reaches back to 1963 and Kenya’s independence. The first stated objective for USAID support of KARI, as stated on the KARI website, is the introduction of biotechnology to Kenya and “the coordinator on behalf of Director – KARI is responsible for reporting to the USAID on matters relating to the overall management and implementation of the programmes.”65 In a propaganda piece launched by USAID on its successes in Africa, the news update from its bureau in Africa details how it has been successful in fostering alliances between the public and private sector,

Successful alliances continue to thrive even after support from USAID ends. USAID’s first biotechnology-related public-private alliance brought the Agency, Monsanto, the University of Missouri, and the Kenyan Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) together to train Kenyan researchers in the devel­opment of virus-resistant transgenic sweet potatoes. USAID provided initial funding and KARI donated the human resources…Monsanto provided the laboratory.66

The project for BT maize in Kenya is based on a partnership between USAID, Syngenta, KARI and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). (The CIMMYT is headquartered in Mexico and has 17 branches in developing countries including Kenya.) Syngenta and USAID are providing financial support for the project, while CIMMYT is providing the technical training to KARI in genetic engineering technology. There are also non-gm forms of insect resistance that Syngenta and USAID do not fund, such as the planting of nappier grasses around the field to attract pests away from the crops. While the Syngenta foundation allegedly promotes sustainable development, its promotion of technologies solely developed by the parent Syngenta agro-business company comes as no surprise.


On December 19, 2008 Kenya passed the Biosafety Bill 2008 which allows for the importation and cultivation of bio-tech crops. The bill is projected to pass into law on January 1, 2009 by Kenya’s president Mwai Kibaki. The bill was first proposed in 2005 and again in 2007. Critics such as Wanjiru Kamau argue that, “The new Bill is termed the Biosafety Bill 2008. But much of its contents closely resemble those in the Biosafety Bill 2007.”67 Furthermore, there are claims that the bill has been shrouded in secrecy and many stakeholders claimed that they did not know where to go to get a copy of the bill.

These efforts towards introducing BT maize in Kenya are said to have begun in the early 2000s when it was felt that with the global expansion of research on genetically modified organisms, Kenya needed a national policy and law to outline the direction of such research and to ensure safety of the public. Seemingly, researchers have not been keen to wait for the Bill to become law before openly experimenting on the GM crops. For instance, with facilitation from US-based biotechnology multinational Monsanto and the Syngenta Foundation, researchers at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) had been experimenting on GM maize, cassava, sweet potatoes and cotton. One of the main supporters of the Bill and GMO crops, Dr Florence Wambugu, head of the African Harvest Biotech Foundation, has been continuously associated with major agribusiness corporations but she denies that Monsanto ever funded her GMO campaign. According to reporter John Mbaria, “What is interesting is that even though she denied that Monsanto ever funded her in her pro-GMO campaign, Dr. Wambugu nevertheless admitted that she gets money from such bodies as the United States Development Agency (USAID), Rockefeller Foundation, DuPont and CropLife International. The latter is an organization represented in 91 countries whose members include the global who’s-who of the genetic engineering industry — BASF, Bayer CropScience, Dow Agrosciences, DuPont, FMC, Monsanto, Sumitomo and Syngenta.”68 The links between the presentation of those to be trusted about scientific knowledge, the proliferation of GMOs without consent, and the connections to profit—driven enterprises raises serious concerns about the validity of the claims surrounding gm seeds.

The case of BT maize in Kenya is an example of the new configuration of powers entering into the systems of production that have long defined people, their cultures, and their ways of interacting with one another and the land. This paper attempts to recast the debate which in its original framing is simply about increasing food for the poor. The case of Kenya, however, shows that there is something deeper occurring with the ‘gene revolution’ and the access to a truth that is not only about a single way that crops can grow better but a single way for people to interact with the land, other countries, and the ever strengthening agro-business companies. The ‘gene revolution’ is presented as being about access to greater crop production but it is also about how people should be made to live. This paper has attempted to show that the ‘gene revolution’ and its introduction into developing countries, particularly in Africa, marks the emergence of new forms of knowledge and power. These new forms are based on the explicit idea that a superimposed order on nature will allow man to control and direct the relationships amongst and between man as a species. These assumptions are based on a desire for the control over the milieu in which humans live, based on a projected truth that man can control the basic building blocks of the structure to life. The proponents of the ‘gene revolution’ center their claims on ‘food security’ and on an argument that humans now have the technology and the duty to ‘make live.’ While we are often told that the ‘gene revolution’ will increase food production, what will be eliminated is left out, and a single solution is proposed as the magic bullet to a diversity of approaches that do not perhaps pose the same potential risks. The losses that will be incurred in terms of traditional practices, cultures based on their relationship to the land, and biodiversity, to say the least, are relegated to risk-assessment models that presuppose the ‘gene revolution’ is inherently a good thing and that it is only a matter of time before the truth about its benefits will be realized by critics and those who work and have worked on the land for ages. Farmers across Kenya have not been keen to plant the new seeds and so the scientific community provides studies of how best to reach farmers and ‘teach them’ the benefits they simply do not understand. Though control over power and knowledge are becoming consolidated in the ‘gene revolution’, agriculture provides a frontier, particularly in developing countries, where it can spread into all realms of people’s lives. We stand at a major juncture in human history that places large profit driven private corporations in the driver’s seat and leaves one wondering when we reached the point that all solutions to our problem point to a fetishized excess of power and control over, not only humans as such, but all things related to the production of human life.

Works Cited

1 Foucault, Michel. (2003). Society Must Be Defended, Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975-1976. (Picador: New York, NY). 254.

2 Gordon , Susan (ed). (2006). Critical Perspectives On Genetically Modified Crops and Food. (The Rosen Publishing Group: New York, NY). 61. [hereinafter referred to as Critical Perspectives]

3 Such geopolitical issues can be seen in famine relief where intervening concerns are articulated as the potential consequences of political unrest and migration for other nations.

4 For a discussion of globalization as a policy driven process in Africa and the role of Bretton Woods Institutions see: Mkandawire, Thandika. “The Global Economic Context” in Chitiga, Rutendo, Camila Toulmin, and Ben Wisner (eds.). (2005). Towards a New Map of Africa (Earthscan: London, UK). 159. This article points out some of the significant and concerning features of financial flows to Africa and discusses three trends: that a high concentration of foreign direct investment goes to South Africa, that there is a major sectoral concentration on mining, and that often the least desirable forms of foreign investment (portfolio investment rather than direct investment and acquisitions instead of green fields project) are taking place.

5 Transgenic plants were first created in the early 1980s by four groups working independently at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, the Rijksuniversiteit in Ghent, Belgium, Monsanto Company in St. Louis, Missouri, and the University of Wisconsin. Three of these groups made the announcement in January of 1983 at the Miami Winter Symposium, an annual conference for biologists from around the world. Robert Horsch, a scientist representing Monsanto was credited with the discovery. The heads of the other two groups to make the announcement at the Symposium, Mary Dell Chilton and Jeff Dell, were also academic advisors to Monsanto. For a further detailed discussion see Werhane, Patricia H., Michael E. Gorman and Jenny Mead.( 2004). Monsanto and the Development of Genetically Modified Seeds. Darden Case No.: UVA-E-0220-SSRN. Available at SSRN: [hereinafter referred to as Monsanto and GM].

6 Critical Perspectives Supra note 2: 94.

7 For one account of the development of modern science and the basis for knowledge about the natural world through an examination of a formative period in 17th century Europe see: Shapin, Steve. (1994). A Social History of Truth: Civility and Science in Seventeenth Century England (University of Chicago Press: Chicago, Il).

8 Letter from Wendell Berry to Wes Jackson in “Toward an Ignorance Based World View” in Bill Vitek and Wes Jackson. (eds.). (2008) The Virtues of Ignorance: Complexity, Sustainability, and the Limits of Knowledge. (The University Press of Kentucky: Lexington Kentucky). 22-23. [hereinafter referred to as Virtues of Ignorance].

9 Paraalberg, Don and Phillip Paarlberg. 2000. The Agricultural Revolution of The 20th Century. P. 133

10 Ibid… 3

11 For work that traces the reasons for the terming of twentieth century agricultural production as revolutionary see: Paraalberg, Don and Phillip Paarlberg. (2000). The Agricultural Revolution of The 20th Century. The book does not take a critical account of the capacity for the agricultural revolutions to provide food in a worldwide context but does conclude that the 20th century has created a movement away from small scale farms and towards consolidated industrial farming units and the placement of management choices out of hands of those working the lands themselves. The argument of the book traces the disciplinary strategies of the revolution from mechanization which had its roots in the 19th century and is asserted by Thorstein Veblen in The Engineers and Price System in 1921 to a shift towards chemistry led by Justus von Liebeg in Organic Chemistry in Its Application to Agriculture and Physiology. The new epoch in agriculture is entering the biological era built on the mechanical and chemical stages, beginning with the works of Charles Darwin in his book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or The Preservation of Races in the Struggle for Life and its successive flowering with discoveries by Gregor Mendel, Luis Pasteur and DNA. For a different account of the measurement of change that marked revolutions see Blazter, Sir Kenneth and Noel Robertson. (1995). From Dearth To Plenty.( Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, Great Britain). This book measures the transition by three variables: Structure of rural society, provision of commodities and services which the community as a whole requires, and the famers ability to use the resources at its disposal.

12 Blazter, Sir Kenneth and Noel Robertson. (1995). From Dearth To Plenty.( Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, Great Britain.) Opening page of book. [hereinafter referred to as From Dearth to Plenty]

13 Dahlberg, Kenneth. (1979). Beyond the Green Revolution: The Ecology and Politics of Global Agricultural Development. (Plenum Press: New York, NY.) 1. [hereinafter referred to as Beyond the Green Revolution]

14 “Food Security”

15 Sawnson Timothy. (2002). Biotechnology Agriculture and the Developing World: The Distributional Implications of Technological Change. ( Edward Elgar Publishing: Chltenham, UK) 25. [hereinafter referred to as Biotech and the Developing World]

16 Ibid…25

17 Ibid…See Chapter One: “Population Growth and Agricultural Intensification.”

18 Letter from President Moi to US President Bill Clinton. Accessed at on December 2 2008.

19 For more detailed discussion of the limitations of plant breeding emphasis in the green revolution for African
agricultural development see: John H., Barry Shapiro, and Sunder Ramaswamy. (2006) The Economies of
Agricultural Technology: Semiarid Sub-Saharan Africa. (Johns Hopkins University Press: Baltimore Maryland).
Chapter Two. In a book by one of the leading researchers for the Rockefeller Foundations ‘new green
revolution’ program in Africa, Joseph DeVries acknowledges this: “Lingering low yields among African farmers for
crops such as maize and rice, where adoption of improved varieties has been appreciable, call into question the
overall value of the improved germaplasm to local farmers.” DeVries, Joseph and Gary Toenniessen. (2001).
Securing the Harvest: Biotechnology, Breeding, and Seed Systems for Africa’s Crops. 50 [hereinafter referred to as
Securing the Crop].

20 Beyond the Green Revolution: Supra note 11: 49

21 Ibid… 49

22 Ibid …219

23 Pyle, George. (2005) Raising Less Corn and More Hell: The Case for the Independent Farm and Against Industrial Food. (Public Affairs: New York, NY). 41. [hereinafter referred to as Raising Less Corn].

24 Perkins, John H. (1997). Geopolitics and the Green Revolution: Wheat, Genes, and the Cold War. (Oxford University Press. New York, NY). 15.

25 Ibid … 16

26 Borlaug, Norman E. and Christopher Dowswell. “The Second Green Revolution.” [hereinafter referred to as The Second Green Revolution] In Taib, M. and A.H. Zakri. (eds.). (2008). Agriculture, Human, Security and Peace: A Crossroad in African Development. (Purdue University Press: West Lafayette, Indiana.) 135. [hereinafter referred to as Agriculture, Human, Security and Peace].

27 Sen, Amytra. (1981). Poverty and Famines an essay on Entitlement and Deprivation. Oxford University Press: Oxford, UK.)

28 The Second Green Revolution. Supra note 24: 123

29 Manning, Richard. (2000). Food’s Frontier. (North Point Press: New York, New York). 4. [hereinafter referred to as Food’s Frontier]

30 Shiva, Vandana. (1991). The Violence of the Green Revolution. (Zed Book Ltd: London, United Kingdom). [hereinafter referred to as The Violence of the Green Revolution].

31 Ibid… 12

32 Hohn. T. and Leisinger, K.M. (eds.). (1999). Biotechnology of Food Crops in Developing Countries.( Springer-Verlag Wien: New York, NY). [hereinafter referred to as Biotechnology of Food Crops].

33 Pingali, Prabhu and Terri Raney. “From the Green Revolution to the Gene Revolution: How will the Poor Fare? ” The Food and Agricultural Division of the United Nations: ESA Working Paper No. 05-09. November 2005. [hereinafter referred to as From Green to Gene].

34 There is furthermore the problem of the technology learning curve; “The effective transfer of technology often requires the transfer of ‘tacit’ knowledge, which cannot be easily codified (e.g. as in patent disclosures and instruction manuals). Since many technologies of interest to developing countries are produced by organizations from developed countries, the acquisition of technology requires the ability to negotiate effectively based on an understanding of the particular technology.” Glodsmith, P.D., D.K. Nauriyal, and W. Peng.“Seed Biotechnology, Intellectual Property and Global Agricultural Competitiveness” in Kesan, Jay P. (ed.). (2007). Agricultural Biotechnology and Intellectual Property: Seeds of Change (CABI: Wallingford, UK). 32.

35 Foucault, Michel. 2003. Society Must Be Defended, Lectures at the Collège de France, 1975-1976 (Picador: New York, NY). 258.

36 The sprawling form (Need to add to this footnote).

37 Crime and Hunger. Supra note 5: 27

38 Ibid … 27-28

39 From the Green to the Gene. Supra note 31: 3

40 Ibid.

41 Becker, Howard S. “Whose Side are We On” Social Problems. January 1967, Vol. 14, No. 3, Pages 239–247. This term used here is based on a concept introduced by Howard S. Becker in this now famous piece. The term was used by Becker to capture social inequalities and the moral hierarchy of society to accord credibility to a concept based on it being a product of purportedly objective judgments. Becker’s use of this term, however, points out that the judgment of the facts and evidence are often biased towards those at the tops levels of society and those who can utilize their greater resources to support evidence which sustains their own privileges. The term is used here to point out that seeds themselves, and the knowledge about as well as patents on them, establishes a hierarchy in terms of who is deemed credible about their truths and application. Such a hierarchy systematically leaves poor farmers marginalized, particularly in ‘developing countries’, and discredited for their alleged lack of knowledge about the complicated structure of seeds which scientists in the North know and possess the patented tools to reveal the truth about.

42 Alteri, Miguel A. (2004). Genetic Engineering in Agriculture. (Food First Books: Oakland, California). 4.

43 Kuyek, Devlin. (2002). Genetically Modified Crops in Africa: Implications for Small Farmers. (Genetic Resources International: Barcelona, Spain). 13. [hereinafter referred to as GMO in Africa]

44 Securing the Harvest. Supra note 17: 106

45 GMO in Africa. Supra note 40: 6

46 Biotechnology of Food Crops. Supra note 30: 62

47 CIA world Factbook Kenya. Accessed at on December 2, 2008.

48 Hilbek, A. and D.A. Andrew (ed.).(2004). Environmental Risk Assessment of Genetically Modified Foods: A Case Study of BT Maize in Kenya.(CABI Publishing: Wallingford, UK.) 21. [hereinafter referred to as Risk Assessment of BT Maize].

49 Ibid …23

50 Talbot, I.D. 1990. Agricultural Innovation in Colonial Africa: Kenya and the Great Depression. (The Edwin Mellen Press: Wales, United Kingdom). 1 [hereinafter referred to as Agricultural Innovation].

51 For further detailed discussion of superimposed European farming systems in Kenya see: Agricultural Innovation Supra note 47. Also see: Little, Peter and Michael J. Watts. (1994). Living Under Contract: Contract Farming and Agrarian Transformation in Sub-Saharan Africa.( The University of Wisconsin Press: Madison, Wisconsin).

52 Risk Assessment of BT Maize. Supra note 45: 32

53 Ibid… 34

54 Ibid… 33

55 See for examples: De Groote, Hugo, George Owour, and Melinda Smale. “Promising Biotechnology for Smallholder Farmers in East Africa: Predicting Farmer Demand for BT Maize in Kenya.” International Food Policy Research Institute and International Plant Genetic Resources Institute. January, 2006.

56 GMO in Africa. Supra note 40: 14

57 Biotechnology of Food Crops. Supra note 30: 7-8

58 Ibid… 9-15

59 Critical Perspectives. Supra note 2:91

60 Securing the Harvest. Supra note 17

61 Ibid …61

62 Crime and Hunger. Supra note 5:25

63 Mbaria, John. “Farmers Planting Maize that Poses Threat to Human Health.” Daily Nation 3/23/2008. Accessed at on December 2, 2008.

64 The other two projects are: land and resource management in Eritrea and millet and sorghum improvement in Mali.

65 See KARI website at accessed on December1, 2008.

66 “USAID in Africa” News, Updates and Resources from USAID’s Bureau in Africa. Accessed at on December 1, 2008.

67 Mbaria, John. “Govt. Wants to Impose GMOS ‘By Force’ ”. The East African October 06, 3008 Accessed at on December 01 2008.

68 Ibid … 3


Fatuma Emmad recently graduated from the Politics department’s masters program.