‘Chemical fertilizer in transformations in world agriculture and the state system, 1870 to the interwar period’, in Journal of Agrarian Change (forthcoming).
In this first publication drawn from my early career research project on the socio-ecological history of chemical fertilizer, I trace the early history of superphosphate fertilizer — a fertilizer manufactured from mined phosphate rock. I demonstrate that superphosphates were the most important fertilizer in the class of chemical fertilizers that emerged after 1870 and played a role in the commercialization of agriculture in the imperial states. In the first food regime, commercial agriculture began to fuel the urban-industrial complexes of imperial states through the production of wage foods. However, chemical fertilizer was not just for the soil. It provided a base for the growth of chemical industries — a growth constitutive of industrial transformations in imperial states — the second industrial revolution. Mass production units became integrated through a handful of chemicals. One of these chemicals is sulphuric acid, of which superphosphates require large amounts in their manufacture. As the main market for sulphuric acid through the interwar period, chemical fertilizer created synergies with other industries and thus made sulphuric acid cheaper.
In my article these processes of chemification demonstrate how the first food regime and the second industrial revolution were co-produced. In world-ecological terms, processes of chemification created multiplier effects of appropriation: one form of unpaid work/energy being brought into capital circuits multiplying other forms being brought in. Chemical fertilizer increased agricultural productivity and made food cheaper, and created synergies with other industries and thus made sulphuric acid (and industrial processes) cheaper. Thus, the early history of chemical fertilizer offers a perspective on how these new, multiple avenues for appropriation provided a basis for imperial states’ industrial strength – and help explain the unprecedented scope, scale, and speed of capital accumulation on a worldwide scale that began circa 1870.
Dixon, M. 2017. ‘Plastics and Agriculture in the Desert Frontier’. Special Issue: Politics of Food. Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East 37(1): 86-102.
Literature on the global agri-food system largely overlooks the role of reclamation of arid and semi-arid lands in the industrialization of horticulture (fruits, vegetables, and ornamentals) worldwide in the neoliberal period. Why has the development and expansion of industrial horticulture synchronized with “greening the desert” policies and narratives?
In this article I address this question with the concept of desert frontier, which is developed through a case study of industrial horticulture production in Egypt’s arid regions and through an analysis of the relations between nature and society. The desert frontier in Egypt demonstrates that the socioecological relations that constitute industrial horticulture have necessitated transformations in farm organization and on-farm practice toward an increasingly coercive and capital-intensive set of agritechnologies and protocols to manage the volatility of industrial agriculture (from monocultures, perpetual genetic erosion, cropping intensification, and so on). The movement of agroexport farms into arid regions has been part of these processes of biosecuratization. This analysis of the socioecological conditions of expanded commodity production with the global food system or corporate food regime problematizes reemerging “greening the desert” narratives that parade the latest greening technical feats as a solution to securing food production in a warming planet.
This article is part of a special issue on ‘Politics of Food’, edited by Timothy Mitchell and Anupama Rao (Duke University Press).
2015. ‘Biosecurity and the Multiplication of Crises in the Egyptian Agri-food Industry’. Geoforum 61: 90-100.
Policy makers, scientists, industry leaders, and theorists alike assume that there is a direct positive relationship between biosecurity measures — national and international protocols to contain the movement of pests and pathogens in production and trade — and protection from pests and pathogens (in production sites, in food, etc.). In this article, I demonstrate that this premise of biosecurity is false. There is not a direct positive relationship between biosecurity and protection across time and space.
I demonstrate this thesis by combining the global history, life, and movement of the Avian flu virus with the ecology of both the production environment and industrial poultry’s value chain (from industrial production to open markets). I follow the movement of the Avian flu throughout the 20th century and across the world — to Egypt in 2006 when the flu first entered the country. In doing so, I demonstrate that industrial poultry in Egypt and beyond was the vector of the flu virus even though small-scale poultry was most affected by the flu’s endemic spread. Over time and across space there has been a reinforcing tension between the multiplication of crises in agricultural production (not just the growth of the types of pests/pathogens, but their growing virulence) and a biosecurity regime that has become increasingly strict, creating ever greater controls over the inside of the production environment, even at the molecular level.
- ‘The land grab, finance capital, and food regime restructuring: the case of Egypt’. Review of African Political Economy 41(140): 232-248.
The role of Egyptian finance capital in acquiring (and attempting to acquire) agricultural land in southern neighbouring countries since the 2007/08 food-fuel-financial represents in part the southward expansion of the frontier in Egypt, or new socio-ecological spaces for heightened capital accumulation. This expansion, heralded by processes of financialization, is the latest wave of corporate consolidation of the country’s agri-food system. This paper offers an historical analysis of frontier making in modern-day Egypt and how it has been shaped by relations between Egypt and Sudan within a restructuring hegemonic state system, from the 19th century to present-day revolutionary times. Then, a case study of one Egyptian financial firm, Citadel Capital, is detailed to demonstrate that the ‘global land grab’ reflects food regime restructuring with the end of cheap food and oil – and greater food insecurity and political instability in Egypt and in southern neighbouring countries.
2011. ‘An Arab Spring’. Review of African Political Economy 38(128): 309-316.
Cited as the second most read article in the Review of African Political Economy (by Taylor & Francis Online).