Directions For Future Research

Several areas where new research is needed on issues related to managing plant genetic diversity and agricultural biotechnology for economic development have been identified throughout this volume.

With regards to biotechnology, it is important to continue to assess the economic impacts of adoption of various types of agricultural biotechnologies as they evolve. To best assess these impacts, we need quantitative understanding on how the features of various technologies, the economic and environmental conditions in various locations, the institutional setup in general, and the policies associated with the new technologies affect their impacts in terms of pricing and welfare of various groups. This research will allow identification of the countries and situations where investments in agricultural biotechnology are likely to generate significant returns in terms of agricultural productivity increases and poverty alleviation, relative to other potential strategies.

The potential environmental side effects of agricultural biotechnology are a continuous source of controversy that will affect the future of this technology. Identifying and assessing the risks associated with biotechnology adoption relative to potential benefits is a major priority and, more importantly, designing institutions for monitoring the environmental impacts of agricultural biotechnology and effectively regulating to control potential risks is a major policy challenge. It has also emerged as an area where more research is urgently needed.

We also need to identify features of biotechnology products that are especially desirable from the perspective of the developing world and identify mechanisms that will help developing countries gain access to them, especially if they will not be pursued as part of the agenda of the private sector. For example, it is important to understand to what extent can biotechnology enhance the micronutrient content of food consumed in developing countries and to what extent the biotechnology innovations that serve this purpose will be pursued by the private sector and, if they are not pursued privately, whether and how to provide the incentives for their introduction.

We need a better understanding of the role and effects of regulatory regimes, including environmental, IPR, and market structure regulations on the evolution and adoption of new biotechnology products and their impact on the environment. As new institutions for the management and regulation of biotechnology are introduced, we need research that assesses their performance and suggests design modification and reform. Specifically, more work on policy and institutional reforms necessary to facilitate the potential benefits of biotechnology to the poor is necessary—particularly in reducing the transactions costs associated with access under increasingly restrictive property rights for genetic materials and associated technologies.

On the topic of genetic diversity conservation, first we need to have a better handle on the contribution and value of various forms of genetic resources and the costs associated with their loss. One could use emerging information technologies to collect data on use of various genetic collections and analyze it statistically. It is crucial to understand how improved capabilities affect the usage and productivity of biodiversity in order to better their storage and distribution, an understanding which requires interdisciplinary research cooperation. Determining how to optimize the value of both in situ and ex situ conservation to developing countries requires better information on what these values are, as well as the costs associated with obtaining them, considered in the dynamic context of economic development. Some of this valuation work must be inferred indirectly from greater understanding of the improved economic value derived by bioresources. Valuation work on plant genetic diversity has focused at the farm level in looking at household decision-making over a portfolio of crops and varieties. More work is needed on the local and global public good values of diversity in terms of reducing vulnerabilities to pests and diseases. In addition, further work on the value of maintaining diversity as an input to agricultural breeding programs is needed, following up and expanding on the work of Simpson (Chapter 5) and others (Rausser and Small 2000). Combining research on valuation and costs could be a highly useful guide to developing countries on targeting strategies for conservation.

Together with an assessment of the most efficient conservation opportunities, there is a need for analysis of the most effective and equitable mechanisms for providing incentives for conservation. Markets, due to their increasing importance as a mechanism for the allocation of resources, need to be analyzed in terms of their role in providing incentives and disincentives for conservation. Here markets are taken in the widest sense, ranging from local commodity exchanges up to global markets for environmental goods. The efficiency of markets in allocating plant genetic resources and the implications this has for diversity at the farm and local level are areas where more research is needed. The efficiency and optimal design of market-based mechanisms for maximizing global public good values associated with diversity conservation are other areas where gaps in the economic literature exist. However, market forces are not the only drivers of interest in assessing conservation incentives: The impact of nonmarket forces, particularly government regulations in the agricultural and seed sectors, is also a critical area for further research. Regulations of interest range from biosafety, to seed certification and release procedures, to agricultural pricing interventions.

Finally, an important area for further research is the equity implications of alternative management schemes for plant genetic diversity conservation and agricultural biotechnology. Designing mechanisms to compensate farm communities for their past services in conserving and providing genetic resources to the formal breeding sector, which do not create new barriers to exchanges and thus reduces access, is a challenging area where more work is needed. Designing incentives for in situ conservation, which address not only current but also future opportunity costs associated with conservation in the presence of economic development, is another important equity issue where the analysis in the book indicates the need for more economic research. Finally, further analyses of the distribution of benefits and costs to agricultural biotechnology investment and adoption and the impact, particularly on low productivity agricultural populations relative to other means of productivity increases, is a highly important area of research both from an equity and efficiency standpoint.

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