Supplementary Material

Planting and Performing: Anxiety, Aspiration, and “Scripts” in Telangana Cotton Farming

Andrew Flachs

ABSTRACT On cotton farms in Telangana, India, performance draws attention to farmers’ work not merely as an economic activity but as directed toward different kinds of audiences and in conversation with different roles, stages, and scripts. Importantly, this performance is contextualized by a neoliberal seed market where a seasonal deluge of accelerated and consumerist seed marketing diminishes the value of experiential knowledge in favor of the expansion of private genetically modified (GM) seed sales. This paper draws on mixed methods and qualitative fieldwork conducted between 2012 and 2016 on cotton farms in Telangana to explore the use of “scripts” in rural life: the learned and socially mediated mental maps that reflect sets of rules, values, patterns, or expectations in smallholder commercial agriculture. The script of manci digubadi (good yield) helps order and justify GM cottonseed decision making in rural Telangana, where seed knowledge is uncertain, environmental feedback is ambiguous, and social emulation dominates farmer choices. While being cautious not to present performance in such a way that questions authenticity or presupposes either fatalism or economic rationalism, I argue that scripts help farmers navigate cotton agriculture amid uncertain GM cottonseed markets and the anxieties and aspirations of neoliberal rural India. [performance, agriculture, development, biotechnology, South Asia]


More than 1,200 private GM hybrids flood the market, creating intense competition for marketing. In the regional capital Warangal, Telangana farmers are bombarded with advertisements from domestic and foreign-partnered seed companies with suggestive names like ATM and Jaadoo (Telugu for magic). Advertisements cover public buses (top), hang over shops (middle), and plaster the walls (bottom) during May and June.

Farmers most often buy seeds from formal shops immediately after the first days of sustained monsoon rains, crowding agricultural input shops to get desired brands (top). However, they will sometimes skip a trip to a regional city and buy from traveling black market brokers (middle). This purchase is a gamble, as farmers will not receive receipts that they need for crop insurance, and brokers sometimes sell counterfeit seeds. To combat this, seed companies place advertisements in local newspapers about how to spot fake seed packets.

As cotton matures, it requires regular plowing, weeding, and spraying to ensure a large yield that signals, and hopefully brings, success and profits. Most Telangana farmers in this area plow in dense single lines of cotton, a change from the cross-stitch pattern that is better suited to bullock plowing (top). Although genetically modified Bt cotton diminishes crop loss from bollworms, farmers are increasingly finding Bt-resistant bollworms in their fields and, in the worst cases, in fruiting cotton bolls (middle). To combat this, farmers still spray regularly for cotton bollworms and other pests, one reason that total pesticide applications in cotton are now higher than they were before the introduction of Bt cotton—something I wrote about for Nature: Plants.

In the gendered divisions of labor on the farm, men usually plow and spray cotton while women usually weed and pick it (top). Farmers can pay female laborers less than they pay men, which transfers up the local supply chain where women tend to work in lower-wage positions at industrial gins, like sweeping or loading cotton (middle), while men tend to be employed in higher-wage managerial and technical positions, such as the young men binding cotton into bales (bottom).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Farmers most often buy seeds from formal shops immediately after the first days of sustained monsoon rains, crowding agricultural input shops to get desired brands (top). However, they will sometimes skip a trip to a regional city and buy from travelling black market brokers (middle).  This purchase is a gamble, as farmers will not receive receipts that they need for crop insurance and brokers sometimes sell counterfeit seeds. To combat this, seed companies place advertisements in local newspapers about how to spot fake seed packets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As cotton matures, it requires regular plowing, weeding, and spraying to ensure a large yield that signals, and hopefully brings, a success and profits. Most Telangana farmers in this area plow in dense single lines of cotton, a change from the cross-stich pattern that is better suited to bullock plowing (top). Although genetically modified Bt cotton diminishes crop loss from bollworms, farmers are increasingly finding Bt-resistant bollworms in their fields and, in the worst cases, in fruiting cotton bolls (middle). To combat this, farmers still spray regularly for cotton bollworms and other pests, one reason that total pesticide applications in cotton are now higher than they were before the introduction of Bt cotton – something I wrote about for Nature:Plants

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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