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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2022

Why Africa’s New Green Revolution is failing – Maize as a commodity and anti-commodity in South Africa

Fischer, Klara


The South African Government has for the past two decades spent significant resources on introducing smallholders to Genetically Modified (GM) maize with the aim to make agriculture a way out of poverty. However smallholder farming continues to decline and poverty is on the rise in the country. The present paper aims to explain this failure of the government to support its smallholders by describing the intra-actions between maize, politics and technological development in South African history. Importantly maize is understood here as an agent in that its materialities are not only being impacted by, but are also having impact on the outcome of farming practices and wider political economies. The paper describes how maize, as a result of intra-action between maize biology and choices made by farmers, politicians and breeders during the colonial era and apartheid, developed in parallel as a commodity serving the settler farmers, and an anti-commodity, or escape crop, providing subsistence to marginalised smallholders. While South Africa today is a democracy that spends significant resources on improving smallholder livelihoods, recent technological development and market concentration have increased rather than decreased the gap between commodity- and anti-commodity maize. As a result new GM and hybrid maize varieties introduced to smallholders today are badly equipped to facilitate a crop led New Green Revolution.


Political ecology; More than human; Green Revolution; Africa; Multispecies

Published in

2022, volume: 130, pages: 96-104

Authors' information

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Urban and Rural Development

Sustainable Development Goals

SDG2 Zero hunger
SDG1 End poverty in all its forms everywhere
SDG16 Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

UKÄ Subject classification

Agricultural Science

Publication Identifiers


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