The crisis machine: Exploring the 'agenda' and international networks behind a nonformal education agricultural extension training program


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This paper presents data on a training program for 25 extension workers from Sub-Saharan Africa called the Season Long Rice Training for Africa (SLRTA). It was conducted at the Philippines Rice Research Institute (PhilRice), at the behest of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) from its South-South and Triangular Cooperation Department in Manila, using a curriculum developed in Australia. From there, it was implemented by five East African governments that had joined the Coalition of African Rice Development (CARD), a sub-network of the Alliance for the Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). The study focuses on how the specific characteristics of these intra-, multi-, and intra-national relations shaped the SLRTA curriculum. Institutions in the partnership regularly invoke a theoretical global food and population crisis in the year 2050 that would lead to social and economic chaos. With the population of the entire world as stakeholders, including an additional two to four billion people not yet born, units of analysis are intrinsically murky. Ferguson (1991) advised that any question of the form 'what is to be done?' demands, first of all, an answer to the question, 'by whom?'. After making the case that the program, as it was taught, would likely not benefit either the ecology or poor farmers, an Actor-Network Theory approach is taken to answer the 'by whom' question. The study began as ethnographic fieldwork during the training program itself. Visible only in hindsight, it became clear that SLRTA was a small front line for a much larger agenda in which agriculture as a sector in global development would politically rebound from earlier setbacks and find a place on the Post-2015 Agenda, the successor to the expiring Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The sector had failed to secure a place in the MDGs when they were launched in 2000. The study begins with an exploration of the agenda behind SLRTA; including how and why it was problematic and often contradictory. It uncovers what can now be called the 'rise, fall, and rise' of agriculture as a 'development sector'. This is followed by probing who and what the 'agriculture sector' is using social network analysis and other computational tools. Using their own preferred pronoun, the sector behind SLRTA is called the Alliance. Rather than a benign policy network, its structure resembles colluding iron triangles between regulators, legislatures, and the private sector. Iron triangles are instances of regulator capture where vested interests inside each triangle take priority over public interest. Its transnational scope, however, gives it a form Cerny (2001) labeled golden pentangles - which add as a fourth side international institutes (e.g. the United Nations and the World Banks) and on the fifth side "mixed public/private sector quasi-institutions and nonstate actors". Cerny chose the optimistic word 'golden' in lieu of iron because the larger number of actors in these international networks should encourage more political pluralism and epistemic diversity than iron triangles allow. While the Alliance is diverse, they tend to speak with one voice, partly because the 'agricultural sector' has virtually no representation by the farmers they are targeting with aid money, policy, and training. Conventional critique, specifically that focused on the role of neoliberalism, does not offer sufficient tools to explore the complexity, sophistication, and opacity of 'the Alliance'. To hide the questionable political economy of the agenda, a sense of imminent crisis - in the form of famine, political disorder, and hunger - pervades the discourse of the Alliance.


ConferenceThe 60th Annual Conference of the Comparative and International Education Society: "Sixty Years of Comparative and International Education: Taking Stock and Looking Forward"
Abbreviated titleCIES 2016
Internet address


Menefee, T. (2016, March). The crisis machine: Exploring the 'agenda' and international networks behind a nonformal education agricultural extension training program. Paper presented at the Comparative and International Education Society 2016 Conference (CIES 2016): Sixty Years of comparative and international education: Taking stock and looking forward, Sheraton Vancouver Wall Centre, Vancouver, Canada.


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