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In Session: Sustainability and Exclusion: Differential Impacts of Resource Governance in Southeast Asia
4: Modern Farmers and Sustainable Smallholders in Myanmar’s Emergent Agritech
Tuesday, March 23, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
University of California, Berkeley, United States
Efforts to develop and discipline the smallholder have a long history in Southeast Asia. In Myanmar, a country with a predominantly agrarian population, liberalizing economy, and recently-shattered telecoms monopoly, new digital technologies have enabled a range of new practices that are changing farming both economically and ecologically. Today, farmers can purchase seeds on Facebook, participate in corporate-organized digital cooperatives, and learn to make organic compost on apps such as Aseinyaunlan, or Green Way. This paper examines emergent agritech platforms that seek to promote sustainable farming and connect food producers to local and global markets. While the goals of these platforms broadly align with efforts to shore up international supply chains and commercialize production, I show that their design and use are embedded in existing relationships of agricultural capital and expertise and structured by technological affordances and historical state efforts to control agriculture. Drawing on interviews and participatory use of four agricultural extension platforms, I explore how designers build and capitalize digital tools aimed at promoting ‘modern’ farming, and how rural people use, adapt or ignore these platforms in ways that shift labor practices and socioecological relations. In doing so, I contribute to new theorizations of critical data infrastructures and digital agriculture by incorporating insights into smallholder practices and identities from Southeast Asian agrarian studies. As the Myanmar government abandons its historic focus on rice, private digital platforms provide possible pathways towards environmental and social sustainability, even as they bring smallholders into new and wider circulations of capital, knowledge and values.