Grains, Cows, and Canes: Integrated Agricultural Research as State Formation in 1930s Valle del Cauca, Colombia

Friday, January 6, 2017: 10:50 AM
Room 601 (Colorado Convention Center)
Timothy Lorek, Yale University
In 1927, the Colombian federal government reached an agreement with the Departmental Assembly of Valle del Cauca, a province in the country’s southwest named for its long and fertile agrarian river valley. Accordingly, the Palmira Agricultural Experiment Station would open with a fifty percent funding share between the federal and departmental governments. This research center would work to improve the agricultural production of a variety of crops to benefit both the local economy of Valle del Cauca directly and, more broadly, the tierra caliente, Colombia’s hot lowlands. 

As the global Depression weakened a Colombian economy based largely on coffee exports, the new Palmira station emerged as a national model for the marriage of science and politics. Such a relationship, the station’s leadership and supporters believed, produced a recipe for state formation in the countryside and economic and agricultural self-sufficiency. This presentation focuses on three agricultural products as exemplary of the imagination behind the site’s research in the context of the 1930s. Rice offered both a potential cash crop for cultivators and a national source of staple carbohydrates. Cattle, long present on Valle del Cauca’s sprawling haciendas, suggested a social and scientific overlap in discourses on race and hybridization. Finally, sugar cane, boomed through political intervention contingent upon recommendations made by the scientific study of plant disease. Crops and animals carried heavy social and political meaning in Palmira in the 1930s, as objects of research and agents of state formation. The study of rice, cattle, and sugar cane during this decade underscores the amalgamation of politics and science, regional and federal government, and international scientific exchanges swirling in the Palmira station’s integrated research agenda. The forging of these relationships would ultimately reconstruct the agrarian Valle del Cauca and, in the process, influence the internationalization of agricultural development.