ERC Grant Monokultur

Understanding the Mind of Monoculture

The problems of monoculture are legion. So why are they still with us?

Soybeans from Brazil, bananas from Honduras, almonds from California, cardamom from India – wherever we look in the modern world of food, producers tend to focus on a single commodity. Specialization is the norm in otherwise different agricultural regions, and many producers are struggling with the consequences. Monocultures breed biological problems, as pests, diseases and fungi spread rapidly in large stands of identical plants. Global commodity markets are notorious for wide fluctuations in prices, and specialized producers can go bankrupt when prices collapse. Governments have underpinned food producers with expensive subsidies and other measures, reflecting a capture of state authorities by agrarian interests. Producers also struggle to recruit labor when seasonal variation results in an uneven spread of workloads over the year.

In the long run, a lot speaks for biological diversity. In fact, there is no satisfactory theory of monoculture that accounts for the biological nature of food production – and plenty of empirical and conceptual evidence for greater diversity in barns and fields. Nonetheless, production regimes have gravitated towards monoculture throughout the modern era. The trend became irresistible for all means and purposes after 1945, and in the twenty-first century, monocultures look more entrenched than ever. But seen from the ground, producers remain embattled on multiple fronts, typically with scant hope for anything resembling a permanent fix. Monocultures keep stumbling on, and it remains anyone’s guess whether the stumble is merely the prelude for their ultimate fall.

Perennial crisis mode

Focusing on the crises of monoculture offers a path towards a new history of agriculture in the modern era. Based on carefully selected case studies from around the world, the ERC Advanced Grant Project “The Making of Monoculture: A Global History” (MaMoGH) explores food producers in perennial crisis mode. While many scholars have highlighted the toll of monoculture, few have tried to get under the skin of landowners, managers, experts and other stakeholders who have played a role in keeping monocultures alive. What did it mean if food production turned into a daily battle? How did it feel to be driven by the momentum of huge production regimes? And how did the men of monoculture (yes, monoculture was an overwhelmingly masculine endeavor) justify the toll that monocultures have claimed in societies, economies, and environments? More than a mere study of history, the MaMoGH project seeks to shed a new light on the path dependencies, the key players and the mental worlds that underpin modern foodways.

Launched in 2021, the MaMoGH project is a joint project of Ruhr University Bochum and the University of Birmingham since June 2023.

Grantee Professor Frank Uekötter

Frank Uekötter has headed the Chair of History of Technology and the Environment at the Faculty of History at Ruhr University since 2023.

The Grantee

Bildliche beispielhafte Darstellung eines Dokuments.
ERC Advanced Grant Projects
To top