Rice in contemporary East Timor is multivalent, with a rich historical legacy. In the current postcolonial context, rice agriculture and the value of rice as both a consumption good and a development objective remain a priority. Government-sponsored rice production is framed variously as “food security” for the poor and as a key objective of “agricultural modernization” for a new class of dynamic farmers in a progressive market-oriented food production sector. In this article we present a comparative study of two rice development projects in East Timor that promote enhanced yields and production of irrigated rice through improved seed germplasm and other technologies of development. The Tapo-Memo scheme and the initiative known as “Seeds of Life” illustrate contrasting engagements with technoscientific development. We adopt three intersecting anthropological perspectives: sociocultural anthropology, the anthropology of development, and applied development anthropology. From the former we know rice as a set of cultural practices. The anthropology of development critiques and analyzes rice development in the light of existing farmer practices and technosocial relations. And applied anthropology seeks to act instrumentally to improve rice development interventions. The novelty of the article is to mix these perspectives while recognizing the methodological, interpretative, and subdisciplinary differences that separate them. We incorporate the analytical tool of the “boundary object” to examine how rice agency is experientially constituted and politically negotiated along the contours and at the boundaries of international development operations, national policy, extension agents, and the everyday lives, livelihoods, and aspirations of farmers.

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