Disembedding grain: Golden Rice, the Green Revolution, and heirloom seeds in the Philippines
“Golden Rice” has played a key role in arguments over genetically modified (GM) crops for many years. It is routinely depicted as a generic GM vitamin tablet in a generic plant bound for the global South. But the release of Golden Rice is on the horizon only in the Philippines, a country with a storied history and complicated present, and contested future for rice production and consumption. The present paper corrects this blinkered view of Golden Rice through an analysis of three distinctive “rice worlds” of the Philippines: Green Revolution rice developed at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the 1960s, Golden Rice currently being bred at IRRI, and a scheme to promote and export traditional “heirloom” landrace rice. More than mere seed types, these rices are at the centers of separate “rice worlds” with distinctive concepts of what the crop should be and how it should be produced. In contrast to the common productivist framework for comparing types of rice, this paper compares the rice worlds on the basis of geographical embeddedness, or the extent to which local agroecological context is valorized or nullified in the crop’s construction. The Green Revolution spread generic, disembedded high-input seeds to replace locally adapted landraces as well as peasant attitudes and practices associated with them. The disembeddedness of Golden Rice that boosts its value as a public relations vehicle has also been the main impediment in it reaching farmers’ fields, as it has proved difficult to breed into varieties that grow well specifically in the Philippines. Finally, and somewhat ironically, IRRI has recently undertaken research and promotion of heirloom seeds in collaboration with the export scheme.