I am a US-Dutch-Peruvian citizen who grew up in Appalachia, studied molecular biology in the Northeast, worked as a journalist in New York City, and then migrated to the left coast to pursue a PhD. My indigenous ancestry, smallholder family history, and the colonizing/decolonizing experiences of both the Netherlands and Peru informs my personal and professional interests in seeds and agrobiodiversity. My background engenders a strong desire to explore synergies between western science and the indigenous/traditional knowledge systems that have historically been devalued and marginalized.
Ph.D. in Environmental Science, Policy, & Management, University of California-Berkeley, 2018. PhD Thesis: Breeding Grounds for Biodiversity: Renewing Crop Genetic Resources in an Age of Industrial Food.
M.S. in Science Writing, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2003. Master’s Thesis: Rice: How the Most Genetically Versatile Grain Conquered the World.
B.A. in Biology, Williams College, 2002. Conferred with High Honors in General Scholarship (magna cum laude), Departmental High Honors, and Phi Beta Kappa distinction. Honor’s Thesis: Construction of a Histidine-tagged form of VirD4, the putative ‘coupling protein’ in the type IV secretion system of Agrobacterium tumefaciens.
Agroecology and diversified farming systems || Conservation of agrobiodiversity || Food sovereignty || Political ecology || STS || Participatory research and learning
Trained in molecular biology, science writing, and now, a range of critical social and ecological theory, I incorporate these perspectives into research on seeds.
I am particularly interested in the relationship between formal seed systems – characterized by professional breeding, certification, intellectual property – and commercial sale and informal seed systems through which farmers traditionally save, exchange, and sell seeds. How can crop research best serve farmers both in developed countries where R&D is heavily dominated by agribusiness, and in developing countries where peasant systems continually frayed by marketing, trade, and intellectual property laws that preclude their way of life? What kinds of policies are needed to support participatory methods for plant breeding, to prevent further erosion of agricultural knowledge and biodiversity, and to ensure equitable access to the fruits of farmers’ and scientists’ collaborative work? Issues of rights, access, and worldviews become salient here: whether genetic resources are considered private property or public goods, intellectual investments or knowledge heritage, commodities or commons, bears heavily on proposed visions of sustainable seed systems.
I approach these questions primarily as a social scientist, using theoretical lenses from political ecology, human geography, and Science and Technology Studies (STS). The first paper resulting from my fieldwork, published in Agriculture and Human Values (2015), interrogates the question of diversity ‘loss,’ asking if, how, and where it is occurring or not. The second, published in Gastronomica (2016) and The Journal of Peasant Studies (2016), takes a look at crop wild relatives, which are rapidly gaining recognition amongst conservationists and breeders for their climate adaptation value. New frontiers of primitive accumulation are shaping up, I argue, at the intersection of biotechnology, genetic governance, and wild relative’s resilience value. My most recent paper, also in JPS (2017), pivots towards agrobiodiversity solutions, specifically on movements to reestablish open-source ‘commons’ to share and protect seed.
Complementing my thesis research, I also study and write about agroecology, food sovereignty, and creating new normals in agri-food systems. In this vein, I recently co-authored an article for the journal Elementa on creating ‘thick legitimacy’ for agroecology in the US. With a larger team of collaborators, I contributed agroecological perspectives to the agri-food chapter in the Science and Technology Studies Handbook. Earlier writings include human dimensions of diversified farming (Ecology & Society) and investigating socio-ecological scale in the theories, practices, and strategies of food sovereignty (Globalizations). Still, I consider myself a neophyte to the fields of agroecology and food sovereignty, on a perpetually steep learning curve. For this reason, I am very grateful to communities such as the New World Agriculture and Environment Group, the UCB Center for Diversified Farming Systems, and the nascent Agroecology Research-Action Collective, of which I am a founding member.
Towards broadening the scope of learning in and around university research, I enjoy resuming my journalism cap to write for popular media. In this vein, I have contributed articles to the Earth Island Journal (on pesticides and the politics of science), Gastronomica (on ‘lighthouses’ for urban agriculture), and Ensia magazine (on agroecology, on GMOs, and on new CRISPR/Cas9 editing technologies). It is important that we deepen public-academic dialogue, I suggest, because food system change requires a strong shift in public perceptions of what kind of agriculture is perceived as ‘normal.’ And that will mean changing the frames, assumptions, and taken-for-granted truths we tell ourselves about agriculture - the food, the labor, the culture, and the politics behind it. We need creative processes for telling different kinds of stories, including the importance of agrobiodiversity and the role of farmers in keeping this diversity alive.
On campus, I am Communications Coordinator for the Center for Diversified Farming Systems, graduate student representative of the UC Global Food Initiative, and a Student Fellow of the Berkeley Food Institute.
— PEER REVIEWED JOURNAL ARTICLES & BOOK CHAPTERS —
Montenegro de Wit, M. In press. Democratizing CRISPR? Stories, practices, and politics of science and governance on the agricultural gene editing frontier. Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene.
Montenegro de Wit, M.,† A. Roman-Alcalá,† S. Chrisman, and A. Liebman. 2020. The agrarian origins of authoritarian rural populism in the United States: What can we learn from 20th century struggles in California and the Midwest? Journal of Rural Studies, special issue on Authoritarian Populism and Emancipatory Rural Politics in the United States and Puerto Rico Online first, Dec 19, 2019. († co first authors). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrurstud.2019.12.003
Montenegro de Wit, M., L. Carlisle, L., M.S. DeLonge, M. S., A. Iles, A. Calo, C. Getz, J. Ory, K. Munden-Dixon, Ryan Galt, Brett Melone, Reggie Knox, and Daniel Press. 2019. Transitioning to sustainable agriculture requires growing and sustaining an ecologically skilled workforce. Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems, November 1. († co first authors). (Open Access)
Carlisle, L., M. Montenegro de Wit, M.S. DeLonge, A. Calo, C. Getz, J. Ory, K. Munden-Dixon, R. Galt, B. Melone, R. Knox, A. Iles, D. Press. 2019. Securing the future of US agriculture: the case for investing in new entry sustainable farmers. Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene 7(1), p.17. http://doi.org/10.1525/elementa.356
Montenegro de Wit, M. 2019. Gene Driving the Farm: Who decides, who owns, and who benefits? Journal of Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, January: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/21683565.2019.1591566
Montenegro de Wit, M. 2019. Beating the Bounds: How Does ‘Open Source’ Become a Commons for Seed? Journal of Peasant Studies. 46(1) 44-79. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03066150.2017.1383395
Montenegro de Wit, Maywa. 2017. Book Review: Fertile ground: scaling agroecology from the ground up, Steve Brescia, ed., 2017. Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/21683565.2017.1330797
Montenegro de Wit, Maywa. 2017. Stealing Into the Wild: Conservation Science, Plant Breeding, and the Makings of New Seed Enclosures. The Journal of Peasant Studies. 44(1): 169-212. Download PDF.
Iles, Alastair and Maywa Montenegro de Wit. 2017. Sovereignty at What Scale? An Inquiry into Multiple Dimensions of Food Sovereignty. In The Politics of Food Sovereignty: Concept, Practice and Social Movements, eds. A. Shattuck, C. Schiavoni, and Z. VanGelder, Chapter 5. New York, NY: Routledge.
Montenegro de Wit, Maywa and Alastair Iles. 2016. Toward Thick Legitimacy: Creating a Web of Legitimacy for Agroecology. Elementa: Science of the Anthopocene. 4: 000115. doi: 10.12952/journal.elementa.000115. Download PDF.
Iles, Alastair, Garrett Graddy-Lovelace, Maywa Montenegro de Wit, and Ryan Galt. 2016. Agricultural Systems: Co-Producing Knowledge and Food. In the Handbook of Science and Technology Studies, 4th edition, eds. U. Felt, R. Fouché, C. Miller, and L. Smith-Doerr, Ch. 33. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Garbach, Kelly, Jeff C. Milder, Fabrice A.J. DeClerck, Maywa Montenegro de Wit, Laura Driscoll, and Barbara Gemmill-Herren. 2016. Closing Yield and Nature Gaps: Multi-Functionality in Five Systems of Agroecological Intensification. International Journal of Agricultural Sciences. 1-22. Open access.
Montenegro de Wit, Maywa. 2016. Are We Losing Diversity? Navigating Ecological, Political, and Epistemic Dimensions of Agrobiodiversity Conservation. Agriculture and Human Values 33(3):625-640. Download PDF.
Iles, Alastair, and Maywa Montenegro de Wit. 2014. Sovereignty at What Scale? An Inquiry into Multiple Dimensions of Food Sovereignty. Globalizations, 12(4): 481-497. Download PDF.
Montenegro de Wit, Maywa. 2014. A Lighthouse for Urban Agriculture: University, Community, and Redefining Expertise in the Food System. Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture, 14 (1): 9-22. Download PDF.
Bacon, Christopher, M., Christy Getz, Sibella Kraus, Maywa Montenegro de Wit, and Kaelin Holland. 2012. The Social Dimensions of Sustainability and Change in Diversified Farming Systems. Ecology and Society 17(4): 41. Download PDF.
Argumedo, Alejandro with Maywa Montenegro de Wit and Raj Patel. 2012. Defending Seed and Food Sovereignty in the Andes. In Seed Freedom: A Global Citizens' Report. Navdanya. Download PDF.
Banta, Lois M. and Maywa Montenegro de Wit. 2008. Agrobacterium and Plant Biotechnology. In Agrobacterium: from Biology to Biotechnology, edited by Tzvi Tzfira and Vitaly Citovsky, 73-147.New York: Springer.
— REFERENCE VOLUME ENTRIES —
Garbach, Kelly, Jeffrey C. Milder, Maywa Montenegro de Wit, Daniel S. Karp, Fabrice A.J. DeClerck. 2014. Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services in Agroecosystems (pdf). In Encyclopedia of Agriculture Systems. Elsevier Science.
— POLICY BRIEFS —
Montenegro, M. † & Graddy-Lovelace†, G. Policy Recommendations for 8th ITPGRFA Governing Body Meeting. American University († co first authors). https://doi.org/10.17606/30WH-M543
Louafi, S., I. Westphal, M. Montenegro, D. Manzella, G. Otieno, S. Steigerwald, and J. Kloppenburg. 2018. “Open Source for Seeds and Genetic Sequence Data: Practical experience and future strategies,” CIRAD Policy Brief, No. 49, December. (View PDF)
— SELECTED POPULAR ARTICLES (from ~ 50) —
Montenegro de Wit, Maywa, Annie Shattuck, and Josh Sbicca. 2019. "U.S. Agriculture Needs a 21st Century New Deal," The Conversation, July 3.
Montenegro de Wit, Maywa and Alastair Iles. 2016. What Would It Take to Mainstream Alternative Agriculture? Ensia Magazine, July 25.
Montenegro de Wit, Maywa. 2016. CRISPR is Coming to Agriculture. Ensia Magazine, January 28.
Montenegro de Wit, Maywa. 2016. How CRISPR Works. Ensia Magazine, January 28.
Montenegro de Wit, Maywa. 2015. The Complex Nature of GMOs Calls for a New Conversation. Ensia Magazine, October 7. (Republished by PRI, Quartz, Business Insider)
Montenegro de Wit, Maywa. 2015. Agroecology Can Help Fix Our Broken Food System: Here's How. Ensia Magazine, June 17.
Thrupp, Ann, Maywa Montenegro de Wit, and Alastair Iles. 2015. Agroecology & Justice in Food Systems Are Critical to Empower People to Feed Themselves. Huffington Post Blog, May 29.
Montenegro de Wit, Maywa. 2015. Reimagining the Seed: From Private Property to Shared Heritage. Food First Blog, May 6.
Montenegro de Wit, Maywa and Alastair Iles. 2015. Getting Past Scientized Scrutiny: Too Often, Reporting on Food and Agriculture Treats Science as a Singular Source of Truth. The Earth Island Journal, April 29.
Montenegro de Wit, Maywa. 2013. Urban Agroecology: A Lighthouse of Sustainability. The Earth Island Journal, August 1.
Montenegro de Wit, Maywa. 2009. Hungry for Land: Growing food in foreign lands has a long history. But the 21st century version of outsourced agriculture presages something fundamentally new. Seed Magazine, April 27.
Montenegro de Wit, Maywa. 2009. Rethinking Growth: An interview with ecological economist Herman Daly. Seed Magazine, January. Published online April 6, 2011.
Montenegro de Wit, Maywa and Terry Glavin. 2008. In Defense of Difference: Scientists offer new insight into what to protect of the world’s rapidly vanishing languages, cultures, and species. Seed Magazine, October 7.
Montenegro de Wit, Maywa. 2003. A Doctor Cries Out for the Neglected Millions, Review of Pathologies of Power: Health Human Rights and the New War on the Poor by Paul Farmer. The Boston Globe. August 12.
Montenegro de Wit, Maywa. 2003. A Fresh Look at Genetically Modified Foods, Review of Food Inc.: Mendel to Monsanto—The Promises and Perils of the Biotech Harvest by Peter Pringle. The Boston Globe. July 15.
— GRANTS & FELLOWSHIPS —
University of California President's Postdoctoral Fellowship (2018-2019) University of California, Davis, California
National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (2011-2016) University of California, Berkeley, California
Chancellor’s Graduate Student Diversity Fellowship (2011-2014) University of California, Berkeley, California
Merck Undergraduate Science Research Scholarship (1999) Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts
— SERVICE —university & community service
- Sustainable Agriculture Education Association (SAEA) 2016 Conference Organizing Committee Member. 2015-2016. Steering Council Member 2016- present.
- Graduate student representative for the UC Berkeley committee of the UC Global Food Initiative (GFI). 2014-present.
- Student Fellow, UC Berkeley Food Institute. 2014-present.
- Communications Coordinator for the UC Berkeley Center for Diversified Farming Systems. 2013-present.journal referee
- Journal of Peasant Studies
- Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems
- Agriculture and Human Values
- Gastronomica: Journal of Critical Food Studiesprofessional societies
- North American chapter of the Society of Latin American Agroecologists (NA-SOCLA)
- American Association of Geographers (AAG)
- Sustainable Agriculture Education Association (SAEA)
- Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ)
Graduate Student Instructor, University of California, Berkeley
- ESPM 155: The Sociology and Political Ecology of Agro-Food Systems (2018)
Guest Lecturer, University of California, Berkeley
- GEOG 130: Food and the Environment (2018); on open source seeds and seed sovereignty
- ESPM 155: The Sociology and Political Ecology of Agro-Food Systems (2018); on rethinking the GMO debate
- ESPM 161: Environmental Philosophy and Ethics (2017); on GMOs in science and society
- ESPM 155: (Panelist) The Sociology and Political Ecology of Agro-Food Systems (2016); on decolonizing food and seed systems
- GEOG 130: Food & the Environment (2016); on food sovereignty and social movements
- ESPM 290: Special Topics in Environmental Science, Policy, and Management: Biodiversity & Human Health (2015); on crop diversity, nutrition, and health
Guest Lecturer, Other Universities
- University of Massachusetts, Boston, Graduate Program in Science Journalism (2015); on GMOs and constructing consensus in the media
— CONFERENCE PAPERS AND PRESENTATIONS —
†= share first authorship
Montenegro de Wit, Maywa. 2018. “We are the Agroecology Research Action-Collective,” In Making Agrarian Justice Happen, American Association of Geographers Annual Meeting. New Orleans, LA, April 13 (panel co-organizer).
Montenegro de Wit, Maywa. 2017. “How Does Open Source Grow a Commons for Seed?" Workshop on open-source seed hosted by CIRAD (Agricultural Research for Development), Montepellier, France, October 16-18.
Montenegro de Wit, Maywa. 2017. “Beating the Bounds: how does open source become a seed commons?” In Critical Geographies of Agri-food Policy: Igniting Political Potential. American Association of Geographers Annual Meeting. Boston, MA, April 5 (panel co-organizer).
Montenegro de Wit, Maywa. 2016. “All the News That’s Fit to Teach,” In Skills for Social Change: Organizing and Storytelling in Teaching and Research. Sustainable Agriculture Education Association. UC Santa Cruz, CA, July 30 (panel co-organizer).
Montenegro de Wit, Maywa. 2016. Conversations Between STS and Agri-Food: The Global Geography of Knowledge-Making and Use. Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers, San Francisco, March 31. (panel co-organizer)
Montenegro de Wit, Maywa† and Alastair Iles.† 2013. Building Relational Food Sovereignty Across Scales: An Example from the Peruvian Andes. Food Sovereignty: A Critical Dialogue, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, 14 September.
Montenegro de Wit, Maywa. 2013. Creating the ‘Landscape Approach’: Knowledge Sovereignty or Enclosure? Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers, Los Angeles, California, 9 April.
Iles, Alastair and Maywa Montenegro de Wit. 2013. The Promise of Diversified Farming Systems. Annual Meeting of the International Studies Association, San Francisco, California, 6 April.
— INVITED PRESENTATIONS —
2018. Speaker, “Beating the Bounds: How Does Open Source Become a Seed Commons?", Seed Sovereignty Workshop, The Graduate Institute Geneva, Switzerland, May 27-29.
2017. Speaker, “Rethinking the GMO Debate: Toward Better Evaluation Criteria?” UC ANR Nutrition Policy Institute, Berkeley, CA, November 16.
2017 . Speaker, “Open Source for Seeds and Digital Sequence Information: Workshop on Practical Experiences with OSS Implementation.” CIRAD, Montpellier, France, October 16-17.
2017. Speaker, “Seed: The Untold Story,” documentary screening, Berkeley, CA, April 25.
2017. Panelist, “Fertile Ground: Scaling Agroecology from the Ground Up,” Food First book launch, Berkeley, CA, April 19.
2016. Panelist, “GMOs 2.0: Synthetic Biology, Agroecology & The Future of Food,” Soil Not Oil Conference. Richmond, CA, August 5.
2016. Keynote Speaker, Ensia Spark Series. University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, May 18.
2016. Panelist, "Will Genetically Modified Foods be Featured in our Menus and Meals in 2050?" University of California, Los Angeles, April 19.
2012. Speaker, "Food and Agriculture at the Rio+20 Summit on Sustainable Development." Center for Diversified Farming Systems, Roundtable Series. University of California, Berkeley, September 14.
2010. Panelist, Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America: “How Ecologists Can Improve Communications with the Media.” Pittsburgh, PA. August 7.
2010. Panelist, BIO Convention: “Public Perception, Technology, and Feeding the World.” Chicago, Illinois. May 3.
— INTERVIEWS & FUN LINKS —
"How Seeds from War-Torn Syria Could Help Save American Wheat." Yale E360, May 14, 2018.
"Workers at UC Berkeley, Other Campuses Launch 3-day Strike" Berkeleyside, May 7, 2018.
"Can ‘Vaccines’ for Crops Help Cut Pesticide Use and Boost Yields?" Yale E360, April 19, 2018.
"Monsanto’s Driverless Car: Is CRISPR Gene Editing Driving Seed Consolidation?" Civil Eats, April 10, 2017.
"New Technology Spurs Consolidation in the Seed Industry." Epoch Times, September 27, 2016.
"The Trans-Pacific Partnership Will Hurt Farmers and Make Seed Companies Richer." The Nation, June 10, 2016.
Breakthoughs Magazine, UC Berkeley College of Natural Resources. Interviews with women of the Berkeley Food Institute. Winter 2016.
Delicious Revolution Podcast Guest: "Maywa Montenegro on GMOs, Agrobiodiversity, and the Politics of 'Scientific Consensus.'" November 23, 2015.