Major Processes Shaping The Evolution Of Agriculture Biotechnology And Biodiversity

David Zilberman1 and Leslie Lipper2

'Professor, Agricultural and Resource Economics, 207 Giannini Hall, University of California, Berkeley, CA, 94 720; 2Economist, Agricultural and Development Economic Analysis Division, Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N., Viale delle Terme di Caracalla 00100, Rome, Italy

Abstract: The paper identifies five major global trends that are likely to impact agricultural biodiversity conservation and the adoption of agricultural biotechnologies. The trends covered include trade and capital market liberalization, the rise of the environmental movement, consumerism, privatization and devolution of government services, and the emergence of the information age. We find that trade liberalization is likely to lead to increased incentives and capacity for biotechnology adoption, with unclear but potentially negative impacts on agricultural biodiversity. Environmentalism has generated a system of environmental governance and regulation, which may come into conflict with those established under global trade agreements. However, the way in which these disputes will be resolved is still unclear, but it will likely have important implications for both agricultural biotechnology and biodiversity. The rise in consumer power associated with increased incomes and the expansion of markets will affect biotechnology adoption through two opposing effects: the expression of consumer concerns about environmental and food safety, balanced against the delivery of quality characteristics that biotechnology can deliver. Privatization in the agricultural research and development sector increases incentives for the development of agricultural biotechnologies, but may create barriers to their adoption in developing countries, while the privatization of environmental services generates increased incentives for biodiversity conservation. Rapid improvements in information technologies increase the capacity for effective biodiversity conservation and are fundamental components of the development of biotechnologies.

Key words: agricultural biodiversity; agricultural biotechnology; environmental treaties, globalization, information technologies; privatization.

Over the past 20 years, several global trends have been unfolding which have implications for the evolution of agricultural biotechnology and the conservation and sustainable use of agricultural biodiversity. These trends are interlinked and in some cases have opposing effects, and their final outcomes are yet to be determined. In this chapter we provide a short survey of these developments together with an analysis of their potential implications for the use of agricultural biotechnology and the management of agricultural biodiversity. The trends covered include trade and capital market liberalization, the rise of the environmental movement, consumerism, the privatization and devolution of government services, and the emergence of the information age.

Both biotechnology and the concept of biodiversity are fairly recent arrivals onto the human scene, and their management has raised several controversies. For example, biotechnology is a product that is comprised of a large intellectual component, e.g., it represents the culmination of a process of research. This research has mostly been carried out in the private sector, although it also often involves the use of genetic resources which originated in the public domain. There is considerable disagreement on the best means of protecting the property rights to the intellectual component embodied in biotechnology, while recognizing both the private and public contributions to the end product. In addition, agricultural biotechnology products are the result of a major scientific advance and have only very recently become available. Due to their novelty, there is only limited information on the long-run impacts they might have on environmental and food safety. A great deal of uncertainty exists on how much risk such products entail, as well as much controversy on how it should be measured and how much is socially acceptable.

Considerable uncertainty and conflict exist over the conservation of agricultural and wild biodiversity as well. Assigning values to biodiversity conservation is fraught with uncertainty. One of the most significant values associated with biodiversity is preserving potential future options for the use of the genetic resources maintained—and this is very difficult to assign value to. There is even considerable uncertainty with determining the use values of agricultural biodiversity, which ostensibly is easier to measure.

Uncertainty over values leads to controversy over conservation strategies: how much and what should be preserved. Controversy is particularly sharp when conservation conflicts with economic development (see Chapter 19).

These controversies are currently under discussion and negotiation in a variety of formal and informal forums, and they are being shaped by the global trends, which we identified in the first paragraph. In the discussion which follows below, we discuss how these global processes are shaping the ongoing debates in various contexts and draw conclusions as to their potential implications for the management and use of agricultural biotechnology and biodiversity in developing countries. Our discussion is kept to a fairly general level, which does not fully capture the tremendous variation that exists among developing countries in terms of their endowments and capacities. More specific analyses related to the management of biotechnology and agricultural biodiversity in the varied context of developing countries are given in later chapters of this book.

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