On continuities and discontinuities: The making of technology-driven interventions and the encounter with the MasAgro Programme in Mexico

Tania Eulalia Martinez-Cruz

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


Most of our work and knowledge as researchers in agriculture is taken to farmers in the form of technology-driven interventions. The central assumption behind these projects is that farmers can improve their livelihoods by increasing their crop yields and crop productivity. Over time, due to the criticisms on how these modern technologies failed to include the most marginalised people and the negative environmental impacts of their use, a call for participatory approaches to development, addressing the environmental agenda, human rights and social justice and the role of a socially responsible civil society and industry has emerged. Yet there remains a need for using modern technologies to increase crop productivity to lift farmers out from poverty. For example, the World Bank indicates that to achieve the Sustainable Development goal of “Zero hunger”, the small-holder farmers will play a crucial role by increasing their yield and productivity while also using sustainable food systems. Hence, researchers have a role as key actors in developing modern technologies that fit the new challenges.

In Mexico researchers have played a central role in designing of technology-driven interventions that seek to increase agricultural productivity. Researchers have offered silver bullets, i.e. technologies that promise to serve as simple solutions to complex problems, to politicians. Mexican agricultural policy historically has promoted agricultural production based on modern technologies to increase yields through several interventions, from the Mexican Agricultural Programme in the 1940’s to the Sustainable Modernisation of the Traditional Agriculture (MasAgro) Programme launched in 2010. Some authors argue that this model has subsidised inequality because the winners of these policies have historically been the same group of well-endowed farmers. Most of the small farmers, subsistence farmers and landless agricultural labourers have historically been excluded from programmes to engage them as producers. Yet, the effectiveness of these interventions is often unclear, which leads us to wonder why some technologies and paradigms are dominant over others and therefore continue to be promoted and implemented, despite the uncertainty about their effectiveness? and why some other technologies and approaches are discontinued or considered irrelevant in global narrative and agendas? Thus, we need to look at our work critically through the lens of political agronomy to explain how agendas are negotiated and what the underlying assumptions are. My research focus on understanding how mechanisms are shaping processes of continuity and discontinuity in technology-driven interventions like MasAgro Programme in Mexico – reinforcing the prevalence of particular technologies and groups of beneficiaries and excluding others. In doing so, I used  the case of MasAgro Programme, led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre and the Mexican Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, to analyse processes of processes of continuity and discontinuity and social inclusion and exclusion.

My first case study (Chapter 2) is contextual and focuses on the social life of MasAgro Programme in Mexico. Here I explore the mechanisms that allowed the emergence of MasAgro Programme and how it gave continuity to the agricultural production paradigm as MasAgro Programme was initially portrayed as a second Green Revolution. MasAgro Programme found continuity over three different government periods, which is unusual for programmes in Mexico depending on government funds. Thus, I investigate how MasAgro Programme and other technologies and linked interventions encountered causing continuity of some of their processes but discontinuity of others. In the end, I show how there is an interdependence among actors, specifically among the government and researchers and how they converge at one point to negotiate agendas causing processes of continuity, discontinuity, social inclusion and exclusion.

The second case study (Chapter 3) focuses on Conservation Agriculture (CA) practices in the region of Bajío Mexico. I study what mechanisms enabled CA technology to find continuity through several interventions for a period of 30 years. At the same time, I look at how processes of discontinuity interacted with that apparent continuity in CA technology research. I apply the boundary concept to analyse who contributed to the making of those CA-like technology interventions, what their interests and agendas were and therefore who was included and excluded. I show how research and politics are mutually dependent and how they generate a discontinuity of project interventions which, paradoxically, represent a continuity of agendas and research processes.

In my third case study (Chapter 4), I explore how native maize cultivation continues to persist in Yavesía, an indigenous village in Oaxaca, despite agricultural policy in Mexico having been designed to force discontinuity on native maize cultivation. I situate this case study in the broader debate of agricultural production and traditionality paradigms for maize cultivation in Mexico. I show how, for the farmers of Yavesía, the encounter with MasAgro Programme is one of many that represent opportunities to give continuity to their ‘comunalidad’ linked to maize cultivation” as a mode of making a living. With this chapter I also show some of the intangible meanings of maize cultivation that cannot be captured in a productivity oriented rational but at the same time how the meaning of traditionality changes over time around maize cultivation in an attempt by farmers to adapt to a changing world.

The fourth case study (Chapter 5) focuses on a mobile phone-based SMS system called MasAgro Mobile (MVV), which provides farmers with farming information to empower them in their practice as farmers. MVV found continuity over different government periods as did the larger MasAgro Programme, but also by different institutions. Thus, I explore how it found continuity but also how learning was driven by processes of continuity and discontinuity and what mechanisms allowed or prevented that lessons were learned. With this case study I show the political dimensions shaping how learning occurs and why some lessons are taken on board whereas others do not.

Finally, in the discussion (Chapter 6), I summarise the answer to my research question on how processes of continuity and discontinuity take place based on my empirical cases and lead to processes of inclusion and exclusion. I also present a final reflection on the practical implications of my findings and how to move forward.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • Leeuwis, Cees, Promotor
  • Almekinders, Conny, Co-promotor
  • Camacho Villa, C., Co-promotor, External person
Award date22 Jan 2020
Place of PublicationWageningen
Print ISBNs9789463952385
Publication statusPublished - 2020


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