Agricultural transformations and notions of wealth: Human and natural resources in the age of development

In the second half of the twentieth century, the rural world emerged both as a locus for development but also as a potential source of economic growth. Government bodies, international organizations, experts and agribusinesses focused on how to revolutionize agriculture. On the one hand, they endeavored to apply new scientific knowledge and technologies to make nature more productive, thereby creating new markets for agricultural technology (fertilizers, pesticides, hybrid crops). On the other hand, the question of how to transform peasant societies into communities of productive rural entrepreneurs was crucial for such development schemes. A myriad of anthropological and sociological studies of the rural world were supposed to guide this transformation, but also revealed the tensions created by its ideological underpinnings and its inherent limits. Still, ideas of rural welfare, food security and technological revolutions became central aspects in a series of green revolutions implemented by states and international organizations with the support of agribusinesses. While much of the literature has pegged these expert claims as an instrument for rural dispossession, the historical experience is more complex.

The contributors to this panel explore various regional contexts and interpretations of this agrarian transformation and they examine the economic and geopolitical context as well as the interaction between experts and peasant populations. Using previously unexplored archives, they shed light on the perspective of investors, but also on the local perception and reception of these interventions to reveal divergent notions of agricultural wealth.