Journal Articles

Please contact me at matthew.schnurr@dal.ca for copies of any articles that you are unable to access through the links provided below:

Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa

Genetically Modified (GM) crops have been lauded as a tool to redress stagnating yields and food insecurity amongst poor farmers since their release in the early 1990s. The potential for GM crops to alleviate poverty for farmers in Low- and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs) will likely hinge on their ability to enhance women’s overall wellbeing, yet there is little research that evaluates if (and how) the technology has such transformative potential. This article reviews the existing scholarship on this topic by grouping it into three strands: 1) the impacts of GM crops on labor processes; 2) gender and patterns of adoption; and 3) the consequences of GM crops for intrahousehold gender relations. Each area is characterized by contradictory findings, reflecting the diversity and complexity of gender relations in different contexts. Our review suggests that further research should build on mixed-methods approaches that involve long-term interactions with households in order to generate robust and gender-disaggregated data that yields nuanced, context-specific analysis.

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The research presented in this paper offers a different evaluative approach for new GM crops by taking inspiration from farming systems research (FSR). We use the conceptual starting point of FSR scholarship—the farming system—to conduct an exploratory predictive analysis of three GM crops currently in the experimental pipeline: Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) in Kenya, disease-resistant matooke banana in Uganda, and Bt cowpea in Burkina Faso. Our findings suggest that the lofty projected benefits of these crops are unlikely to be realized by many, if not most, smallholder farmers due to incongruences with the farming systems they are designed to benefit. This research demonstrates the importance of using farming system-based evaluation methods to better anticipate likely farm-level outcomes of new breeding technologies.

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This commentary unpacks the underlying assumptions underpinning the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI). The WEAI has emerged as a popular survey tool designed to measure women’s inclusion, agency, and empowerment in the agricultural sector. By revealing key flaws and assumptions underpinning this survey tool, our goal is to contribute to the critical literature on empowerment which seeks to reclaim the concept and its original emphasis on challenging power relations that uphold or justify social inequality

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This paper draws on three data sets to evaluate whether biofortification fix synchs with existing farming systems, using the case study of the East African Highland Banana, known locally as matooke in Uganda. We argue that the positive scenario outlined by proponents rests on a number of assumptions related to the health, social and economic contexts facing producers.

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This study uses participatory ranking exercises to investigate the variables that determine attitudes and intentions to adopt matooke banana in Uganda. Results suggest that attitudes and potential patterns of adoption will vary significantly according to region, farm size, membership in a farmer’s association, previous experience with improved varieties and visits from extension workers.

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This short commentary reflects on the question: Can genetically modified (GM) crops help the poor? It aims not to provide a definitive answer but rather to grapple with the question itself, in the hope of illuminating some of the critical assumptions and values that shape exchanges on this polarising and politicised question.

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This article enters the politicized and polarized GM debate by discussing Bt cotton in South Africa and Burkina Faso. We argue that the phase-out of Burkina Faso, one of the most prominent and vocal supporters of GM crops on the African continent, could have significant implications for commercial production and dissemination of GM crops in the future.

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]In this symposium introduction, we review how scholarship in agrarian political economy has engaged with agrarian change through links to labor, land use and gender relations. We argue that the integration of labor and gender offers a particularly insightful framework for not only assessing contemporary patterns of agrarian change, but also for critically engaging with the current ways gender is being ‘‘mainstreamed’’ within global agricultural policy.

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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.

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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.

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This article grapples with the debate over the potential for second-generation GM crops – GMO 2.0 – and raises important questions about reception by end-users, scale, implications of breeding technologies, and donor impact. I argue that researchers and policy-makers need to move beyond the bifurcated debate to consider GM crops in specific ecological, economic and cultural conditions that face farmers across the continent.

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This article grapples with the debate over the potential for second-generation GM crops – GMO 2.0 – and raises important questions about reception by end-users, scale, implications of breeding technologies, and donor impact. I argue that researchers and policy-makers need to move beyond the bifurcated debate to consider GM crops in specific ecological, economic and cultural conditions that face farmers across the continent.

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This collaborative project uses diagnostic research to investigate farmer attitudes and intentions to adopt GM matooke banana and assess whether this technology benefits farmer yields and livelihoods. We counter the common assumption that a single technology can succeed in different settings across the continent of Africa. Instead, the potential impact of GM technologies must be assessed within ecological, political and social contexts that farmers face on the ground.

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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.

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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.

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This editorial forms the introduction to a collection of papers that links geographical perspectives on science, knowledge, and practice, to debates around hunger and transgenic crops. We argue that the dynamics of agricultural production and patterns of food consumption are inescapably local and solutions to the problem of world hunger must be tailored to specific groups in particular places.

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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.

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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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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

This paper reviews the history of African agricultural and food security policy in the post-colonial period in order to contextualize the productionist approach embedded in the New Green Revolution for Africa.

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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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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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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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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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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

To investigate young people’s experiences of living in a community dependent on resource extraction and processing industries during boom-bust economic cycles, we used a qualitative multi-method approach to engage 50 youth ages 13–24 in a study of resilience and well-being. As part of our analysis of resilience processes, we examined how young people’s perceptions of their community’s identity affect the strategies young people use to cope with stress and access supports. Data collection took place in a small town in western Canada dependent on oil and gas extraction. Applied thematic analysis indicated that young people participate in the co-construction of their community’s social, economic, and place-based identities and that these co-constructions shape the decisions young people make with regard to education, work, and relationships. We discuss implications for policies which can help youth cope with changing economic environments in rural communities dependent on a single extractive industry.

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More research is needed to properly represent social-ecological system (SES) interactions that support the integrity of biological and cultural, i.e., biocultural, relationships in places experiencing environmental, economic, and social change. In this paper we offer a novel methodology to address this need through the development of place-based indicators and engagement of young people as coresearchers in two communities that rely on resource extraction industries (specifically, oil and gas) in Canada and South Africa. Young people’s SES experiences were explored through a suite of participatory qualitative methods, including Q methodology, visioning exercises, ESRI Survey 123, participatory mapping and photography, and spatial image capture via unmanned aerial vehicles, i.e., drones. These methods support a biocultural approach to SES research that seeks to better understand the significant SES relationships at stake in changing environmental, economic, and social context. Here we present our research process and conclude that a focus on place supports the feedback loop between existing SES frameworks and local experiences. We suggest that this methodology can be amended for diverse localities and unique populations to support the development of efficacious policies, SES management, and community efforts toward building resilience, sustainability, and well-being of both humans and natural environments.

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This introductory paper reviews a series of papers that represent a first step towards articulating a critical analysis of environmental security, one that dislodges the state as the preferred level of analysis, seeks to understand threats to security in terms of rights, access and justice, and questions key assumptions that underlie much of the existing literature. The focus shifts from environmental security to environmental insecurity, as we attempt to understand how individuals, groups and communities become disadvantaged in terms of their environmental entitlements.

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Teaching with Technology

This paper addresses two crucial gaps in the scholarship on the design and execution Simulation-Based Education (SBE) – the importance of scaffolding in constructing successful simulations for entry-level students and the associated value of social media tools.  We examine these issues within three successive iterations of a role-play simulation employed in an introductory undergraduate course.  We employ a mixed-methods approach that draws on self-reported learning outcomes from a total sample of 291 students across three years. This paper argues that running a successful simulated activity hinges upon careful design and scaffolding, and that incorporating social media tools can help to make the learning experience more immersive and more accessible for students.

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In 2016, Dalhousie University’s Research Ethics Board created an interdisciplinary working group to identify the key ethical challenges of SoTL research, with the overarching aim of recommending best practices and communicating these to researchers in order to support and expand the conduct of ethically sound SoTL research. This essay reflects on the lessons learned through this process and shines a light on the three most contentious arenas that emerged: using class time to conduct SoTL research, integrating Students Ratings of Instruction (SRI) into SoTL, and incorporating student work as a data source.

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Longitudinal data were mobilized in the form of quantitative and qualitative surveys to investigate how role-play simulation impacts student perceptions of knowledge acquisition. Through the analysis, we conclude that simulation should be embedded in the overarching logic of the course for knowledge transmission, and online technologies have the potential to enhance student learning.

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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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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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