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Elizabeth Ransom, Associate Professor, School of International Affairs & Senior Research Associate, Rock Ethics Institute, The Pennsylvania State University

Email: exr497@psu.edu

Topic: A Role for Ethics in International Agricultural Development Programming

Keywords: Agriculture, Development, Ethics, Philanthrocapitalist



In recent years there has been a resurgence in funding of and focus on agriculture in ‘developing’ countries, with several new private development actors engaged in programming. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) being the largest one currently active in agriculture, having committed an estimated $4.9 billion to agricultural development. This has led to a growing literature focused on these private development actors, or what many have dubbed “philanthrocapitalists” because of their belief in the importance of individuals, the market, and societal progress through technological innovation. In other words, many of these private donors bring their business philosophy to the development sector. More broadly, scholars (Fejerskov 2017; Ostrander 2007; Schurman 2018) studying the rise of private foundations in development have noted that these organizations have increased top-down donor control, as opposed to supporting groups active on the ground in specific locations, who offer a more bottom-up approach to development.


The aims of this paper are twofold. First, using a case study of a privately funded agricultural program in Uganda focused on dairy intensification among smallholders, this paper argues that ethical approaches to development must be integrated not only into the conceptualization, but for the duration of the implementation of the agricultural development program. Second, the paper explores how three separate literatures that focus on ethics—science and technology studies, development ethics, and agricultural ethics—can inform development programming, while also calling attention to possible contradictions or tensions that exists between these different approaches. Finally, while not fully addressed in this paper, this paper calls attention to the need to think about a role for ethics in increasingly privatized, and non-transparent development assistance programs.

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