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4 - Cultivating the Myth of Transcolonial Progress

The ICI and the Global Career of Buitenzorg’s Agronomic Laboratory

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 January 2022

Florian Wagner
Affiliation:
Universität Erfurt, Germany
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Summary

Chapter 4 challenges the legend that ICI members initiated a global reform of colonial agronomy by combining transfers of improved cash crops with the encouragement of small-scale indigenous agriculture. ICI members claimed to replace the “South American” model of neo-slavery plantations with the “East Indies’” model of scientifically improved small-scale farming. Around 1900, the research institute for tropical agriculture at Buitenzorg in Dutch Java represented the “East Indies’” model. Colonial administrations around the world imported improved plants and planting techniques from Buitenzorg to “develop” their colonies. What is more, ICI members transferred the Buitenzorg model to other colonies. Yet, while they promoted the individual freedom of indigenous farmers as a tool of encouragement, they used coercive measures to make them participate in the “liberal” Buitenzorg schemes. The transfer of the Buitenzorg model ultimately failed because it neglected local plants and autochthonous traditions. While the ICI portrayed the ecological engineering at Buitenzorg and the subsequent technology transfers as rational and scientific operations, this chapter reveals the failure of its allegedly progressive schemes of transcolonial and technocratic governmentality.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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