Dr. Jessie Luna and Serena Stein (Wageningen University) published “Toxic Sensorium: Agrochemicals in the African Anthropocene” in Environment and Society on September 1, 2021.


Pesticides and toxicity are constitutive features of modernization in Africa, despite ongoing portrayals of the continent as “too poor to pollute.” This article examines social science scholarship on agricultural pesticide expansion in Sub-Saharan Africa. We recount the rise of agrochemical usage in colonial projects that placed African smallholder farmers at the forefront of toxic vulnerability. We then outline prevalent literature on “knowledge deficits” and unsafe farmer practices as approaches that can downplay deeper structures. Missing in this literature, we argue, are the embodied and sensory experiences of African farmers as they become pesticide users, even amid an awareness of toxicity. Drawing on ethnographic research in Mozambique and Burkina Faso, we explore how the “toxic sensorium” of using agrochemicals intersects with farmers’ projects of modern aspiration. This approach can help elucidate why and how differently situated farmers live with pesticides, thereby expanding existing literature on structural violence and knowledge gaps.