Research Projects

Making herbicide markets: Interactions between production restructuring, agriculture, and environment in Latin America and Asia

Swiss National Science Foundation, 2022-2026

Pesticide use has increased at a faster rate than any other global environmental change agent over the past two decades. One major driver of this change is the “herbicide revolution” happening widely across developing countries. High labor costs for manual weeding, wider adoption of herbicide-resistant seeds, and access to low-cost generics increase the adoption of agrochemicals. This project, led by Christian Berndt and Marion Werner, engages with the herbicide revolution by analyzing the quickly restructuring global agrochemical industry, which is increasingly organized through geographically dispersed, yet functionally integrated supply chains. The main objective is to analyze herbicides as drivers of both economic and ecological change by questioning the role of emerging market generic production networks as they relate to farming and labor practices as well as environmental impacts in Latin America and Asia. 

This project has three inter-related objectives: first, to understand the making of herbicide markets in light of chemical dependence, declining effectiveness and environmental feedback loops; second, to position these environmental challenges in the context of global production networks (GPNs) of important synthetic herbicides, emphasizing the relationship between Latin America and Asia; and third, to study select emerging economy herbicide assemblages and how these relations reflect and reshape environmental regulations and economic strategies in Latin America.

Starting date: September 1st, 2022

The Generic Herbicide Industry: A Global Production Network Analysis

US National Science Foundation, Human-Environment and Geographical Sciences Program, 2021-2023

Over the past two decades, an “herbicide revolution in developing countries” has transformed the socioeconomic organization of agrarian societies, global food systems, environments, and human health. Herbicide use is rising rapidly, comprising 42% of the global pesticide market in 2018. Several factors drive the herbicide revolution in middle-income countries. In the face of changing labor markets, use of inexpensive herbicides significantly lowers demand for costly, labor-intensive weeding. A striking change is that emerging market economies are now principal producers and exporters of herbicides. The rise and availability of glyphosate, marketed by Monsanto as Roundup, has played an outsized role in this herbicide revolution.

Our research describes and explains this ongoing transformation, asking: how do generic herbicides, especially glyphosate, circulate in the global economy? Analyzing growth and change in the generic herbicide industry since 2000, when glyphosate went off patent, we mobilize a global production network (GPN) approach to study geographically dispersed networks linking extraction, production, formulation, marketing, and use. To move beyond the consumer manufacturing focus of most GPN analysis, we incorporate insights from critical development studies, political ecology (PE), and nascent “chemical geographies.” We mobilize this framework to study emergent South-South trade and the changing role of middle-income countries in the herbicide production network; we also ask how herbicides themselves, as chemical agents, matter in this production network.