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The contradictions of the biorevolution for the development of agriculture in the third world: Biotechnology and capitalist interest

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All biotechnology-related promises are based upon its technological potential; yet, many of these promises assure the solution for chronic socio-economic problems in the Third World through a new technological revolution in agriculture. The forecasting is that such a revolution will start delivering its most profound impact early in the 21st century. However, 11 years before the year 2000, a critical analysis of its promises against its current trends indicates that the future use and impact of biotechnology in the Third World rely presently upon crucial contradictions.

As a result of such contradictions—Social Goals vs. Private Gains, Social Problems vs. Technical Solutions, Agricultural vs. Industrial Revolution, Cooperation vs. Competition, and Control over Nature vs. Control Over People—there is a high likelihood that (1) traditional farming will become increasingly obsolete, (2) technological and economic dependence of developing on developed countries will persist and even increase, (3) food and fiber production will be increasingly dislocated from developing to developed countries and from farms to industries, (4) the market for specific tropical products will be destroyed and therefore entire economies may collapse, (5) hunger and poverty will persist and even increase, and (6) social unrest may increase worldwide.

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Additional information

J. Souza Silva is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Sociology at University of Kentucky. After working 5 years as an extension agent and 5 years as an agricultural researcher in Brazil, he decided to shift from Agronomy to Sociology. His Master's Thesis stressed the contradictions of biotechnology for agriculture in the Third World and his Ph.D. dissertation will examine the changing nature of the struggle for access and control over the world plant genetic resources from colonial times to the year 2000. He works for the Brazilian Public Agricultural Research Enterprise (EMBRAPA), at the Agricultural Research Center for the Semi-Arid Tropic (CPATSA), Petrolina (Pernambuco), Brazil.

An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 50th Anniversary of the Rural Sociological Society, Madison, Wisconsin, 12–15 August 1987. In its present version, it emphasizes the capitalist rationale behind the promised biotechnical revolution and its implications for Third World agriculture and society. Readers interested in further empirical evidence and bibliographical references on given issues addressed here are encouraged to read my Master's Thesis (Souza Silva 1988). This version has profited by comments from Jeffrey Burkhardt and Paul Thompson, and James Christenson.

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Silva, J.S. The contradictions of the biorevolution for the development of agriculture in the third world: Biotechnology and capitalist interest. Agric Hum Values 5, 61–70 (1988). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02217660

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