Accepted paper:

Seeds of Life: the neoliberal agenda of monopolising agricultural seeds in East Timor


Thomas Reuter (University of Melbourne)

Paper short abstract:

Instead of learning from past failures of the Green Revolution in the Global South, Timor-Leste’s National Development Plan adopts it as a solution to food insecurity. Efforts to bring in high-yield varieties through the "Seeds of Life" project ignore the negative impacts of Green Revolutions.

Paper long abstract:

Instead of learning from the past failures of the Green Revolution in nearby Indonesia and elsewhere in the Global South, Timor-Leste's twenty-year National Strategic Development Plan (TL-NSDP 2011-2030) adopts the Green Revolution as a solution to food insecurity. This Green Revolution has been drawing Asia's peasantry into the vortex of the world trade system, including the global market for high-yielding seeds. The term 'High Yielding Varieties' is a misnomer because it implies that the new seeds are high-yielding in and of themselves. The distinguishing feature of the seeds, however, is that they are highly responsive to certain key inputs such as fertilizers and irrigation water. Palmer therefore suggested the term 'high-responsive varieties' (HRV's) in place of 'high yielding varieties' (HYV)". These varieties are considered as "advanced", unlike the indigenous varieties which are seen as primitive by the promoters of the Green and Gene Revolution, even though they demand a lot of chemical fertilizers and three times more water than indigenous varieties. According to Oxfam 82% of surveyed households in Timor-Leste still save their own seed. I argue that efforts to bring the Green Revolution to Timor-Leste through the "Seeds of Life" project rely on ignorance or denial of the violent effect of Green Revolutions -- economically, ecologically, socially and culturally.

panel P039
Anthropological perspectives on environmental change and sustainable futures (Commission on Anthropology and the Environment)