Maywa Montenegro de Wit is a transdisciplinary researcher working at the intersection of agroecology, political ecology, and science & technology studies on questions broadly related to transformations to equitable food systems. As an assistant professor in the department of Environmental Studies at UC Santa Cruz, she braids a background in molecular biology and science journalism into critical social science approaches to food systems research and education. Current teaching and research interests include gene editing in agriculture, commoning alternatives to IP, abolitionist praxis, and knowledge politics of agroecology and food sovereignty movements globally.

A first-generation US citizen, Dr. Montenegro was raised in rural Appalachia and is the daughter of an Indigenous Quechua father and a Dutch mother. Her PhD work at UC Berkeley explored trends of agrobiodiversity loss through the lens of colonialism, the Green Revolution, and knowledge politics shaping contemporary landscapes of dispossession and repossession. Her postdoc at UC Davis extended this research into CRISPR/Cas gene editing in food systems, specifically how discourses of “democratization” enable contradictory possibilities to unfold in the making, sharing, and governing of new technologies. As a new professor at UC Santa Cruz, she is continuing to research new biotechnologies, pathways connecting agrobiodiversity to human health/nutrition, and agroecological-abolitionist food futures. Dr. Montenegro is an Associate Editor for the Journal of Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, serves on the board of the Journal of Agriculture and Human Values, and co-facilitates the Agroecology Research-Action Collective (ARC).

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  • Abolitionist Agroecology, Food Sovereignty and Pandemic Prevention

    COVID-19 has exposed the racialized nature of food systems, but also potentially grants opportunities to build anew. Maywa Montenegro explores a series of breakdowns, from fractured supply chains to uncontrolled infection among essential food workers, among Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities scythed through by the virus along old grooves of race and class oppression.

    She traces the likely origins of COVID-19 to spillover sites forged by agroindustrial expansion into forested regions where pathogens spring free and infect humans. Industrial animal agriculture drives these ecological changes that incubate future outbreaks. Pandemics have their roots in the violent separation of communities from their territories, seeds, knowledge and wealth. Racism enables such theft as fundamental to capitalist expansion.

    To tackle pandemics and food injustices, Montenegro calls for an abolitionist agroecology. No anti-capitalist alternative can ignore the racism that is central to transnational food system. Scholars including Angela Davis, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, and Mariame Kaba have argued that although abolition is frequently seen as an oppositional strategy — to eradicate, for example, prisons and police — abolition is equally propositional. An abolitionist agroecology cracks open multiple possibilities that respond to the exigencies of a pandemic planet — there is no ‘normal’ to which we can safely return.