Breeding from biotechnology: a look at the infrastructures behind the production of flood-resistant rice in India and Bangladesh
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This paper was written for professor Marko Salvaggio’s Environmental Sociology seminar. The assignment follows an unconventional format, exploring the material, cultural, and environmental infrastructures that contribute to the creation of a specific material good, in this case, genetically modified flood-tolerant rice. I was drawn to the idea of writing about Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) after stumbling upon an article in The New Yorker about plant geneticist Pamela Ronald. In the article, Ronald presents a counter narrative to the dominant fear surrounding GMOs by providing the example of “scuba rice” – a variety of rice, bred via a process called marker assisted selection, that can withstand two weeks of complete submergence under water. This rice has implications for providing greater food security for families and communities at the local level. I wanted to learn more about this side of GMOs, rarely talked about in mainstream media. Surely GMOs had applications beyond Monsanto’s Round-Up Ready tomatoes and Bt corn. Dispelling the stigma of GMOs could hopefully encourage people to think critically about what this umbrella term means and in what context it is used. In addition, by looking at flood-tolerant rice from a production standpoint and through the framework of the product’s cultural, material, and environmental infrastructure, we can better understand the societal and environmental footprint of consuming said product. The infrastructures explore the ways in which knowledge and resources flow from one point to another as part of the greater production process. From the lab to the field, the arduous production of flood-tolerant rice involves the participation, and financial and technological resources of a myriad of stakeholders, but the benefits of its successful development are perhaps well worth the process.