The Role of the Private Sector in Modern Biotechnology and Rural Development: The Case of the Monsanto Smallholder Programme

254 Pages Posted: 10 Apr 2012

See all articles by Dominic Glover

Dominic Glover

Institute of Development Studies, Brighton

Date Written: September 3, 2007


This thesis examines why and how the US-based transnational agricultural biotechnology firm Monsanto implemented a quasi-philanthropic agricultural extension initiative called the Smallholder Programme (SHP). The thesis seeks to understand the potential and limits of 'corporate social responsibility‘ as a means of harnessing the capabilities of firms to contribute to development, and secondly to consider the implications for small farmers of a model of technological innovation that is commercially oriented and led by the private sector.

This thesis adopts a conceptual framework that views the business enterprise as a socially embedded network and apprehends strategy, technology and organisation as mutually shaped, emergent and historically contingent features. The SHP is examined across material, organisational and discursive dimensions, three phases of time and three hierarchical levels of the firm. The methods used are primarily qualitative and historiographical.

Monsanto created the SHP in response to criticism from environmentalists and development activists, as part of the company‘s efforts to assemble a network of support to ensure the successful commercialisation of its genetically modified (GM) crop technologies, both in particular countries and globally. Specifically, the SHP was designed to generate evidence to demonstrate the efficacy and appropriateness of GM crops for poor farmers, so as to counter criticism and draw key actors, such as consumers, policy makers and financial investors, to support GM technology and Monsanto‘s business strategy.

Smallholders were implicated in this process as potential customers in their own right, but also as symbols designed to attract the support or secure the acquiescence of other actors. Accordingly, the needs and priorities of smallholders themselves were not at the heart of the SHP and were unable to influence Monsanto‘s upstream research and development process. Hence, smallholders‘ role was to be passive consumers of modern farming technology rather than shapers of the innovation processes producing that technology.

Keywords: Monsanto, corporate social responsibility, CSR, transgenic crops, GM crops, biotechnology, India, agricultural technology, agrarian change

Suggested Citation

Glover, Dominic, The Role of the Private Sector in Modern Biotechnology and Rural Development: The Case of the Monsanto Smallholder Programme (September 3, 2007). Available at SSRN: or

Dominic Glover (Contact Author)

Institute of Development Studies, Brighton

Library Road
Brighton, East Sussex BN1 9RE
United Kingdom


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