Document Type

Article

Publication Date

Summer 2009

Publication Title

Agricultural History

Keywords

Green revolution, Guatemala, synthetic fertilizer, mayan highland, agricultural innovations

Abstract

Despite extensive literature both supporting and critiquing the Green Revolution, surprisingly little attention has been paid to synthetic fertilizers' health and environmental effects or indigenous farmers' perspectives. The introduction of agrochemicals in the mid-twentieth century was a watershed event for many Mayan farmers in Guatemala. While some Maya hailed synthetic fertilizers' immediate effectiveness as a relief from famines and migrant labor, others lamented the long-term deterioration of their public health, soil quality, and economic autonomy. Since the rising cost of agrochemicals compelled Maya to return to plantation labor in the 1970s, synthetic fertilizers simply shifted, rather than alleviated, Mayan dependency on the cash economy. By highlighting Mayan farmers' historical narratives and delineating the relationship between agricultural science and postwar geopolitics, the constraints on agriculturists' agency become clear. In the end, politics, more than technology or agricultural performance, influenced Guatemala's shift toward the Green Revolution.

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