The discussion about the impact of agricultural biotechnology on Africa is deeply divided and contains widely diverging claims about the impact of biotechnology on African farmers. Building upon literature on the ‘good farmer’ that highlights that farmers identities are an important factor in explaining the success or failure of agricultural change, we argue that the identity of the farmer is an undervalued yet crucial aspect for understanding the debate about the impact of agricultural biotechnology on African farmers. In this article we therefore investigate what farmers’ identities are implicated in the arguments about the impact of biotechnology on African farmers. We aim to identify the main fault lines in different accounts of the African biotechnology farmer by analysing the identities ascribed to them in two prominent cases of controversy: the debates at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg and the discussion about the impact of biotechnology on smallholder farmers in the Makhathini flats in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. Our findings demonstrate that arguments about biotechnology are informed by diverging conceptions of who the African farmer is, what is important for the African farmer, and what role the African farmer has in relation to agricultural biotechnology. These findings remain relevant for current discussions on gene editing technologies like CRISPR-Cas. Openly discussing these different views on the identity of smallholder farmers is crucial for moving forward in the biotechnology controversy and can inform future attempts to elicit the farmer’s voice.
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DOI 10.1007/s10806-021-09841-8
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