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Mobilizing the Matrix of Tropical Agro-Innovation: Multi-Locational Agents and Inter-Regional Learning in South American Agro-Industrial Systems

  • Author(s): Mackey III, George Lee
  • Advisor(s): Hecht, Susanna B
  • et al.
Abstract

In tropical territories, the factors behind technological change in agro-industries encompass an increasingly diverse set of sectors, social agents, and political ecologies. One question that remains under-explained is how and why tropical agro-industrial systems form relationships to distant regions as part of the production of knowledge. This dissertation contributes to the literature on the geographical organization of innovation in tropical agro-regions by explaining the multi-locational dimension of knowledge production within South American agro-industrial systems. Three levels of analysis use novel evidence from multi-sited fieldwork and datasets to examine knowledgeable agents that base their work in locational “hotspots” of agro-innovation within Brazil and engage in spatial mobility to regions within Latin America. I argue that inter-regional matrices of learning form through mobile agents from Brazil that carve out new relations to places and peoples in varied localized contexts of knowledge production within Latin America. The findings suggest that an inter-regional matrix produces learning from a wider spectrum of knowledge that spills over from locations within Latin America into innovation in home regions within Brazil in the globalizing context of growth in emerging economies and planetary climate change.

The first analytical level explains different relational arrangements of regional systems of social circulation from South America through a comparative history of two tropical territories that varied in their processes of distant learning through the mobility of “local” university-based plant scientists. The second analytical level explains the recent cross-border geography of scientific mobility of the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation through an integration of otherwise “peripheral” locations and dimensions of knowledge within Latin America into a framework of knowledge spill-ins. The third analytical level suggests the potential for cross-border learning by large agro-industrial firms from Brazil through more granular branch-level analysis of the location, specialization and organization of Latin American subsidiaries. I argue that this select set of empirical and conceptual tools demonstrate the inter-regional prism of knowledge-based dimensions of agro-industrial organization, environmental conservation and multi-scalar governance in tropical territories during a globalizing era that expresses uncertain geographical shifts in comparison to the “Green Revolution” era of agricultural technology after World War II.

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