2. The Green Revolution and multinational companies, 1960s and 1970s

The Green Revolution presents an outstanding example of rural development policies in the final third of the twentieth century. In essence, the Green Revolution meant the intensification of agriculture with the help of new agro-technologies in the form of high-yield varieties, chemical fertilizer, and electrically powered irrigation. Existing research on the Green Revolution can be divided into four fields: a) Agricultural studies dealing with the results and problems of the Green Revolution, mostly concerned with technical questions (Barker/Herdt 1985; Evenson/Gollin 2003); b) contemporary studies on the social, economic, ecological, and political consequences of the Green Revolution, many of which present somewhat one-dimensional views but contain important empirical and historical information (Frankel 1971; Chakravarti 1973; Glaser 1987); c) studies belonging to the field of Science and Technology Studies, some of which work with anthropological methods and are interested in the transfer of knowledge and the adaptation of technologies in local settings (Anderson/Levy/Morrison 1991; Harwood 2009; van der Burg/Maat 2013); d) historical studies, which present the smallest part of research on the Green Revolution and focus mostly on the institutional and political history of the research institutes and development agencies involved (Perkins 1997; Cullather 2003; Unger 2013a).

The role of private companies in the making of the Green Revolution has been notably neglected (which is generally true of the history of rural development). This is problematic because the agro-technologies that made the Green Revolution possible were produced and sold by companies. The entrepreneurial interest in the agrarian markets of the so-called developing countries was immense, and it seems likely that economic lobby groups tried to influence development strategies of national governments and international organizations alike. Hence, it seems safe to say that private companies managed to secure a role as transnational actors in the development field (Jönsson 2010; Wieters 2014). Generally we can observe that development aid, in the years after 1945, became a market following rules similar to markets for other products. At the same time the proximity of development aid to humanitarianism and its use as a soft power instrument suggests that this market was characterized by structural conditions different from regular market mechanisms. This would be of special relevance to rural societies, where regional and clientelist structures often dominated markets (McNeill 2006; Flohr 2010).

Against this background, the project asks the following questions: How did companies manage to participate in the Green Revolution business? Which role did they play in distributing new technologies, production techniques, and sales patterns, and which limitations or obstacles did they encounter? Which development approaches and projects did they consider close to their interests? To which degree did they succeed in weighing in on the agenda setting process of international development organizations?

By analyzing these questions through the lens of multinational companies, the case study also serves as a “bridge” to the other projects. It allows us to connect discourses with organizations, concepts with practices, governmental with non-governmental actors, and thus offers insight into a neglected level of rural development policies.

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