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Vol 6 No 3 (2019): Measures of future health, from the nonhuman to the planetary

Health as growth: Bananas, humanitarian biotech, and human-plant histories in Uganda

  • Sandra Calkins
September 13, 2018
October 24, 2019


What notions of health and proper nutrition are articulated in the use and promotion of agricultural biotechnology in the global South? What future trajectories for health do they envision? Experiments with genetically modified bananas in Uganda use the fruit as a vehicle to achieve public health goals. This work in plant science understands itself as humanitarian, drawing on specific notions of health and its opposite: the deficient health of humans and plants. Instead of thinking about improved health through bananas, which implies an instrumental relationship to plants, I connect this high-tech effort to a way of thinking with the banana plant in central Uganda that highlights the entanglement of human and plant growth. Expanding our thinking about health with plants and the gardens where they grow relocates the production of health to sites that still seldom figure in medical anthropology and helps reconceptualize what one takes growth to be and what relations can sustain cross-species thriving.