Exploring the Resilience of Bt Cotton's ‘Pro-Poor Success Story’


  • Dominic Glover

    1. is a post-doctoral researcher with the Technology and Agrarian Development Group at Wageningen University in the Netherlands (PO Box 8130, 6700 EW Wageningen, The Netherlands; e-mail: dominic.glover@wur.nl). His research examines processes of technological and social change in developing country agriculture.
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The work on which this article is based was accomplished with the financial support of the CERES–Wageningen research school, NL, and the ESRC STEPS Centre, Brighton, UK. I would particularly like to thank Aarti Gupta, Christina Holmes, Kees Jansen, Melissa Leach, Les Levidow, Erik Millstone, Peter Newell and Ian Scoones, as well as the editorial board and three anonymous reviewers of this journal, for their insightful comments and helpful suggestions on earlier versions of this paper.


Expectations play a powerful role in driving technological change. Expectations are often encapsulated in narratives of technological promise that emphasize potential benefits and downplay potential negative impacts. Genetically modified (GM, transgenic) crops have been framed by expectations that they would be an intrinsically ‘pro-poor’ innovation that would contribute powerfully to international agricultural development. However, expectations typically have to be scaled back in the light of experience. Published reviews of the socio-economic impacts of GM crops among poor, small-scale farmers in the developing world indicate that these effects have been very mixed and contingent on the agronomic, socio-economic and institutional settings where the technology has been applied. These conclusions should modulate expectations about the pro-poor potential of GM crop technology and focus attention on the conditions under which it might deliver substantial and sustainable benefits for poor farmers. However, the idea of GM crop technology as an intrinsically pro-poor developmental success story has been sustained in academic, public and policy arenas. This narrative depends upon an analysis that disembeds the technology from the technical, social and institutional contexts in which it is applied. Agricultural development policy should be based on a more rigorous and dispassionate analysis, rather than optimistic expectations alone.