‘Pesticides are our children now’: cultural change and the technological treadmill in the Burkina Faso cotton sector

  • Jessie K. LunaEmail author


Amidst broad debates about the “New Green Revolution” in Africa, input-intensive agriculture is on the rise in some parts of Africa. This paper examines the underlying drivers of the recent and rapid adoption of herbicides and genetically modified seeds in the Burkina Faso cotton sector. Drawing on 8 months of ethnographic fieldwork in the Houndé region, this article contends that economic and cultural dynamics—often considered separately in analyses of technology adoption—have co-produced a self-reinforcing technological treadmill. On the one hand, male farmers seek to increase cotton production in response to an economic squeeze. At the same time, broader cultural shifts toward individualism have created labor shortages as a result of families splitting apart, parents putting their children in school, and some women and young men refusing to provide free labor. Male cotton farmers thus increase production by turning to labor-saving inputs like herbicides, but these inputs create more debt, further locking farmers into intensive production. This article thus expands on the classic concept of the technological treadmill, demonstrating how economic and cultural processes intersect within a process of agrarian change to drive labor-saving agricultural technology adoption in the Burkinabè cotton sector. This expanded treadmill concept illuminates the complex dynamics compelling farmers’ choices to opt into input-intensive agriculture, and also helps explain rising farmer differentiation, as poorer farmers struggle to stay afloat and wealthier farmers expand.


Green Revolution Agricultural technology adoption Herbicides Bt cotton Labor shortages Africa 



Bacillus thuringiensis, refers to genetically modified Bt cotton


The West African Franc (currency denomination); roughly 500 CFA to 1 US dollar


Genetically modified


Groupement des Producteurs du Coton, or Cotton Producer Group


Société Burkinabè des Fibres Textiles, the parastatal cotton company in Burkina Faso



I would like to thank my funding agencies: the Fulbright Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the American Association of University Women, and the University of Colorado Boulder Dean’s Office. Also thanks to insightful comments from Jill Harrison, Daniel Ahlquist, and anonymous reviewers. I extend deep appreciation to my research assistants and to all of my research participants. Also thanks to Mike Simsik, Gabin Korbeogo, folks at the American Association of Geographers annual meeting, and exchanges at the Pesticide Politics in Africa conference in Arusha, Tanzania in 2019.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA

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