Synthesis And Policy Considerations

The Green Revolution, with its high-yielding varieties of crops, brought great promises of alleviating hunger and poverty by making food easier to grow. Although the wave of new technologies led to significant improvements in some areas, in others, i.e., those areas that suffered most, the benefits were not realized. Green Revolution technologies required that farmers have specialized knowledge about chemical fertilizer use and new irrigation techniques as well as access to inputs; therefore, these new technologies were relatively costly and difficult to adopt in the poorest regions.

In contrast, the "first generation" of agricultural biotechnologies are relatively simple to use, divisible, and are scale-neutral technologies that do not require significant investment up front or drastically alter local farm and cultural practices (depending on seed prices and type). These technologies have been highly successful in developed countries and are likely to be of even greater importance in the developing countries of the South. Ease of adoption means that the gap between educated farmers owning large farms and uneducated farmers with smaller farms is likely to diminish. Furthermore, these technologies can address the obstacles that act as primary constraints to the poorest farmers in developing countries—such as drought, high-saline soils, pests, and disease—and may go far just in terms of increasing production of basic, traditional crops. Therefore, simple, supply-enhancing, pest-resisting technologies have great potential for helping poor farmers in developing countries, even in the most challenged areas.

Considering insect-resistant technologies specifically, such as Bt cassava and Bt corn, farmers in developing countries where pests and disease are far more damaging may benefit even more from these technologies than farmers in developed countries. In fact, in the medium to longer term, the benefits of agricultural biotechnologies may be even greater for the South than what has been experienced by the North.

To reach the full potential that biotechnology adoption holds for developing countries, decision-makers must first adopt policies that enhance the development of appropriate technologies—those that meet the specific needs of farmers and consumers in developing regions. Research should continue to focus on "first generation" innovations that have low fixed costs, that are compatible with the human capital constraints in these countries, and meet the specific input needs of local farmers (e.g., salt-tolerant and pest-, pesticide-, and drought-resistant). In addition, the reduced environmental and health impacts, and resource-conserving characteristics of these technologies, must also continue to be developed.

Now that the development of first-generation technologies is well underway, researchers are now turning their attention to developing "second generation" technologies. These technologies have improved output characteristics that meet the needs of consumers. Although these VECs, such as high-vitamin or high-oil content crops, may initially pose more risk to the producer, they are vital for addressing the serious nutritional needs of developing countries.

Research on appropriate technologies is most effective when public national research centers from the targeted areas are involved. These centers are the best equipped to integrate research with local farmer needs through participatory approaches. Furthermore, research can be facilitated through private-public research collaborations that draw on expertise and resources from both the developed and developing world.

Of course, development of technologies appropriate for adoption by poor farmers is not enough. To fully realize the benefits of these technologies, appropriate and effective institutions that reduce barriers at the farm level, and make these new technologies available to the targeted farmers, must be put in place. Extension specialists play a significant role. Often they are the primary sources of information and tools, especially for poor farmers in remote areas. The extension/farmer relationship is based on trust; therefore, the extension agent needs to be accurately informed about the benefits and costs and should have first-hand experience with the practicalities associated with adoption of new technologies.

The literature suggests that limited access to credit in developing countries may slow or reduce adoption of agricultural biotechnology by smaller farmers. Thus, institutional policies that both reduce the cost of credit and increase its availability are needed. For example, adoption of some chemical solutions to pest-control problems has been limited because of the extra cost involved in equipment and material costs. Installment plans that require payment of biotechnology "fees" on a season-by-season basis, depending on whether a farmer utilized GM seeds, rather than significant upfront fees, will improve adoption substantially for small poor farmers. If the price of seeds is sufficiently low and credit channels are expanded, small farms that did not adopt chemical pesticides will adopt biotechnology seeds.

While creative credit solutions may be effective for commercially viable farms, further solutions are needed for the poorest subsistence farmers. These could come in the form of price discrimination structures aimed specifically at poverty alleviation. Seed companies could be assured access to commercial seed markets in one area in return for offering seed at or below cost in other areas where the poorest farmers are found. Of course, introduction of credit and pricing policies will require monitoring of farmer behavior and markets and effective enforcement capacity. Extension services and the public sector are challenged to cooperate with the private sector to introduce such mechanisms.

0 0

Post a comment