“We Spray So We Can Live”: Agrochemical Kinship, Mystery Kidney Disease, and Struggles for Health in Dry Zone Sri Lanka

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5 Scopus citations


In March 2015, Sri Lanka’s then-President Maithripala Sirisena launched the Toxic Free Nation Movement as a long-term solution to a mysterious form of kidney disease (CKDu) now endemic in the island’s dry zone. As part of this strategy, in 2016 the movement worked with farmers in north-central Sri Lanka to cultivate indigenous rice varieties without agrochemicals. Yet, within a year, 80 percent of farmers who experimented with indigenous and organic rice farming had switched back to some form of agrochemically intensive cultivation. In this article, I examine farmers’ narratives of why this happened, demonstrating how the movement’s conceptualization of agricultural harm often missed the forms of accounting most salient for residents themselves. Instead, through their testimonies, residents track how polyvalent relationships with agrarian toxicity mediate (1) vulnerabilities to simple reproduction squeezes, (2) reliance on grain fungibility, and (3) strong but bittersweet attachments to dry zone agrarian landscapes. As a consequence, I document how residents respatialize their knotted relationships to agrarian toxicity to include moments of what I call “agrichemical kinship.” I argue that this optic helps us grasp the ways in which agrochemicals simultaneously erode and enable modes of social reproduction against a backdrop of rural stagnation. Following feminist scholars of toxicity, this article not only reveals intimate, yet undertheorized, connections between the field of toxic geographies and the concept of social reproduction but also dashes hopes of any simple equation between banning agrichemical inputs and enacting health in the wake of CKDu.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1047-1064
Number of pages18
JournalAnnals of the American Association of Geographers
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Social Science Research Council, the American Institute for Sri Lankan Studies, the Society of Woman Geographers, and the National Science Foundation (Award No. 1633991). I am indebted to the residents of Sri Pura who graciously opened up their homes and shared their insights with me. Their accounts of struggle and resilience are the beating heart of this article. My writing process was helped along by myriad conversations with colleagues over many years. I am especially grateful for the incisive and thoughtful comments of two anonymous reviewers, as well as for constructive feedback from Ingrid Behrsin, Brian King, Nick Lally, Carrie Mott, Priscilla McCutcheon, Carly Nichols, Aparna Parikh, A. Marie Ranjbar, Jen Sedell, and Elizabeth Williams. Thanks to all of you for pushing me to clarify and sharpen my ideas. Finally, my gratitude goes to Katie Meehan for her guidance, encouragement, and constructive feedback during the revision of the article.

Funding Information:
The FDP was a program of training and exchange of rice varieties between the International Rice Research Institute and Sri Lanka's Department of Agriculture, funded by the Sri Lankan government and the Ford Foundation.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 by American Association of Geographers.


  • agrochemical kinship
  • dry zone Sri Lanka
  • mystery kidney disease
  • social reproduction
  • toxic geographies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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