Contesting the transgenic landscape : networks, narratives and policy action in agrarian struggles in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil 1998-2003
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The widespread dissemination of agricultural biotechnology has been marked by heated and constant debate, and has proven to be more problematic than promising. Responses from alternative agrarian actors (including farmers, rural activists, small farmer cooperatives and landless workers) have been a mixture of acceptance, adaptation and contestation to this technology, and more significantly, to the accompanying economic, political and social processes. In the southernmost Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, legalization of commercial production of transgenic crops appeared on the policy agenda in 1998. In this state, where movements for agrarian reform and alternative agriculture have been thriving since the late 1970's, alongside large agro-cooperatives and a handful of powerful landowners, the battle over biotechnology has been extensive and has gained international attention. The contestation of the transgenic landscape has been incorporated into the agendas of these actors and has come to represent the entire range of dynamics involved in the struggle for rural livelihood security. This thesis suggests that the response to agricultural biotechnology by alternative agrarian actors reflects the threat of deepening rural inequality and complication of already precarious agrarian struggles, but that it has also led to the creation of new spaces and new strategies for contestation. Historical legacies, local experiences and the problematic nature of biotechnology itself are key underlying components in this case. This study examines policy action, the formation of new networks and the use of a common narrative in order to analyze the development and significance of the contestation of the transgenic landscape.