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Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa

Dowd-Uribe, B. and Schnurr, M.A. (In Press). Burkina Faso' reversal on Genetically Modified crops and the implications for Africa. African Affairs.

Addison, L. and Schnurr, M.A. (In Press). Introduction to symposium on labor, gender and new sources of agrarian change. Agriculture and Human Values.

Addison, L. and Schnurr, M.A. (2015) Growing burdens: Disease-resistant Genetically Modified Banana and the gendered implications for labour in Uganda. Agriculture and Human Values.

This article explores the research we conducted in Uganda regarding the introduction of genetically modified varieties of Matooke, a traditional cooking banana that is the country’s primary carbohydrate.

Schnurr, M.A. and Gore, C. (2015). Getting to ‘yes’: The evolution of biotechnology regulation in Uganda. Journal of International Development, 27, 55-72.

Written with my colleague Chris Gore from Ryerson University, this article critically examines the evolution of the regulatory regime to manage the potential social, environmental and health risks associated with the introduction of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in Uganda. The paper investigates the inter-relationships that connect the various elements of GMO regulation, arguing that current policy and legislative efforts are the results of the early establishment of institutions and processes tailored towards the eventual endorsement of these technologies.


Schnurr, M.A. (2015). GMO 2.0: Genetically Modified crops and the push towards Africa's Green Revolution. Canadian Food Studies, 2(2): 201-208.

Schnurr, M.A., Mujabi-Mujuzi, S., Miiro, T. and Addison, L. (2015). Can Genetically Modified crops help African farmers? Insights from Uganda. In: Analyses: Africa's Future... Can biosciences contribute? Cambridge: Lavenham Press, 28-36.

Jones, K., Schnurr, M.A., Carr, E., and Moseley, W. (2015) Should I stay or should I go? Incorporating a commitment to fieldwork throughout an academic career. African Geographical Review, 34(1): 55-68.

This collaborative essay reflects on the ambiguities associated with maintaining and adopting a commitment to applied research and fieldwork amid changing professional, personal and contextual situations.

Schnurr, M.A. and Mujabi Mujuzi, S. (2014). ‘No one asks for a meal they’ve never eaten’; Or, do African farmers want Genetically Modified crops? Agriculture and Human Values, 31(4), 643-648.

This article reflects on the relative silence of African farmers within debates around the potential for GM crops to transform agriculture on the continent. It proposes two strategies for amplifying these voices – one focused on research methodologies, the other on outreach – in order to transform the conversation around GM’s potential in Africa into one that revolves around farmer preferences and priorities.


Dowd-Uribe, B., Glover, D. and Schnurr, M.A. (2014). Seeds and places: The geographies of transgenic crops in the global south. Geoforum 53: 145-148.

Schnurr, M.A. (2013). Bio-hegemony and biotechnology in Uganda: Unraveling the strategies used to promote Genetically Modified crops into new African market. Journal of Peasant Studies, 40(4), 639-658.

My aim in this article is to uncover the network of corporate actors, development agencies, policy officials, and research scientists that support the unquestioned dominance of GM in Uganda. I rely on Gramscian insights reveal how these constellations of power align to support biotechnology at the expense of other technological possibilities, and how this consensus maintains its position of dominance while remaining largely unquestioned and unchallenged.


Schnurr, M.A. (2012). Inventing Makhathini: Creating a prototype for the dissemination of Genetically Modified crops into Africa. Geoforum, 43(2), 784-792.

This article emerged out of research investigating the case of smallholder cotton farmers in the Makhathini Flats, South Africa, who were among the first early adopters of Monsanto’s Bt cotton.. I emphasize the disconnect between the dominant representation of Makhathini that is celebrated in the scholarly and popular literature and the realities faced by its cotton growers. I conclude that the representation of Makhathini’s success with Bt cotton has outlived the realities recounted by its farmers.

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Witt, H., Patel, R. and Schnurr, M.A. (2006). Can the poor help Genetically Modified crops? Technology, representation, and cotton in the Makhathini Flats, South Africa. Review of African Political Economy, 33, 497-513.

This article emerged out of a collaboration with Dr. Harald Witt and Dr. Raj Patel, funded by the Centre for Civil Society at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban. Our project investigated the adoption of Genetically Modified (GM) cotton in South Africa’s Makhathini Flats, which was heralded as a case in which agricultural biotechnology could benefit smallholder farmers. Using historical, political economic and ethnographic data, we found the initial enthusiasm around GM technology to be misguided. We argue that the adoption of GM cotton is symptomatic not of farmers’ endorsement of GM technology, but a sign of the profound lack of choice facing them in the region.

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Histories of Development

Moseley, W.G., Schnurr, M.A., and Bezner-Kerr, R. (2015) Interrogating the (neoliberal) agenda for agricultural development and hunger alleviation in Africa. African Geographical Review, 34 (1), 1-7.

Meer, T. and Schnurr, M.A. (2013) The community versus community-based natural resource management: The case of Ndumo game reserve, South Africa. Canadian Journal of Development Studies, 34(4), 482-497.

Written with one of my former MA students, this article investigates the escalating violence directed by community members towards the Ndumo game reserve in South Africa, which has pitted residents against the reserve they are invested in as owners and managers. We argue that the destruction and violence at Ndumo are best understood as an example of communities trying desperately to engage with state- and private-sector-led conservation in the face of continued exclusion.

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Schnurr, M.A. (2013). Cotton as calamitous commodity: The politics of agricultural failure in Natal and Zululand, 1844-1938. Canadian Journal of African Studies, 47(1), 115-132

This article follows the efforts of white settlers to impose cotton as an export crop in Natal and Zululand. Touted as a commodity capable of remaking land and life in the region in the 1850s, the 1860s, and again in the 1910s and 1920s, cotton never achieved more than marginal status in the region’s agricultural economy. Its story is one of historical amnesia: although faith in the region’s cotton prospects dipped following each spectacular failure, it was routinely resurrected once previous failures had been accounted for, or memories of them had faded.

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Schnurr, M.A. (2011). The Boom and Bust of Zululand Cotton, 1910-1933. Journal of Southern African Studies, 31(1), 119-134.

This article is based on a chapter of my Ph. D. dissertation which investigated the boom and bust of the largest cotton surge in South African history. I argue that cotton figured as a preferred crop within emerging national agricultural policy because it accorded with the political and ideological priorities of the new white settler state, and that it failed due to mistakes in planning and production, as well as more trenchant issues of ecological incompatibility.

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Schnurr, M.A. (2011). Breeding for insect-resistant cotton across imperial networks, 1924-1950. Journal of Historical Geography, 37(2): 223-231.

This paper investigates the elevated expectations and dramatic downturns of the Empire Cotton Growing Corporation’s African experimentation program. It follows the trials of U.4, an insect-resistant variety bred to withstand continental growing conditions, whose expansion through east and southern Africa was filled with promise but ended in disappointment.

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Schnurr, M.A. (2009). Commodity cropping and the delineation of agricultural space in Natal, 1850–1863. South African Historical Journal, 61, 138-157.

This article recounts the efforts of Natal’s first Secretary for Native Affairs, Theophilus Shepstone, to introduce cotton as a commodity crop among the colony’s Zulu population. I argue that this push for cotton was fuelled by motivations that were political more than agricultural; that cotton was first and foremost about delineating African and settler space and establishing a political order.

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Environmental Security and Conflict

Schnurr, M.A. and Swatuk, L.A., eds. (2012) Natural Resources and Social Conflict: Towards Critical Environmental Security. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

This volume challenges prevailing claims about environmental security by reorienting our understanding of the relationship between natural resources and political violence towards one focused on environmental insecurity. This issue of how security reflects broader patterns of political struggle and social control are underscored through empirically grounded, context-specific case studies.

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Schnurr, M.A. and Swatuk, L.A. eds (2010). Critical environmental security: Rethinking the links between natural resources and political violence. New Issues in Security Series 5 (Halifax: Centre for Foreign Policy Studies).

Teaching with Technology

Schnurr, M.A., De Santo, E., Green, A., and Taylor, A. (2015). Investigating student perceptions of learning within a role-play simulation of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Journal of Geography, 114 (3): 94-107.

Schnurr, M.A., De Santo, E. and Green, A. (2014). What do students learn from a role-play simulation of an international negotiation? Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 38(3), 401-414.

This article uses pre- and post-surveys to assess learning outcomes associated with a role-play simulation set within a fictionalized extension of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Quantitative and qualitative data suggest that the simulation increased student appreciation of the complexity of international negotiation, but decreased student interest and self-assessment of skill proficiency.

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Schnurr, M.A., De Santo, E. and Craig, R. (2013) Using a blended learning approach to simulate the negotiation of a multilateral environmental agreement. International Studies Perspectives, 14, 109-129.

This is the first in a series of publications evaluating the effectiveness of a role-play simulation that integrates three educational delivery methods — preparatory learning, face-to-face learning, and online collaborative learning — to recreate the complexity of negotiating global environmental issues. Qualitative student feedback is used to analyze the benefits and challenges of this approach.

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