“Sugarcane Genealogies: Transnational Plant Breeding and Colombian State Formation in the 1930s”

Thursday, February 23, 2017
HGS 105
Tim Lorek, Yale University

What’s in a name? POJ 28-78, a sugarcane hybrid developed at the Dutch Proofstation Ooost Java (thus the abbreviation according to plant genetics nomenclature), represented the proliferation of international technologies and foreign seeds in Colombia’s primary sugarcane-growing region. Brought to Colombia via Cornell-trained Puerto Rican agronomists, the variety initially encountered stiff resistance from Colombian planters, who viewed it as suspiciously foreign and inferior to the “traditional” variety they had grown for decades. Yet when the mosaic virus destroyed much of the region’s crop in the mid-1930s, planters slowly grew more flexible. By 1937, the initial successes of POJ 28-78 in Colombia prompted a federal takeover of the Palmira Agricultural Experiment Station in the spirit of funding further experimentation in sugarcane genetics. The federal shift to sugar in the research agenda of the station provided the grounds for international collaboration in sugarcane research between the Colombian state, agribusiness, and the USDA, and involved genetic material from the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, and even Kazakhstan. The transnational story of sugarcane genealogies in Colombia reveals the intersections of scientific circulation, state formation, and plant disease with wide repercussions for shifting landscapes and people.