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The emergence of Panama disease Tropical Race 4 (Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. cubense) or TR4 – a fungal disease in banana that is considered by horticulture experts as not only one of the most destructive diseases in the world (Ploetz 1994) but one with no on-hand socio-cultural or chemical method to control it satisfactorily (Ploetz 2015) – has generated conversations, dialogue, inquiry and at times controversy, on how this risk is to be managed.
The onslaught of Tropical Race 1 (TR1) in the 1900s, destroying many banana plantations in Latin America and the Caribbean, provided a lens by which the political economy of Latin America can be examined. Much, however, has changed in global political economy configurations between the 1900s and today. Confronted once more with the disease in contemporary settings, we are provided with an opportunity, and a context within which, to reflect on the ways by which societies, governments and peoples work to address the disease and mitigate its threats in a new time-space constellation. The rise of globalisation and the neoliberal model have ushered in profound changes within the last three decades – changes that have driven social and political processes on multiple scales of governance, and have influenced relationships, behaviours, ways of life and perceptions. This research, therefore, asks the central question: Do features of neoliberal governance influence risk perceptions and decision-making on Panama disease, and if so, in what ways?
This research draws from political ecology as a framework to analyse how political and economic relationships impact on people’s understandings of risk in the context of a phenomenon that has ecological or bio-physical roots. At the heart of the thesis lies the central matter of risk politics: that risk decisions – focusing in particular on what risks matter, who decides, who should be exposed to what, and to what degree – are both an effect of power and an exercise of power.
The thesis is based on a multi-site and multi-scale study consisting of two in-depth case studies – one conducted in the Philippines, the other in Australia – alongside expert interviews conducted in Kampala (Uganda), Rome (Italy), Wageningen (the Netherlands) and Florida (USA). The research is multi-scale in that three different scales of interaction are examined: at the global scale, as situated in the discourse and practice of international governing bodies; at the national scale, by studying the rules and laws in countries which have had experience of Panama disease, and by examining how biosecurity responses have been shaped in the context of a national policy of privatised agriculture; and at the local scale, where agrarian dynamics between small-holder farmers and large corporations are studied. The research is designed not to compare contexts with each other, but to provide illustrative snapshots of the many ways that risk can be shaped by its social milieu.
The first Chapter of this dissertation looks at how the risk of Panama disease is evaluated by international regulatory bodies and actors in global governance networks such as the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC) within the Food and Agriculture Organisation, and examines the contestations that underlie the question of whether or not Panama disease control and management constitute a Global Public Good. It has been found with clarity that adherence to free trade principles influence and constrain the ways by which international organizations perceive the risk of, and how they address, this transnational plant disease.
The second Chapter, based on field work in the southern part of the Philippines where a Panama disease infestation has been confirmed and where social relations in rural livelihoods are characterized by a contentious agrarian history, investigates how asymmetric binary relationships between the social actors in a contract growership arrangement -- specifically large banana corporations and smallholder farmers -- influence the possibilities and limitations of disease control.
The third Chapter demonstrates, using the example of Australia, important limitations in the neoliberal ‘user-pays’ model in its ability to address emergency plant disease outbreaks, particularly when swift rule-making and rule-enforcing powers of the state are necessary. While the shared responsibility approach can keep the wheels grinding in a business-as-usual context, within a rapidly-evolving epidemiological emergency, the terms of engagement between government and industry need to be recast.
The fourth Chapter examines the issue of genetic modification – bannered by some scientists as the only or at least the most plausible solution to the urgent problem of Panama disease – and the current state of the global regulatory framework on bio-safety. Developing countries with confirmed Panama disease infestations (Philippines, Indonesia, Jordan, Mozambique and Pakistan) were used as units of analysis. Using tools of legal text analysis, a comparison is made between the National Reports of the countries to the Bio-Safety Clearing House of the Cartagena Protocol on Bio-Safety and international commitments to the IPPC, World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the Cartagena Protocol. This chapter challenges the notion of a ‘uniform science’ and finds that while individual countries ostensibly accept that science, or scientific knowledge, can be used as a unifying framework to consolidate multiple appreciations of risk and divergent approaches in addressing and confronting it, a perusal of their domestic legislation shows contradictions between what was committed in international platforms, and what is implemented domestically. Contrary to the purely scientific standards upheld by the IPPC and the WTO, socio-economic risks and cultural considerations have been found within domestic legislation.
Drawing from these chapters, this research proposes that neoliberalism influences Panama disease strategies in at least three ways: one, through the organisation and harmonisation of systems of behaviour, practices and legislation; two, through the promotion of its narratives and the marginalisation of counter-narratives; and three, through the endorsement of tools that support its agenda.
Firstly, neoliberalism organises and harmonises systems of behaviour, practices and legislation so that it conforms with its own logic and processes. An intuitive abhorrence of protectionism results in the perception that plant health measures that may result in trade barriers are inherently suspect, and thus should be avoided, except in the most exigent of circumstances. The international regulatory system has been substantially re-written so that even collective action becomes increasingly hard to be mobilized, and that international support cannot be activated without the imprimatur of the International Plant Protection Convention, given fears that such action might constitute the basis for future trade restriction. Through adherence to neoliberal principles, the global system has been in effect re-engineered in such a way as to limit the latitude and capacity of countries to identify and designate what they believe to be a risk, as a pluralistic interpretation of risk can be defined as constituting protectionism. Science and scientific knowledge are deployed not in furtherance of the wider considerations of plant health, but to ensure that considerations of plant health keep ‘within limits’ and do not cross over to impinge on borderless international trade.
Secondly, neoliberalism influences plant disease strategies through the propagation of a dominant narrative that protects its interests and the marginalization of counter-narratives that challenge its own dominant narrative. A narrative that blames smallholder farmers for Panama disease reinforces the trope on the unsustainability of smallholder agriculture and the lack of capacity of smallholder farmers. In contrast, a narrative that blames large companies or corporations for the spread of the disease is one that challenges the wisdom of corporate agriculture, and one that may have the consequence of state regulation of corporations, which contradicts the ideological core of neoliberalism: that the market must remain unhampered and unencumbered by strong state intervention.
Thirdly, neoliberalism influences Panama disease measures through the endorsement of tools against the disease that are consistent with its agenda. The research surfaces the aggressive promotion of biotechnology as the only solution – or the ‘silver bullet’ to the possible extermination of Cavendish bananas because of Panama disease, and the endorsement of a biotechnology-permissive global regulatory regime. Neoliberalism did not create Panama disease, nor are proponents of genetic modification always driven by market compulsions, but neoliberal globalism has been shown, for instance through predatory patenting schemes, to reinforce and exacerbate the tendencies of the ‘biotechnology revolution’ to cause social polarisation.
In sum, neoliberalism influences Panama disease strategies by framing risk – by managing and controlling how the risk of Panama disease is perceived, measured and decided upon by social actors. Its framing of risk is negotiable, malleable and contingent on what the system needs at a given time. This research concludes that neoliberalism has the effect of instrumentalising risk by deploying it as a tool that is used to protect the dominance of its ideology. The framing of risk – the answers to the fundamental questions of what risks matter, who decides, who should be exposed to what, and to what degree – is, indeed, an exercise of power. But at the same time, it is done to protect accumulated power, and in the course of this research, I strove to demonstrate, using the example of Panama disease, the precise ways by which neoliberalism has exercised its power in multiple levels of governance and within social relations of production to frame plant disease risk to its strategic advantage.
The urgent imperative, therefore, is to continue asserting a global counter-narrative: one that pushes plant disease protection as a global public good, one that speaks to heterogeneous understandings of risk and does not require a uniform notion of science to confer legitimacy to varying standards of protection and, most importantly, one that puts the marginalised and the disproportionate risk burdens that they bear at the centre of the discourse.
|Qualification||Doctor of Philosophy|
|Award date||23 Oct 2017|
|Place of Publication||Wageningen|
|Publication status||Published - 2017|
- Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. cubense