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Maize, Monsters, Modernity: Fall armyworm and smallholder farming in rural Kenya

Monday 11 March 2024
CADS Research Seminars
Pieter de la Court
Wassenaarseweg 52
2333 AK Leiden

“Fall armyworm is everywhere.” During my fieldwork on pesticide use with smallholder farmers in Western Kenya in 2019, I heard this refrain repeatedly. That year I did not come across a single plot under cultivation that had not been ‘invaded’ by this moth species: since its arrival in 2017, it reduced maize harvests overall by a third in 2019, and even up to 58% in some places, impacting most negatively on smallholder farmers. Since then, its impact has stabilized, but not lessened. While the outbreak seemed sudden, I argue that the conditions for it were created over centuries of intensifying global connections, colonial policy, and capitalist modes of production. I show how a higher intensity and lower diversity of crop cultivation, and of maize in particular, contributes to a vulnerable ecology that resembles larger-scale monocropping, but without the techniques, inputs, or scale that create the profit margins of cash cropping – creating a partial plantation condition. Staying close to farmers’ perspectives, I take pests as novel monsters,’ analysing how these ecological shifts of the Anthropocene are tied to the accelerations of imperialism and industry and can be read in landscape disturbances, processes of ruination, and feral proliferations.

About Miriam Waltz

Miriam Waltz is assistant professor in gender justice and health technologies with a joint appointment between the Institute for Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology and the African Studies Centre. Her research will focus on the development of an interdisciplinary hub on health technologies in Africa.

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