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Culturing Development: Bananas, Petri Dishes and 'Mad Science'

Smith, J

Journal of Eastern African Studies   1 (2) 212-233

July 2007   (Version of record first published July 2007)

This paper analyses a biotechnology-focused project which aims to promote the development and adoption of tissue culture bananas by small-scale farmers in Kenya. The paper highlights the generation of several important narratives that are used to justify the development and dissemination of this technology. First, a disaster narrative, a series of claims regarding rural livelihoods and banana production in Kenya, is generated. This creates a political and technical space for the creation of a new science that can solve these problems. Finally a series of claims regarding the efficacy of the technology in alleviating poverty are made. The project wields these various constructs to create a particular projection of rural Kenya and banana production, deploying data, statistics, economics and 'facts' in order to continually redefine the project as a success. The project can, through a process of defining its own boundaries and limits, justify a technology-led solution to a complex and nuanced set of problems - the biological subsuming the political. The project thus succeeds as a generator of discourses as much as a generator of technologies.