Proceedings of a workshop
held in Ottawa, Canada
16 – 17 May 1995

Brent Herbert-Copley



Published by the International Development Research Centre
PO Box 8500, Ottawa, ON, Canada K1G 3H9

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Executive Summary


Brent Herbert-Copley


Review of Previous Studies


Biotechnology and Technological Change in Developing-Country Agriculture: An Overview of OECD Development Centre Research


Carliene Brenner


Employment Impacts of Biotechnologies in Latin America: Coffee and Cocoa in Costa Rica


Regina M.A.A. Galhardi


Biotechnology and the Future of Agricultural Development in Mexico


Michelle Chauvet


Methodological Tools and Approaches


Agricultural Biotechnology in Latin America: Studying its Future Impacts


Gerardo Otero


Biotechnology and Agriculture in Brazil: Social and Economic Impacts


Heloisa L. Burnquist


Ex-Ante Evaluation of Potential Economic Impact of Use of rbST on Canadian Dairy Herds: An Analytical Approach


Max Colwell


Integrating Impact Assessment Data into Decision-Making


Improving Biotechnology Research Decision-Making with Better Procedures and Information


C. Chan-Halbrendt, J.I. Cohen, W. Janssen, and T. Braunschweig


Dealing with Socioeconomics Surrounding Biotechnology in the Canadian Federal Government


Joyce Byrne


Environmentally Sound Management of Biotechnology in Latin America


Terry Mclntyre





The project that is the focus of this meeting is one that has a particular meaning for the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) at this point in its evolution:

• It addresses an area of technology and economic development that is at or near the top of the priority list for almost every country in Latin America (and in many other parts of the world).

• It brings together an array of partners and interested parties from the public and private sectors in both Canada and Latin America that has not been usual for IDRC to date (but that we hope to replicate increasingly).

• It cuts across a range of activities that are rarely approached in an integrated manner in these types of research projects, and in so doing offers an organization like ours an opportunity to learn new things in new ways.

• It is the first project to be planned, funded, and undertaken by the Centre on a corporate basis as an expression of one of its six thematic priorities: Technology and the Environment.

Much of the reading that I have been doing around this project has referred to biotechnology as the gateway to the next Green Revolution. This association raises as many cautions as it does hopes.

Although it is fashionable to deride the last Green Revolution in some quarters, it certainly accomplished many great things:

• It saved some countries from bankruptcy over their food imports.

• It saved billions of people from malnutrition and starvation.

• It brought millions of farmers across the threshold from poverty to the rural middle class.

• It laid the basis for agricultural research systems in the South that enabled many countries to challenge the scientific and technological hegemony of the North.

   It came, however, with costs that have yet to be calculated fully:

• A dependency on agrochemicals that has polluted the soil and water resources of huge areas in many countries and led to new strains of resistant pests.

• A uniformization of the genetic base of many major crops and a neglect of the traditional biodiversity of many environments.

• The marginalization in many countries of large segments of the rural poor.

One of the things that I hope for this project is that the Green Revolution that it foreshadows will be more successful than the last one in taking into account social and environmental needs, in promoting genuinely sustainable agricultural and economic development, and in promoting more balanced partnerships between farmers, industry and scientists, and between North and South. Certainly, if that is to happen, there could not be assembled a better combination of government agencies, industry associations, private enterprises, and research centres than the participants at this workshop represent.

Pierre Beemans
Vice President
Corporate Services


The CamBioTec Initiative

CamBioTec (the Canada-Latin America Initiative on Biotechnology, Environment and Sustainable Development) was launched in January 1995 by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada. The objective of the Initiative is to promote the introduction of biotechnology-based products and applications to respond to critical needs in the agrifood and environmental management sectors of selected Latin American countries.

To achieve this objective, the initiative will support an integrated set of activities covering the following fields:

Implementing technology foresight and priority-setting methodologies to identify research priorities and opportunities for biotechnology applications in participating countries;

Strengthening public policy in the field of biotechnology through support to research, advisory services, and consensus-building exercises, and by developing and diffusing tools for improved analysis and monitoring of the social, economic, and environmental impacts of biotechnology applications;

Promoting improved management of innovation in biotechnology firms through a series of executive seminars and ongoing exchange of information; and,

Fostering Canada-Latin America technology partnering arrangements by disseminating market and technical information to Canadian and Latin American firms, and by supporting an active brokering mechanism to assist entrepreneurs to identify potential partners, technologies, and funding mechanisms.

The initiative is founded on a conviction that recent advances in biotechnology can contribute significantly to the promotion of more sustainable agricultural production and improved environmental management in the countries of Latin America, and that this in turn raises the possibility of mutually beneficial partnerships between the Canadian and Latin American biotechnology sectors.

The initiative has targeted four Latin American countries for the initial phase of its work: Argentina, Colombia, Cuba, and Mexico. Together, these countries possess a vibrant biotechnology sector and offer a range of opportunities for the application of biotechnology and for the development of partnerships with Canadian firms and institutions. Contacts have also been established with counterpart institutions in Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, and Venezuela and, as funds permit, the initiative will be expanded to encompass some or all of these countries.

CamBioTec is designed as a decentralized, flexible network, organized around a series of “focal point” institutions in participating countries. A Mexican focal point, based at the Centro para la Innovación Tecnológica (CIT), the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México works in conjunction with IDRC to coordinate the Latin American component of the initiative, taking particular responsibility for the priority-setting exercises and the executive seminar series. Meanwhile, a Canadian focal point housed at the Canadian Institute for Biotechnology (CIB) is responsible for ensuring linkages to the Canadian biotechnology community. Additional focal points are now being established in the following institutions:

• Argentino:    Foro Argentino de Biotecnología

• Colombia:    Fundación Tecnos

• Cuba:          Centre de Ingeniería Genética y Biotecnología.

Focal point institutions will be responsible for implementing a program of activities at the national level and for fostering linkages with the local biotechnology industry, research organisations, and governmental authorities.

The initiative is expected to lead to the introduction of a limited number of biotechnology applications in priority fields. In the case of Mexico, for example, priority-setting activities have identified promising opportunities in the fields of biopesticides, animal vaccines, and bioremediation of soils. Efforts are now under way to promote concrete partnering activities in these fields.

The initial 3-year phase of operations of CamBioTec is supported by a grant of $1 million from IDRC. During this period, IDRC and the participating institutions will be working to develop longer term partnerships with other donor agencies and with local funding agencies in Canada and the other participating countries. Efforts are also under way to link the CamBioTec initiative with existing biotechnology programs in Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the United States to promote collaborative action in areas of common interest.


As with any undertaking like this, the final output is ultimately the result of the contributions of a number of individuals at various stages along the way. In this case, thanks must in the first place go to my colleagues Bill Edwardson, Charles Davis, and José Luis Solleiro who together have worked to design and implement the CamBioTec initiative. The opportunity to work as part of a multidisciplinary team has been a rewarding one for me and represents a new and exciting mode of operations for IDRC as an institution. Within this group, special thanks are due to José Luis who was instrumental in identifying participants for this workshop and in putting together a preliminary agenda for the meeting.

Within IDRC, Elizabeth Michalski and Carmen DuBois ensured that all of the administrative details of the meeting were handled smoothly and efficiently. Thanks go as well to Marg Langill and her colleagues in IDRC’s travel office and Susan Warren and the hospitality staff.

In terms of the preparation of this volume, I am grateful to Carlos Yuste for taking copious (and helpful) notes on the discussions. Special thanks must also go to Kathy Kealey, who not only edited the papers contained in the volume, but also helped to organize the meeting to ensure that the proceedings could be published as quickly as possible. I am also indebted to Charles Davis, William Lesser, and Rodolfo Quintero for their skilful interventions in leading the discussions in working groups and in helping to summarize the results of the workshop — both of which made my task of preparing the executive summary that much easier. Similarly, the contributors to this volume made my job easier by ensuring that papers were prepared and revised under a very tight time frame.

Finally, I would like to thank the participants in the workshop, whose attendance (often at very short notice from IDRC) served to ensure a lively and productive set of discussions.

Brent Herbert-Copley
IDRC, July 1995

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Executive Summary

Brent Herbert-Copley1


The workshop on which this volume is based represents one of the first formal activities of the “Canada-Latin America Initiative on Biotechnology, the Environment and Sustainable Development” (CamBioTec). The Initiative, launched by IDRC in January 1995, is an ambitious program designed to promote the application of biotechnology-based products and applications to respond to critical needs in the agrifood and environmental management sectors of selected Latin American studies. This is to be achieved by supporting an integrated set of activities designed to identify opportunities for biotechnological innovations, and to overcome key bottlenecks to their effective application.

The decision by IDRC to host this workshop reflects a recognition of the need for careful, rigorous analysis of the social, economic, and environmental impacts of agricultural biotechnology applications. From the outset, it was felt that this should be a crucial part of the overall work program of the initiative, an essential complement to activities geared to promoting the transfer and application of specific biotechnology-based products, and improving the capacities of biotechnology-based enterprises.

Understanding the way in which biotechnology applications affect socioeconomic and environmental variables is not simply an academic exercise. Impact assessment data is important to a range of decision-makers — from public sector research agencies involved in supporting biotechnology research; to regulatory bodies charged with granting approvals for the introduction of specific products; to a range of private-sector and nongovernmental actors faced with decisions regarding future investments in the adoption and application of biotechnology-based products.

Unfortunately, the very diversity of interests at stake complicates the task of assessing the impacts of particular biotechnology applications. As one of the participants in the workshop noted, the various constituencies for impact analysis approach the issue from differing perspectives and with differing needs in terms

1Senior Program Officer, International Development Research Centre (IDRC), 250 Albert St, PO Box 8500, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1G 3H9.

of the type of information and level of detail they require. The point of view and methodological approach of a university-based sociologist are likely to differ widely from those of a regulatory official, or from a representative of a biotechnology company attempting to gauge the market for a new product.

Even where there is agreement over the objectives and uses of impact evaluation, there is still a great degree of uncertainty about just how to organize and carry out such research. A cursory look at any of a number of recent reviews of the literature in this field confirms this fact. Thus, for example, a 1991 survey by Martin Fransman of the University of Edinburgh concluded as follows:

One of the notable facts to emerge from the present survey is the extreme scarcity of rigorous studies analyzing the economic and social effects of biotechnology in advanced industrialized and Third World countries. While studies on the use of biotechnology in various application areas and countries abound, there are very few good studies that examine effects. In part this is due to the complexities that are an inherent part of any rigorous study of effects.... Again, the task that lies ahead is in significant measure one of refining approaches and methodologies (Fransman 1991, p. 75).

More recently, Joel Cohen of the Intermediate Biotechnology Service (IBS) has noted that:

Systematic evaluation of the socioeconomic impacts [of agricultural biotechnology] in developing countries is therefore still in its infancy. Also considerable variation exists among economic models for impact evaluation so that any prediction of socioeconomic impact of biotechnology in developing countries must be regarded with great caution (Cohen 1994, p. 31).

To be fair, the volume and quality of work in this field has improved considerably in the past 4-5 years. But, at the same time, the need for impact assessment has also grown, as the pace of introduction of biotechnology-based products has begun to quicken. In addition, there is increasing concern to include an analysis of the environmental impacts of agricultural biotechnology applications alongside socioeconomic analysis, adding yet another wrinkle to the already complicated task of impact assessment.

Background and Objectives of the Workshop

With these factors in mind, IDRC strongly felt that any attempt to launch further research in the field of biotechnology impact assessment should begin with a careful discussion of methodological approaches and tools. The workshop, held at the IDRC offices in Ottawa from 16 to 17 May 1995, was designed as a preliminary discussion among a select group of experts from Canada, Latin American countries, and international agencies involved in the field of agricultural biotechnology. Its objectives were:

• To identify different methodological approaches for the assessment of socioeconomic and environmental impacts of agricultural biotechnologies, as well as to review the potential and limitations of methodologies applied in previous studies;

• To recommend approaches and methodologies for impact assessment that could be tested in pilot studies to be sponsored by IDRC as part of the CamBioTec initiative; and,

• To identify specific opportunities for such pilot studies and, where possible, to suggest researchers and research institutions working in this field who could carry out such studies.

Emphasis was placed on fostering exchange among the participants rather than on a series of lengthy formal presentations. The first day of the seminar was organized in three sessions, each kicked off by two-three short presentations: the first session concentrated on presenting the results of existing impact evaluation studies, to provide a common frame of reference for subsequent discussions; the second session focused on discussion of alternative methodological tools and approaches for impact assessment; and, the final session of the day looked at the ways in which impact assessment results could be integrated into decision-making processes. The second day of the workshop consisted of working group discussions of possible approaches to be applied in pilot studies funded under the CamBioTec program.

The next section of this chapter provides a brief summary of each of these sessions, outlining the key points made in formal presentations and in the ensuing discussions. The final section then outlines some of the general conclusions emerging from the workshop.

Discussion at the workshop was lively and wide-ranging, which reflects the diverse nature of the participants. In organizing the workshop, an effort was made to include participants from a variety of geographic locations and professional backgrounds. The participants included social scientists from a number of disciplines (economics, agricultural economics, sociology), agricultural specialists, biotechnology researchers, and individuals with a background in the study of innovation policy and management.

The majority of the participants were currently or had been previously involved in carrying out impact assessment studies, although some also represented institutions supporting or carrying out biotechnology research, or public sector agencies involved in the regulation of biotechnology products. Although this diversity of viewpoints at times made it difficult to arrive at a consensus, it was considered essential to deal with the range of issues and interests at stake in the evaluation of the impacts of agricultural biotechnology. As will be seen in later sections of this chapter, the discussions at the workshop reiterated the importance of this kind of “multistakeholder” approach and suggested that efforts to assess the impacts of agricultural biotechnologies should involve the broadest possible consultation with affected parties.

Summary of Discussions

Review of Previous Studies

The first set of papers presented at the workshop were designed to set the stage for the subsequent discussions by providing an overview of some of the conclusions emerging from existing studies of the impact of agricultural biotechnologies in the Third World and by reviewing the methodological approaches followed in such studies.

Any such review, of course, is of necessity partial and cannot do justice to the various studies that have been carried out. The three papers presented here, however, provide a good indication of the range of existing work on the subject. They also illustrate the diversity of possible levels of analysis — from the broad impacts of biotechnological advances on patterns of international production and trade in the global economy, to in-depth analysis of the impacts of specific biotechnology applications on development at the national and local levels.

The paper by Carliene Brenner reviews the results of a series of studies on biotechnology and agriculture in the Third World, carried out since the late 1980s as part of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Development Centre’s research program on technological change in developing-country agriculture. This has included a study of the possible impacts of developments in maize biotechnology on the comparative advantages of developing-country producers; a study of the changing organization of cocoa and rice biotechnology research, carried out as part of a larger research program examining the way in which changes in public/private sector balance associated with economic reforms are affecting the prospects for innovation and enhanced productivity in developing-country agriculture; and, most recently, a six-country study looking at the ways in which biotechnology could contribute to more sustainable crop protection and production approaches.

The overall objective of these studies, Brenner notes, has not been to predict patterns of impacts, but rather to examine the factors stimulating or impeding the development and diffusion of new technologies, and the kinds of policies and/or institutional arrangements that might improve the situation. Results of Development Centre research suggest that the spread of biotechnology applications has been constrained by lack of capabilities in particular scientific disciplines, frequent lack of innovative financing mechanisms, limited attention to marketing and scale-up issues, and (at least in some cases) weaknesses in the regulatory framework at the national level, particularly with regard to intellectual property protection and biosafety procedures. Partly because of the relatively small number of biotechnology-based products currently on the market, impact assessment remains a difficult and uncertain undertaking.

Moreover, she notes, pinpointing the contribution of biotechnology to a given output may be difficult, because new crop varieties may be the result of a combination of biotechnology and more traditional plant breeding and seed production techniques. Efforts to engage in ex-ante assessment should devote greater attention to demand-side issues, rather than simply concentrating on supply-side problems and constraints. There should also be an effort to experiment with alternative approaches; in particular, Brenner argues that the notion of “national systems of innovation” applied in a number of recent studies on industrial innovation may represent a promising approach for analyzing patterns of development and diffusion of agricultural biotechnologies.

The paper by Regina Galhardi takes a somewhat narrower approach to the topic, by assessing the possible trade-related employment impacts of developments in agricultural biotechnology. Although there have been a variety of reports outlining the possible threats to developing countries as a result of the substitution of biotechnology-based products for traditional developing-country commodity exports (see Junne 1992), there are few estimates of the potential magnitudes of impacts on employment.

Taking the cases of coffee and cocoa in Costa Rica, Galhardi develops a set of alternative scenarios for domestic production, export, and employment, based on different assumptions regarding the evolution of world demand. The results of these simulations show the potential for significant direct job losses; as much as 48% for coffee and 27% for cocoa in the more pessimistic scenarios. Even in the more optimistic scenarios, where declining export demand is offset in part by increases in domestic consumption, the country would still experience significant direct job losses in coffee and cocoa production. Negative employment impacts will persist regardless of trends in labour productivity over the study period — and would be much higher for other producers in Central America, which operate at much lower levels of labour productivity than is the case for Costa Rica.

As Galhardi notes, this exercise is by its very nature speculative. It depends on available information on labour coefficients for individual crops and on critical assumptions regarding the future evolution of exports, consumption, and production. The use of national aggregates may gloss over important differences in labour intensity by size of plot, cultivation techniques, and region. Moreover, the analysis deals only with direct — as opposed to net — employment impacts, and does not consider the possibility of offsetting price movements that would alter demand for particular crops. Nonetheless, the paper provides a tentative illustration of the potentially important employment impacts of advances in agricultural biotechnology and, at the same time, underscores the complexity of efforts to assess these impacts.

The final paper in this section, by Michelle Chauvet, presents some of the results obtained from an ongoing effort by a team of Mexican researchers to analyze the socioeconomic impacts of agricultural biotechnologies. The group has completed studies of applications in livestock production and flower-growing, with additional studies under way examining sugarcane and potato production. The studies are of particular interest because they represent one of the few attempts to date to engage in ex-post analysis of the impacts of specific biotechnology applications in developing countries.

In the case of livestock (beef, dairy, and poultry) production, the researchers examined the impacts of a variety of biotechnology-based products: a composite cattle-feed made from agricultural by-products, probiotics for livestock and fodder crops, the synthetic growth hormone somatotropin (rbST), and embryo transplant techniques. In each case, the researchers found, the spread of biotechnology-based products has been relatively slow, despite their potential impacts on costs and/or productivity. In the case of rbST, for example, the hormone has an immediate impact on yields, but also necessitates higher investments that cannot be recouped at prevailing market prices and that are beyond the reach of many small-scale producers.

Similarly, in the case of flower production, high initial investment requirements have slowed the spread of biotechnology applications. Where new techniques have been applied, they have resulted in substantial job creation. High royalty payments to (monopolistic) technology suppliers, however, have restrained the growth of output and have served to maintain downward pressure on the wages of the primarily female labour force engaged in flower production.

Methodological Tools and Approaches

The second group of papers deals with the kinds of methodological approaches that could be applied in future analyses of the impacts of agricultural biotechnology in Latin America. Once again, there is considerable variation among the papers in terms of the kinds of approaches recommended, their potential applications, and their requirements in terms of data-gathering and analysis.

The paper by Otero takes the broadest — and most provocative — approach of the three. He argues that biotechnology could play an important role in the transition to an alternative, more sustainable form of agricultural development in Latin America, but that “the real social forces behind technological and product development respond to different dynamics than the discourse of social and environmental sustainability.”

Much of the existing literature assessing the potential impacts of biotechnology, he claims, presents an optimistic scenario open to question on at least three grounds: its assessment of the available scientific and technological resources in individual developing countries, its assumption that agricultural biotechnology will be neutral in terms of its impact on the economic scale of production, and its expectations regarding the possibilities of scientific and technological cooperation among developing countries to develop and diffuse biotechnology-based products.

Otero argues that current economic and institutional trends (notably the oligopolistic structure of input producers in the agrifood sector) are likely to result in a pattern of application of biotechnology that exacerbates rather than reduces social and regional polarization and extends rather than supplants dependence on chemical inputs. In the face of these forces, he argues that the role of sociological analysis is not simply to identify impacts, but also to “identify areas of social organization where some policy and action may be effectively directed.” This in turn demands new approaches to impact assessment.

Otero concludes his chapter by outlining two possible approaches. The first of these emphasizes the alternative types of global “commodity chains” through which biotechnology products may be channelled (notably the distinction between producer- and buyer-driven chains); the second emphasizes the importance of studying what Otero refers to as “bottom-up linkages,” that is, the extent to which local environmental and social forces are taken into account in technology development. In both cases, the emphasis is not simply on understanding the forces shaping patterns of development and diffusion of agricultural biotechnology, but also on demonstrating opportunities for the expression of different sets of interests and forces, which could alter the trajectory of biotechnology applications, and hence their social and environmental impacts.

Like Otero, Heloisa Burnquist argues that the goal of impact assessment is not simply to outline possible impacts, but also to assist in identifying ways in which negative impacts can be minimized and positive impacts enhanced. Moreover, and again like Otero, she argues that impact assessment should be based upon an understanding of the economic trends and actors shaping patterns of technology development and diffusion. Beyond this, however, the two papers differ markedly in terms of their suggested methodological approaches.

Based on an analysis of current trends in the Brazilian agricultural system, Burnquist argues that, at least in Brazil, impact assessment should be guided by a concern for impacts upon income distribution and household food security. She then proceeds to outline three potential approaches to the study of the impacts of particular agricultural biotechnology applications, each of which presents different advantages and disadvantages.

The first possible approach, a qualitative technology assessment model based on construction of alternative scenarios, has the advantage of being able to respond to a variety of questions not easily amenable to quantitative analysis; its primary disadvantage lies in the subjective nature of many of the conclusions.

A second, more quantitative approach involves the construction of a simple structural model with demand and supply equations for the commodity(ies) under study and simulation of the impact of changes in productivity on prices, demand and supply by crop, and region and type of holding. Such an approach offers a more objective analysis of impacts,2 and permits researchers to experiment with different assumptions regarding key variables (adoption rates, for example) as well as with the impacts of possible countervailing policy actions. Its primary drawback lies in the need for primary data collection and the resultant need to limit analysis to certain products and/or regions.

A third and final approach would be to use an input-output model to simulate intersectoral interactions resulting from the introduction of a particular biotechnology application. Although such a model can be useful in illustrating intersectoral impacts not easily captured in other approaches, its utility is limited by the lack of up-to-date input-output matrices in many countries of the region and by the fact that the model does not account for the impact of changes in relative prices.

The final paper in the section, by Max Colwell, outlines the methodology applied in a recent Canadian study of the impact of recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST) on the Canadian dairy industry. This study represented one aspect of a broader assessment of the expected impacts of rbST in Canada with other components reviewing animal and human health issues, possible impacts on animal genetics, and a review of U.S. consumer reaction since the introduction of rbST in that country in February 1994.3

2 Although, of course, key variables in the model will be based on more or less subjective assumptions by the researchers.

3 For an overview of the other aspects of the Canadian rbST assessment, see rbST Task Force (1995).

Colwell’s paper illustrates the need to combine a number of different methodological tools and approaches to adequately assess the impacts of a given biotechnology application — even in a case like this, where the study was concerned with a relatively restricted set of impacts. The Canadian study of impacts on the dairy sector consisted of five components, each of which demanded a different methodology:

• An aggregate analysis of the impact of alternative adoption scenarios on key variables (production, consumption, prices, farm cash receipts, expense and income, and quota values), based on simulations using an econometric model of the Canadian agricultural sector;

• An estimate of the impact of rbST on the Canadian milk supply management system, based on costs of milk production figures taken from farm-level data sets;

• An assessment of the financial impacts on individual milk producers, based on a study of 130 benchmark farms;

• A study of the possible impacts of nonadoption of rbST on Canada-U.S. competitiveness, based on a comparison of the benchmark farms with farms of a similar size in New York state; and

• An assessment of the potential implications for the dairy processing industry, based on qualitative analysis and interviews with key informants.

Integrating Impact Assessment Data into Decision-Making

The third set of papers in the volume deals with the challenge of integrating impact assessment data into decision-making processes. As noted at the outset, impact assessment is not simply an academic exercise but, instead, can provide crucial information to decision-makers at a variety of levels. Just as clearly, however, concerns for the uses (and users) of impact assessment cannot be simply added on as a final step in the analysis but must be integrated into the design and application of impact assessment tools from the outset.

The paper by Catherine Halbrendt and colleagues deals with the possible uses of impact assessment as a tool to improve decision-making within national agricultural research systems. The authors argue that there are three distinct levels of decision-making affecting biotechnology research: individual scientific research projects, national policy and planning decisions, and decisions concerning international collaborative ventures and potential foreign markets. In each case, the kinds of assessment information and analysis needed by decision-makers differ — from studies of consumer demand and “willingness to consume” regarding specific products, to the evaluation of possible impacts of biotechnology products on key national goals (growth, income distribution, employment), to the monitoring of technological trends and market characteristics in other countries.

The authors then proceed to outline a six-step model of the decision-making process for national agricultural research systems and to discuss the kinds of data requirements for effective decision-making at each stage of this model. Finally, the paper reviews some of the activities of the Intermediary Biotechnology Service (IBS) in support of improved decision-making with regard to biotechnology research — from the directory of expertise maintained by the IBS, to a series of policy seminars for decision-makers in developing countries, to a number of commissioned reports dealing (among other topics) with the economic impacts of developments in cocoa biotechnology.

The second paper, by Joyce Byrne, addresses the issue not from the perspective of those concerned with improving research decisions, but rather from the point of view of public sector officials charged with overseeing a regulatory review of biotechnology-based products. Byme outlines some of the general principles applied by the Canadian government in regulatory decisions regarding biotechnology products and reviews in more detail the process followed in the rbST case.

As with many of the other papers, Byrne underscores the complexity of the issues at stake, and the need for a transparent decision-making process that affords opportunities for participation by all interested parties. Indeed, she argues that in the rbST case, it was precisely the lack of an accepted process for public input into regulatory decisions that contributed to heighten political concern over the issue, elevating the debate beyond the level of dispassionate technical analysis. Byrne argues that there is a need to examine means of ensuring effective public input into regulatory decisions at an early stage and refers in particular to proposals to establish an ongoing “socioeconomic forum” as one promising approach.

The final paper in this volume, by Terry McIntyre, discusses ways of integrating environment and sustainable development concerns into decisions regarding biotechnology applications. Throughout the workshop, participants noted that methodologies and approaches for the study of socioeconomic impacts were much further advanced, and more widely used, than was the case for environmental impacts. This is clearly an area where additional work is required, and McIntyre’s paper offers some preliminary suggestions as to how environmental considerations could be integrated into government programs to promote biotechnology-based applications.

McIntyre’s paper sets out seven broad points to be considered in the environmentally-sound management of biotechnology:

• Regulatory initiatives providing for prior assessment of the potential implications of biotechnology products before their release;

• Development and application of institutionalized biosafety criteria;

• Ecosystem management approaches;

• Considerations of sustainable development (as opposed to simply environmental impacts);

• Impacts on biodiversity and, specifically, considerations related to the 1992 Biodiversity Convention;

• Provisions for public awareness and public input into decision-making; and,

• Ecological risk assessment.

In each of these areas, McIntyre outlines a series of more specific questions that would ideally form part of a process to integrate an environmental dimension into research and regulatory decisions regarding biotechnology products.

Directions for Future Impact Assessment Studies4

As noted earlier, the concluding day of the workshop was given over to working group discussions regarding the kinds of approaches that could be pursued in future impact assessment studies. As a means of organizing the discussions, two groups were formed, each of which focused their attention on one of the priority areas for biotechnology applications identified in the Mexican priority-setting exercise (Solleiro and Quintero 1993) — on the one hand, bio-pesticides and, on the other hand, veterinary vaccines.5

The results of the working group sessions illustrated the complexity of the issues at hand and the diversity of possible approaches to designing a program of impact assessment studies. Of the two groups, the biopesticides group took the broadest approach, focusing on the key variables to be used as assessment criteria and on a series of general suggestions regarding the organization and implementation of any future research program.

4 I am grateful to Rodolfo Quintero, Charles Davis, and Bill Lesser for chairing and reporting on the working group discussions. This section is based largely upon their summaries.

5 The Mexican project outlined three priority areas for future biotechnology applications in the agrifood sector in Mexico: biopesticides, veterinary vaccines, and treatment of livestock wastes.

On the first point, the group returned to the so-called “5 Es” introduced by Catherine Halbrendt during the previous day’s discussions:

• Employment

• Equity (particularly effects on distribution of income and productive assets)

• Environmental impacts

• Economic growth

• “Eating,” i.e., food security

The group argued that at least in the case of biopesticides, stress needed to be placed upon social impacts, notably impacts on employment creation and on distributional issues (including possible impacts on land tenure patterns). Not surprisingly, they also argued that there was a need for much greater attention to the assessment of the likely environmental impacts of biotechnology applications; although approaches to the study of economic and social impacts are fairly well developed, we are at a much earlier stage in the development and application of tools for ecological risk assessment.

The group also put forth a series of suggestions on the broader issues of how to organize a research program in this area:

(a) Impact assessment work should be integrated into a broader process of consultation with key stakeholder groups (government, business, farmers’ groups, environmentalists, consumers’ advocates, etc.).

(b) Attempts to assess possible impacts should begin with an assessment of the regulations affecting the use of biopesticides or other biotechnology applications, and should also be geared to suggest possible improvements in regulatory frameworks (for example, the integration of ecological risk assessment).

(c) Similarly, background research is needed to understand the business and technical conditions of the bio-pesticide industry (including the factors affecting technical change and the nature of competing technologies) to assess the likely patterns of diffusion of new applications.

(d) Impact assessment work should be coordinated with a broader public awareness campaign, drawing on the kind of stakeholder group mentioned earlier, and should focus on the factors affecting public acceptance of new biotechnology-based applications.

(e) Much greater attention should be placed on ex-post assessment of the costs, benefits and risks of specific biotechnology innovations; this will demand ongoing monitoring, and should focus on both real and perceived costs and benefits.

(f) This entire process should be monitored and documented so that the conclusions can be fed into the development of future policy frameworks for the application of biotechnology in the agrifood sector.

The second working group, focusing on veterinary vaccines, concentrated more specifically on methodological issues. The group developed a six-step technology assessment model that could, with modification, be applied to a number of fields of biotechnology applications.

A Possible Six-Step Technology Assessment Model

Step 1:   Subsector Description

Step 2:   Characteristics of Technology in Question

Step 3:   Farm-Level Assessment

Step 4:   Projected Farm Adoption Rates/Patterns

Step 5:   Public/Consumer Response

Step 6:   Aggregate Analysis and Policy Options

Step 1: Subsector Description

A rapid overview of particular subsector (e.g., poultry, dairy) focusing on:

• Nature of production (what is produced? where? size distribution of farms?)

• Current patterns of technology use

• Linkages, including structure of input supply

• Regulatory framework

This kind of analysis would be based on existing data sources and would focus on qualitative description of the subsector rather than statistical detail.

Step 2: Characteristics of Technology

A review of what is known about the specific technology under question, focusing on the following issues:

• Expected effects (positive and negative), including potential environmental consequences

• Costs

• Sources and extent of adaptation required for production

• Means of distribution/administration

• Entry barriers — managerial, skill, capital requirements

• Regulatory environment — health, intellectual property, etc.

• Anticipated future rates of technological change

This kind of information should be relatively easy to access in cases of public sector technologies. In the cases of proprietary technologies developed by private sector companies, however, it may be more difficult to gain access to all of the required information.

Step 3: Farm-Level Assessment

Researchers would have to assess the likely impact of the new technology on individual farms (output, input requirements, employment, profitability, etc.). At least three approaches could be followed, alone or in combination:

(a) Formal sector models. Where formal sector or subsector models exist, these can be a useful means of outlining anticipated impacts. Given data requirements, construction of new models is not feasible, but a certain amount of updating and/or adaptation of models may be required.

(b) Representative farm analysis. Particularly where a good typology of farm characteristics already exists, this approach can be used to solicit information on likely impacts in a small number of farms; extension workers can often be used as a means of gathering information from individual farmers.

(c) Qualitative analysis. Especially in cases where the introduction of new technologies is unlikely to produce changes in the overall production system (e.g., product substitutes), qualitative estimates of likely impacts may be helpful.

This stage of analysis is likely to be the most demanding in terms of time and data requirements.

Step 4: Projected Farm Adoption

Once researchers have arrived at a picture of likely impacts on individual farms, the next step is to analyze the probable rate and pattern of adoption of the new technology to arrive at an estimate of the aggregate supply response. For existing technologies already in use elsewhere, this kind of analysis can usually be undertaken using partial adoption models to project adoption trajectories. For new technologies, however, this stage is likely to be more complex and would require estimates of adoption rates by different categories of farms based on available data on costs, capital requirements, access to information/training, policy framework, cultural factors and attitudes of farmers, underlying product demand, etc. Although much of this information will already exist, some additional survey work may be required.

Step 5: Public Response

The fifth step in the analysis would be to examine anticipated patterns of public (consumer) response to the new technology. In cases where we are dealing with existing products (i.e., where only the underlying process has changed), this is relatively straightforward. Even in cases where survey data on public opinions toward biotechnology is not available, national and international regulatory standards can be used as a proxy for public opinion.

In the case of new products, analysis is likely to be more complicated. In addition to secondary sources, some small-scale survey work may be required, either direct public opinion surveys, or interviews with representatives of consumer advocacy groups and/or other experts. Data will be required on food availability, perceived environmental or human health impacts, and levels of trust in the government’s regulatory process. In either case, analysis should encompass both domestic and export markets, and thus some information on target export markets will be needed.

Step 6: Aggregation

As a final step effort should be made to arrive at an understanding of aggregate impacts, based on the work undertaken in steps 1–5. In particular, research should attempt to provide estimates of the total production impacts in the regions studied, and distribution of effects across farm types, and between adopters and nonadopters. In addition to impacts on aggregate output and input requirements, this should also focus on potential employment impacts, with particular attention to differential impacts on male and female employment. Research should also analyze the distribution of costs/benefits among broad groups (producers, consumers, suppliers, processors).

Aggregate analysis should also focus on the following:

• Implications for consumers — availability, cost, quality, safety, and dietary implications; and

• Environmental implications.

Finally, existing supply and demand models can usually be employed to provide estimates of how the technology under question will affect producers in other countries and regions, as well as likely impacts for producers in substitute and complementary products.

This kind of impact assessment exercise should also devote some attention to the kinds of policy responses that could be employed to deal with the anticipated impacts — actions to encourage or discourage use of particular technologies, compensation to disadvantaged groups, regulatory reform, R&D policies, and consumer education.

Clearly, the demands of this kind of model, in terms of data collection, time, and research skills, are considerable. It has the advantage, however, of integrating a number of different analytical tools (quantitative and qualitative) and of being sufficiently flexible to respond to a range of research concerns. Moreover, the general model can be simplified depending on the precise research questions to be tackled, resulting in a more rapid (but somewhat less detailed) assessment of impacts. For examples of how this kind of a model can be abbreviated, see Love and Lesser (1989) or Miles et al. (1992).

Conclusions and Next Steps

In the end, the workshop made considerable progress in clarifying some of the strategic choices facing any effort to design and implement a program of biotechnology impact analyses: the balance between ex-ante and ex-post analysis;6 the variety of levels of analysis and key variables that can be chosen as a focus for analysis; and the trade-offs between alternative assessment methods in terms of the types of questions to which they can respond, and their requirements in terms of time, data, and research skills.

There was also some progress in outlining promising impact assessment techniques, as reflected in the working group discussions summarized earlier.

6 On this point, there seemed to be general agreement that more ex-post assessment would be desirable, but the relatively slow pace of introduction of new biotechnology-based products makes this unlikely. Although there are some obvious opportunities for ex-post analysis (e.g., work on rbST in Mexico), much of the emphasis will (and should) be on ex-ante assessments. Nonetheless, ex-ante analysis should also be viewed as an opportunity to collect baseline data for possible future ex-post analysis.

Clearly, however, there is a need to consolidate knowledge regarding some of the existing approaches and to explore some newer, nontraditional methods that were suggested, but not developed in detail, at the workshop.

Given the relatively incipient state of research in this field, a strong case can be made for methodological pluralism and for experimentation with a variety of approaches either on their own or in combination. As noted, the workshop discussions also highlighted the need for more careful development and application of environmental impact analysis techniques, to match the ongoing work on socioeconomic impact analysis.

More broadly, the workshop underscored the need for a consultative approach to impact assessment to ensure that the broadest possible range of interests is reflected in the analysis. This is essential not simply to improve the quality of analysis but also to ensure a strong constituency of public support for resulting policy decisions. Ensuring a balance between scientific rigour and public participation is by no means an easy task, but it is essential to ensure the effectiveness and credibility of impact assessment exercises.

Finally, and more specifically for IDRC, the discussions during the workshop identified a number of areas in which immediate research could serve to advance the state of knowledge regarding the impacts of biotechnology and to explore alternative assessment methods, for example, further work on rbST in Mexico, or work on the biotechnology applications for cotton and papaya mentioned in the paper by Burnquist. IDRC intends to pursue some of these opportunities immediately and to develop a broader program of impact assessment research as the CamBioTec initative moves forward.


Cohen, J.I. 1994. Biotechnology priorities, planning and policies: A framework for decision-making. Intermediate Biotechnology Service, International Service for National Agricultural Research (ISNAR), The Hague, Netherlands. ISNAR Research Report No. 6.

Fransman, M. 1991. Biotechnology generation, diffusion and policy: An interpretive survey. United Nations University Institute for New Technologies (UNU/INTECH), Maastricht. UNU/INTECH Working Paper No. 1.

Junne, G. 1992. The impact of biotechnology on international commodity trade. In DaSilva, E.J.; Ratledge, C.; Sasson, A., ed., Biotechnology: Economic and social aspects — Issues for developing countries. University of Cambridge Press, Cambridge, UK. pp. 165–188.

Love, J.; Lesser, W. 1989. The potential impact of ice-minus bacteria as a frost protectant in New York tree fruit production. Northeastern Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics, 18(1), 26–34.

Miles, H.; Lesser, W.; Sears, P. 1992. The economic implications of bioengineered mastitis control. Journal of Dairy Science, 75(2), 596–605.

rbST Task Force. 1995. Review of the potential impact of recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST) in Canada: Executive summary. Report presented to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, May. Ministry of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Ottawa, ON, Canada.

Solleiro, J.L.; Quintero, R. 1993. Prioridades de investigación y desarrollo en biotecnología agroalimentaria. Centro para la Innovación Tecnológica, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico.

Review of Previous Studies

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Biotechnology and Technological Change
in Developing-Country Agriculture: An Overview
of OECD Development Centre Research

Carliene Brenner1


In the first part of this paper, the approach taken in research on technological change in developing-country agriculture at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Development Centre is discussed. In the second, the findings of our recent research project on Biotechnology and Sustainable Agriculture are outlined. Finally, drawing on the Development Centre experience, some observations are made about the methodological challenges presented by assessment of the impact of agricultural biotechnology.

Technological Change in
Developing-Country Agriculture

The Development Centre’s involvement in research related to biotechnology began with a study on “Biotechnology and Developing Country Agriculture: The Case of Maize,” undertaken as part of a major research program on “Changing Comparative Advantages in Food and Agriculture” (1987–89). This study was concerned with the ways in which new developments in biotechnology in industrialized countries might affect the relative position of developing countries. The study addressed the following questions:

• What are the significant changes occurring in the ways in which research and technology development are conducted in agriculture “at the frontier”?

• Will these changes facilitate the introduction and diffusion of new technologies in agriculture in developing countries?

• If not, what are the principal impediments?

1 OECD Development Centre, 94 rue Chardon-Lagache, 75016 Paris, France.

To address these questions, the approach taken was, first, to analyze global trends in maize production, patterns of consumption, and trade over the past 20 years or so. This drew attention to the problems developing countries confront in meeting growing demand for maize. Trends in research on maize biotechnology “at the frontier” were also examined.

Against the background of these international trends, country case studies of Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, and Thailand were carried out (see Brenner 1991 for a summary). The country studies examined trends in domestic production and consumption of maize; the national maize research, technology development and diffusion system; and policies affecting maize production and consumption. They also addressed three closely interrelated sets of issues arising from the changing configuration of agricultural research and technology development: different aspects of technology generation, transfer, and diffusion; the roles of the public and private sectors; and intellectual property rights applied to plants.

The study highlighted the complexity and magnitude of providing genetically improved maize varieties and high-quality seed for a wide diversity of production and agroecological conditions. It found that progress made in the diffusion of improved seed, and the technological capability implied in resolving some of the particular research problems that had been tackled, is impressive given the short track record of maize research and delivery systems in the countries studied. Nevertheless, the problems of ensuring an adequate supply of “appropriate” varieties and of making improved seed accessible to all types of farmers, in all major production areas, had not been entirely resolved in any of the countries.

The study concluded that, in the short term, it was unlikely that the recent developments in maize biotechnology would be exploited. First, among the countries included in the study, very little capability in biotechnology (for example, in the disciplines of biochemistry, microbiology, and molecular biology) existed. Second, although some of the new technologies and bioprocesses could certainly facilitate or accelerate the process of producing varieties with sought-after characteristics, they would complement, but not supersede, conventional methods of crop improvement and genetic manipulation. Capability in those methods still required strengthening.

A second major study entitled “Technology and Developing-Country Agriculture: The Impact of Economic Reform” was undertaken in the Development Centre’s 1990–1992 program (Brenner 1993). This sought to determine whether the structural adjustment and liberalization process and, by implication, changes in the public/private sector balance, was likely to enhance or impair the economic and institutional conditions conducive to technological innovation and greater productivity in developing-country agriculture. Given that this was a hitherto unresearched area, it was decided on the advice of a group of experts to take an eclectic approach and to conduct a number of different studies that would permit examination of the issues from a number of different angles. At the same time, it was agreed that in all the studies there should be strong emphasis on the implications for technology development and diffusion of the changing public/private sector balance implied by structural adjustment.

With these objective in mind, two commodity studies — one food and one export crop — were undertaken (Bloomfield and Lass 1992; Evenson and David 1993). Rice was selected as the world’s most important food crop, and cocoa was retained as an export crop, which is produced only in developing countries and grown in each of the African, Asian, and Latin American continents. These commodity studies were complemented by a study on rice and cocoa biotechnology (Brenner 1992), which examined the ways in which the organization of research is evolving. It also addressed issues specific to the two crops raised by developments in biotechnology, i.e., the substitution of cocoa butter, the introduction of rice hybrids, and the conservation of plant genetic resources.

A study of Brazilian public research institutes and the ways in which they were responding to the changing conditions under structural adjustment was also undertaken (Wilkinson and Sorj 1992). This focused on soybean, wheat, and sugar.

Finally, a study of seed supply and of the impact of structural adjustment on the supply of seed to small-scale, semicommercial farmers was undertaken (Cromwell 1992). This study examined the situation in Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe with respect to the crops that are most important in their farming systems.

The research addressed two separate but related sets of issues:

• How is the structural adjustment process affecting technological change in agriculture — and are these impacts different at different stages of the research, technology development, and diffusion process?

• How is the structural adjustment process affecting the pattern of incentives and disincentives to farmers to introduce technological change in production?

The research concluded that structural adjustment had mixed impact on income distribution among poor farmers and that special measures in favour of small-scale producers should be included in the design and sequencing of structural adjustment. Although producers might receive higher output prices, these were often offset by reductions in subsidies for fertilizer or improved planting material, combined with higher input prices.

With respect to agricultural research, it was found that significant changes in the public/private balance are indeed occurring. It also found that, in contradiction with the interests of long-term growth and sustainability in agricultural production, and of pressing environmental concerns, support for agricultural research was in danger of being sacrificed in the interests of the short-term requirements of stabilization and structural adjustment measures.

Current Research

A research project specifically focused on biotechnology, “Biotechnology and Sustainable Agriculture,” was undertaken in the Centre’s 1993–1995 program. This project is also made up of a number of different components. They include a conceptual study of agricultural biotechnology in the context of a national innovation system and an analysis of publicly funded international initiatives to stimulate the introduction of biotechnology in developing-country agriculture (Brenner and Komen 1994).

Six country studies were also conducted: India and Thailand in Asia, Colombia and Mexico in Latin America, and Kenya and Zimbabwe in Africa (Alam 1994; Sakarindr et al. forthcoming; Sanint 1995; Solleiro 1995; Woodend forthcoming). These have focused on the potential contribution of biotechnology in the areas of plant protection and production. An important feature of the country studies is that they have examined not only developments with respect to biotechnology research, but also the different phases in the whole process from basic research to the marketing and widespread diffusion of a biotechnology product.

More specifically, the terms of reference have included:

• Review of the macroeconomic, agricultural, and environmental background against which developments in biotechnology are occurring.

• Examination of national biotechnology policies and strategies in plant production and protection.

• Examination of national programs and priorities in biotechnology research and of the practices and structures in place, or not in place, to facilitate biotechnology product development and to stimulate technology diffusion.

• Analysis of successes and failures in biotechnology initiatives to identify constraints and bottlenecks in the successive phases of diffusion of biotechnology.

• Assessment of the coherence of combined national and international efforts in promoting the development of biotechnology for sustainable agriculture.

The overall objective of the project was to determine the kinds of institutional arrangements and policies that would enable biotechnology to contribute to more sustainable approaches to crop protection and production.

The country studies are now either published or are being revised and a workshop to review the project was held at the Development Centre in Paris on 9–10 February 1995. A synthesis volume, which distils the lessons to be drawn from the project and the discussions at the workshop, is now being prepared. Preliminary findings relevant to this workshop are given in the following.

Biotechnology Research

A growing number of countries and research institutions are undertaking biotechnology research. This is often, however, more a consequence of “science-push” than “demand-pull.” Individual research projects and programs are often undertaken in the absence of clearly defined national priorities for biotechnology. In addition, biotechnology is not generally integrated within the broader national policy and institutional framework; for example, with the priorities set for agriculture and food production, science and technology policies, and environmental policies.

There appears to be a need for greater selectivity in biotechnology research to avoid the risk of dispersal rather than concentration of national effort, of duplication of effort, or of “reinventing the wheel.” Research effort is highly concentrated in the public sector, sometimes in newly established biotechnology institutes, with very little involvement on the part of the private sector, although, as indicated in the following, efforts are being made to strengthen public/private sector collaboration.

All countries cite inadequate resources, both financial and human, as a major constraint in biotechnology research. Countries are gradually incorporating biotechnology disciplines and degree courses in university curricula but, for higher degrees, overseas training is often required.

Innovative mechanisms for financing research are also emerging. In the absence of clear national priorities, however, it is unclear what would, indeed, constitute an adequate level of financing or a “critical mass” of scientists. Linkages and interaction among the different stakeholders in biotechnology research — biotechnologists and the traditional agricultural research and plant-breeding community, public research institutions and the private sector, institutions with common research interests, scientists and agricultural producers or other users of biotechnology products — are also generally weak.

For the most part, developments in biotechnology research are not being explicitly linked to environmental concerns. Strong government support, however, is being given to the development of biopesticides in some countries.

Product Development and Technology Transfer

It is perhaps important to recall here that biotechnology may be considered as an enabling technique (for example, the use of genetic markers in plant breeding) or as being incorporated in a biotechnology product (for example, a new, disease-resistant plant variety). Whether a biotechnology product is imported or generated by local research effort, adaptation to local agroecological and production conditions and/or product development are necessary.

Moving from the purely research phase, development (small- to large-scale field testing, setting up of a pilot plant, seed multiplication, etc.) appears to be a major constraint. This is in part because development is not always included or is often underestimated, or both, in research budgets.

Similarly, little attention has been paid to technology diffusion or marketing mechanisms or to the demand side aspects of biotechnology. On the one hand, without the incentive of strong market potential, private firms are unwilling to undertake the risks of production and marketing. On the other hand, public research institutions are shown to be ill-equipped technically and do not generally have the financial resources to scale up from small- to large-scale testing and from pilot plant to large-scale production.

Few biotechnology products are yet on the market in the countries we have studied. In all countries, disease-free planting material produced by tissue culture and micropropagation (for vegetatively propagated crops and flowers in particular) is already available, usually marketed by commercial firms. In some cases, demand exceeds supply.

The case of biopesticides presents a contrasting picture. A number of governments are involved in trying to promote the diffusion of biopesticides to reduce dependence on chemical products, and research on biopesticides is being supported in public institutions. Unfortunately, the inadequate technical capacity of public institutions to produce biopesticides efficiently and to ensure consistent quality results in a lack of acceptability and effective demand on the part of farmers, and lack of interest on the part of the private sector in production and commercialization. The problem is further compounded in those situations where national extension services are shrinking as a result of reduced public expenditure or are being privatized. If, for reasons of environmental protection, governments are committed to the increased use of biopesticides, they will need to continue investing in or subsidizing production and technology transfer to farmers or provide incentives to the private sector to become involved.

A number of innovative examples of efforts to stimulate involvement of the private sector and to facilitate the creation of markets for biotechnology products have emerged from our research. These include tax exemptions and access to credit for local start-up firms, government procurement as a means of assuring an initial market for local start-up firms, the provision of large-scale testing facilities or quality control services by government agencies, and efforts to seek commercial partners as soon as research results appear promising.

A number of collaborative arrangements between public research institutions in developing countries and commercial companies (both domestic and foreign) are receiving donor support. In most cases, these concern biotechnology research and development where some elements of the technology, or specific research techniques, are “transferred” from developed-country laboratories to the developing-country institutions.

Sometimes, they concern research techniques, genes, or products over which private companies hold intellectual property rights. To date, a number of such techniques, or elements of technology, have been “donated” to developing countries by multinational corporations through nonexclusive, royalty-free licences. Some examples are shown in Table 1.

In two of the four cases, although the research has proceeded satisfactorily, unforeseen obstacles have been encountered at the development and diffusion stages. In one instance, field-testing of an insect-resistant potato has been delayed because, in the developing countries envisaged, biosafety procedures are not yet in place. In a second instance, involving insect-resistant transgenic maize, the fact that Indonesia has decided not to allow Plant Breeders’ Rights (PBRs) on food crops, including maize, has introduced an element of uncertainty in the crucial seed production/distribution phase of the program.

Policy and Institutional Issues

In terms of policy implications, the research highlights, first and foremost, the lack of integration of biotechnology research in the broader national institutional and policy framework. Clearly, biotechnology policies and strategies should be country-specific, designed as a function of the particular conditions prevailing within a country, its particular scientific and technological capabilities, institutions, and the range of policies affecting agriculture. Similarly, it highlights the lack of effective linkages and interaction among the different stakeholders in biotechnology research, development, and diffusion.

One vexing question in formulating sensible policies for biotechnology in agriculture is that of the economic cost-benefit of biotechnologies and, more particularly, their economic advantage over other methods of plant protection and production. The case of biopesticides suggests that relatively low, short- to medium-term economic costs, which would need to be met by governments or through development assistance, may lead to major long-term, social and environmental benefits. It is important that methodologies be developed for assessing the comparative cost-benefits of new biotechnology products.

Table 1. Selected public/private sector initiatives in agricultural biotechnology.

Project or program Funding agency Implementation
    Public Private


Introduce insect-resistant genes in potato and sweet potato ODA Univ. of Wales, IARCs Agricultural Genetics Co.


Stem-borer resistance in maize USAID M.S.U., Cornell, Texas A&M, CRIFC ICI Seeds

Indo-Swiss collaboration in biotechnology: B.t.-based insecticides


DBT, Indian and Swiss partner institutes

Indian agro-chemicals firm

Transgenic potato resistant to PVX and PVY viruses



Monsanto, Biotecnologia 2000

Note: ODA: Overseas Development Administration, PRSP: Plant Sciences Research Programme, ABSP: Agricultural Biotechnology for Sustainable Productivity, SDC: Swiss Development Corporation, DBT: Department of Biotechnology, Delhi, ISAAA: International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, INIFAP: National Institute of Forestry, Agricultural and Livestock Research, Mexico, CINVESTAV: Centre of Research and Advanced Studies, Mexico, RF: Rockefeller Foundation.

Other policy and institutional issues of particular importance in biotechnology are those of biosafety and intellectual property rights. Although a number of countries are currently establishing biosafety guidelines, in most countries national procedures are not yet in place. Our research suggests that the lack of biosafety procedures could inhibit the transfer of biotechnology. Similarly, it is important that countries clarify their intentions with respect to intellectual property rights in plant biotechnology.

Issues of Relevance for This Workshop

Research on biotechnology at the Development Centre has been undertaken from the broad perspective of technological change and innovation in agriculture. Essentially, the aim has been to examine what is at present in place to stimulate or impede the development and diffusion of new technology within a national context, and to determine what institutional arrangements and policies might improve the situation. This approach has the merit of pinpointing current impediments and proposing measures that might reduce identified constraints to technological change in the future. It also has the shortcoming of generating little quantitative, particularly economic, data.

This approach has been seen as fruitful given the formidable difficulties of both ex-ante and ex-post assessment of the impact of biotechnology. One difficulty stems from problems in arriving at a satisfactory definition of biotechnology. In one of its early publications, the OECD, which defines biotechnology as “the application of biological organisms, systems and processes based on scientific and engineering principles, to the production of goods and services,” listed 11 definitions (Bull et al. 1982).

What is important to keep in mind is that biotechnology encompasses a mix in the form of an enabling tool (e.g., a genetic marker in plant breeding), a process (e.g., fermentation), or a product (e.g., a transgenic seed). The impact of each of those outputs may depend to a very large extent on interrelated, underpinning technologies and capacities. For example, a new crop variety may be the product of a combination of biotechnology, plant breeding, and seed production techniques and the contribution of the biotechnology input to the performance of that variety in the field may be extremely difficult to pinpoint. Similarly, the impact of biopesticides will depend both on the ability to produce products of consistent, high quality and on skill and timeliness in their application.

At the least, ex-ante assessment of a given biotechnology technique or product would require the following:

• Definition and description of the technology;

• Specification of alternative technology options for achieving the same objectives;

• Management strategies required for the technology;

• Assessment of the direct effect of the technology on yields, production costs, productivity, input demand, and a range of environmental, legal, safety, and other considerations; and

• Assessment of the indirect effects: identification of the losers/gainers, assessment of risks and uncertainties associated with the technology, and, finally, long-term impact.

In many situations, the availability of data on some of these variables, at either the macro- or microlevel, is highly problematic. Quantitative ex-post assessment of agricultural biotechnology products is also, to date, very limited. The first wave of genetically engineered products is only now beginning to reach the market, and very little economic analysis of the earlier products of tissue culture and micropropagation has been published. The socioeconomic assessments of bovine somatotropin (bST) now under way in the U.S. and Canada may have little relevance to the production systems, management, and climatic conditions of many developing countries.

A large part of the work on biotechnology assessment related to developing countries has focused on supply-side problems and constraints, with little assessment of potential demand. It is important that the methods used for setting national priorities in biotechnology should seek a better balance between demand and supply-side aspects. Effective demand will, to a large extent, determine the respective roles of the public and private sectors in the development and dissemination of new biotechnology products. In the case of those technologies with a strong public-good aspect (such as biopesticides), but with weak short-term market potential, the initial costs will need to be borne by governments.

Clearly, for countries to be able to formulate sensible national biotechnology strategies both quantitative and qualitative impact assessment are required and a number of different approaches and methods of assessment will be outlined by other participants. One approach that appears promising and that the OECD has begun to explore is that of a national system of innovation (NSI).2 It is not yet clear how relevant this concept is in a developing-country context.


Alam, G. 1994. Biotechnology and sustainable agriculture: Lessons from India. Technical Paper No. 103, December. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Development Centre, Paris, France.

Bloomfield, E.M.; Lass, R.A. 1992. Impact of structural adjustment and adoption of technology on competitiveness of major cocoa producing countries. Technical Paper No. 69, June. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Development Centre, Paris, France.

Brenner, C. 1991. Biotechnology and developing-country agriculture: The case of maize. Development Centre Studies. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Development Centre, Paris, France.

2 See, for example, Lundvall 1992; Nelson 1993; Niosi et al. 1993. Although there is as yet no consensus on a precise definition, a National System of Innovation (NSI) can be defined as the network of agents and set of policies and institutions that affect the introduction of technology that is new to the economy and that determine the rate and direction of technological learning and change.

——1992. Biotechnology and the changing public/private sector balance: Developments in rice and cocoa. Technical Paper No. 72, July. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Development Centre, Paris, France.

——1993. Technology and developing-country agriculture: The impact of economic reform. Development Centre Studies. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Development Centre, Paris, France.

Brenner, C.; Komen, J. 1994. International initiatives in biotechnology for developing country agriculture: Promises and problems. Technical Paper No. 100, October. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Development Centre, Paris, France.

Bull, A.T.; Holt, G.; Lilly, M.D. 1982. Biotechnology: International trends and perspectives. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Development Centre, Paris, France.

Cromwell, E. 1992. The impact of economic reform on the performance of the seed sector in Eastern and Southern Africa. Technical Paper No. 68, June. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Development Centre, Paris, France.

Evenson, R.; David, C. 1993. Adjustment and technology: The case of rice. Development Centre Studies, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Development Centre, Paris, France.

Lundvall, B. ed. 1992. National systems of innovation: Toward a theory of innovation and interactive learning. Printer Publications, London, UK.

Nelson, R. 1993. National innovation systems: A comparative analysis. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.

Niosi, P.; Saviotti, B.; Crow, M. 1993. National systems of workable concept. Technology in Society, vol. 15.

Sakarindr, B.; Morakot, T.; Sutat, S. (forthcoming). Biotechnology and sustainable agriculture: The case of Thailand. Technical Paper. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Development Centre, Paris, France.

Sanint L.R. 1995. Crop biotechnology and sustainability: A case study of Colombia. Technical Paper No. 4. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Development Centre, Paris, France.

Solleiro, J.L. 1995. Biotechnology and sustainable agriculture: The case of Mexico. Technical Paper No. 105. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Development Centre, Paris, France.

Wilkinson, J.; Sorj, B. 1992. Structural adjustment and the institutional dimensions of agricultural development in Brazil: Soybeans, wheat, and sugar cane. Technical Paper No. 76. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Development Centre, Paris, France.

Woodend, J.J. (forthcoming). Crop biotechnology and sustainable agricultural in Zimbabwe. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Development Centre, Paris, France.

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Employment Impacts of Agricultural
Biotechnologies in Latin America:
Coffee and Cocoa in Costa Rica

Regina M.A.A. Galhardi1


Attempts to assess the employment effects of biotechnology applications in developing countries have not been extensive. Even less effort has been devoted to the study of the socioeconomic implications of the (potential) substitution of Third World exports by others produced by new biotechnology applications in advanced industrialized countries.

A first and rather optimistic contribution came from Watanabe (1985). According to him, biotechnologies should be able to make a significant contribution not only to the growth of national wealth but also to individual incomes and employment, especially in Third World countries. Increased agricultural self-sufficiency of developing countries would have a negative effect upon industrialized country food exporters.

A more recent evaluation by Junne (1991) is somewhat more pessimistic. He says that biotechnologies “will make many importing countries more self-sufficient and increase trade conflicts among overproducing countries.” According to his analysis, biotechnologies will help to substitute products from industrialized countries for commodities from developing countries with uneven effects on the trading position of different exporting countries.

Very few studies, however, have been published up to now on the trade implications of biotechnological advances in developing countries, particularly in terms of potential employment generation or labour displacement. This paper attempts to fill this gap by assessing the employment consequences of biotechnology developments for small-scale agricultural production in developing countries with special reference to Latin American countries. It is based on the assumption that employment reduction or labour displacement may occur as a result of declining demand from industrialized countries for Third World food products. Although many of these impacts remain highly uncertain and difficult

1 Employment Strategies and Policies Branch, International Labour Office (ILO), 4, route des Morillons, CH-1211 Geneva 22, Switzerland

to quantify, their identification is required as far as this can influence policies and technological developments that may mitigate any plausible negative results.

The second section deals with the possible direct employment effects resulting from the declining demand from industrialized countries for Third World export crops. An attempt is made to quantify these possible effects by studying the production of coffee and cocoa in Costa Rica, was based on assumptions regarding production, consumption, and export for the next 10 years. This country case study was chosen because of the availability of data and labour coefficients for the production of these two export crops. The last section summarizes the main findings and qualifies the results.

Quantitative Employment Estimates

This section intends to provide information on the magnitude of possible direct employment effects resulting from declining demand from industrialized countries for some Third World export crops. An attempt to quantify such potential threats is desirable to warn policymakers, trade unions, farmers, and workers in developing countries and, possibly, mitigate the problems.

This quantification is, however, a speculative exercise based on the availability of labour coefficients for some Latin American crop production. This is especially important because no previous effort of this type has been made. This ex-ante analysis is beset with difficulties and shortcomings.

First, data on employment by crops for these countries are not systematically collected. Second, when they are available, they differ according to the source consulted. Third, labour intensity by crop varies according to size of the plot, cultivation techniques, and regions within each country. Fourth, cross-country comparison is very difficult because of the scattered information available on variables such as production, export, consumption, and employment by crop.

Nevertheless, with the purpose of providing an idea of the order of magnitude of such effects, this section will try to estimate the employment losses that may occur in the production of cocoa and coffee in Costa Rica. This case study was chosen because of the availability of information on the variables production, consumption, and export for the last two decades, and on technical and labour coefficients that permitted the calculation of the labour force involved.

The estimation procedure is centred on some assumptions concerning the expansion of the world agriculture toward 2000 (Alexandratos 1988). The underlying assumptions that will guide this analysis are:

• A slow down of industrialized country market demand/imports, and

• Latin America’s agricultural production growth rate for the period 1985–2000 is expected to be lower than in the past 15 years.

It is also assumed that coffee will not be imported in significant quantities by developing countries and, therefore, nearly all coffee demand translates into import requirements from industrialized countries.

Another general assumption that underlies this estimation procedure is related to the availability of biotechnology as applied for coffee and cocoa. It is assumed that the biotechnological advances that may contribute to reducing the demand for cocoa and coffee beans from importing countries are already available and affecting trade patterns. This is a simplifying assumption because advanced biotechnological developments for improving cocoa and coffee production are far from being commercialized during the period covered here.

According to some experts, routine application of advanced biotechnology for cocoa and coffee improvement may be more than 10 years away. Although progress has been achieved in plant transformation methods and expression systems, the identification and isolation of genes of agronomic importance have lagged behind. The anticipation of the possible biotechnological achievements for both crops, however, is a necessary condition embodied in this analysis.

Coffee Employment Estimates

Methodology Apart from data provided by (different) official institutions on production, area harvested and export of coffee the employment data were estimated from the figures provided by PREALC (Programa Regional del Empleo para America Latina y el Caribe), Panama, for the years 1985 and 1989. These were calculated from existing technical coefficients for coffee production and the variation of area harvested for these years and extrapolated for the others. Data on consumption of coffee were provided by official sources for the period 1977–1985. The estimated values for the years 1987 to 1990 were based on the assumption of an annual growth of 3.0% for the domestic demand for coffee in Latin America for the period 1985–2000 as stated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO, Annex V, 1988).

From these data, two different scenarios were built according to different assumptions regarding the decline of coffee demand from importing developed countries. These are summarized in Table 1.

Scenario A The variables consumption, production, employment, and export were calculated according to the following assumptions:

Table 1. Scenarios and assumptions for coffee production 1990–2005.

  Scenario A Scenario B















  1.5% 1.0% 0.5%      








  20% 25% 40% 20% 25% 40%








  15% 15%. 15% 15% 15% 15%








aProduction depends on export: [(consumption + export)/production]= 95%.

(a) Production

It is considered that developing countries’ agricultural production rate for 1985–2000 will be lower than in the past 15 years when it was 3.2% a year. Latin American production is expected to grow 2.7% per year from 1985 to 2000 (Alexandratos 1988). The slow-down in population growth expected for this period as well as the continued slow growth of the region’s agricultural exports, will restrain the growth of total demand and, hence production. In terms of nonfood crops, it is estimated that Latin American output will rise by 1.6% per year from 1985 to 2000 mainly reflecting the unfavourable export prospects for coffee, which accounts for about 45% of all crop exports from Central America. It is expected that production will increase but at very low rates.

In the case of coffee production in Costa Rica, it is assumed that the production will grow 1.5% during the period 1990–95, 1.0% during 1995–2000, and 0.5% in the next 5 years. This will be the result of the declining demand from developed countries for coffee because of changes in the consumer requirements, flavour, and other substitutes, i.e., those induced directly or indirectly by the biotechnological advances discussed in the previous section.


The net export of the developing countries is projected to grow 0.6% per year from 1985 to 2000 (FAO, Annex V, 1988). It is assumed that the slow down of consumption and imports of the developed market economies will intensify in the next decade because of the availability of biotechnological advances that will allow temperate countries to produce coffee or some substitute.

This will contribute to a reduced demand from developed countries for imports of coffee from tropical countries and, in particular, from Costa Rica. It is assumed, for illustrative purposes, that the gradual replacement of coffee grains by other substitutes would result in a reduction of 20% in the demand of importing countries for the period 1990–95, 25% for 1995–2000, and 40% for 2000–2005.


The internal demand for coffee is assumed to increase at the rate of about 3.0% per year as estimated by FAO’s “agriculture toward 2000” scenario (FAO, Annex V, 1988). In the estimate, an increase of 15% each quinquennia from 1990 to 2000 was considered.


The estimated employment figures were based on the assumption that the coefficient person-year/tonne will decrease by 4% each quinquennia in relation to the average ratio for the period 1985–1990, i.e. 0.41 person-years/tonne. According to this scenario (Table 2), a decrease in employment will result even if production and internal consumption increases at rates expected for the period considered. About 6% of person-year jobs will be lost from 1990 to 2005.

Scenario B

In this scenario (Table 3), production is assumed to depend on exports. It is considered that the relationship between consumption plus exports/total production will be held at 95%. Apart from production and related employment figures, the other variables vary as in the previous scenario.

Based on the foregoing considerations, 28,522 workers may lose their positions, i.e., a decrease of 48% in employment could be perceived at the end of the period 1990–2005 if we consider that the export of coffee is reduced as estimated before. Even if we consider that the demand for labour is not supposed to diminish, i.e., the ratio person-year/tonne is maintained at 0.39 up to the end of the simulation period, a reduction of 45% in the labour requirements will be perceived.

Because of the lack and unreliability of existing data, it was only possible to analyze the case of Costa Rica. In spite of the limited evidence, it is possible to see that displacements and redundancies may occur as a result of biotechnology advances. If these results have a significant effect on the employment level of Costa Rica, the most productive Latin American coffee producer, it may be worse for other countries where productivity is lower and production is more labour intensive, as in the case of Honduras and Guatemala. Coffee is the most important commercial crop in terms of foreign exchange and employment generation for both countries. In 1988, around 273,503 employees were reported as being involved in the production of coffee in Guatemala. In 1987, 62,720 rural workers were involved in the production of coffee in Honduras, i.e., 8.5% of the rural labour force.

Cocoa Employment Estimates

Methodology The same assumptions that underlined the estimation procedure for coffee employment changes (i.e., a decreasing export tendency) are considered here. The methodology is similar to that used in the previous case studied. Employment figures were, however, calculated in a different way. Employment coefficients per unit of production and hectare harvested were defined from data provided by PREALC, Panama, for the year 1989.

Table 2. Scenario A: Coffee.

  1985 1989 1990 1995 2000 2005

Production (tonnes)







Export (tonnes)







Consumption (tonnes)







Employment (person-year)







Cons. + Exp. (tonnes)





















a Calculated by PREALC, Panama.

Sources: Banco Central do Costa Rica, Difras sobre producción agropecuaria: 1977–1986, San José, 1988. Production, export, and consumption for 1980–85; Statistical Abstract of Latin America: Production and area harvested; Consejo Monetario Centroamericano, Boletin Estadístico 1991, San José, Costa Rica: Exports 1987–90. My own calculations: Employment and consumption and data for 1990–2005 (see methodology).

Table 3: Scenario B: Coffee.

  1985 1989 1990 1995 2000 2005
Production (tonnes)







Export (tonnes)














Employment (person-year)







Cons,+ Exp.(tonnes)





















a Calculated by PREALC, Panama.

Sources: Banco Central do Costa Rica, Difras sobre producción agropecuaria: 1977–1986, San José, 1988. Production, export, and consumption for 1980–85; Statistical Abstract of Latin America: Production and area harvested; Consejo Monetario Centroamericano, Boletin Estadístico 1991, San José, Costa Rica: Exports 1987–90. My own calculations: Employment and consumption and data for 1990–2005 (see methodology).

The employment figures for the other years of the period 1980–1990 were estimated according to data provided by official local institutions and international or regional organizations and the employment coefficients calculated. Data on the consumption of cocoa were provided by the Central Bank of Costa Rica for the period 1977–1986. The figures for 1987–1990 were calculated from the information provided by FAO (1988) that an annual growth of 3.1% for the domestic demand of cocoa in the Latin American countries is expected from 1985 to 2000.

To illustrate the magnitude of possible employment changes because of the slowdown of export and production of cocoa beans in Costa Rica, some assumptions about production, export, and consumption were made. These are discussed in the following according to the scenarios proposed, and are summarized in Table 4.

Scenario A

In this alternative scenario, employment consequences of a reduced demand of cocoa from importing developed countries are based on estimated shifts of production volume throughout the period 1990–2005.

Production According to the prospects for the world agriculture development toward 2000, Latin American production of crops would increase at a rate of about 2.7% a year from 1985 to 2000, i.e., below the 2.9% figure recorded from 1969 to 1984. This lower growth is attributed in large part to the prospect of slower growth of output in Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, and Paraguay. Moreover, gross exports of crops from Central America would expand by only 0.5/year. The slow growth in the demand of importing industrialized countries for major export commodities of the developing countries is a key constraint for the growth of their production.

In view of this panorama of depressed demand for crops in general and for export crops in particular, it is assumed that production of cocoa will expand but at very low rates An average growth of 2.0%, 1.5%, and 1.0% is, therefore, attributed to each quinquennium from 1990 to 2005, respectively. These estimates are based on the accentuated export-oriented character of cocoa production and also supported by the long-term effect of the possible biotechnological breakthroughs for this crop improvement. Any potential substitution for cocoa will be accomplished more slowly than in the case of coffee considering that “traditional breeding in cocoa has not been as extensive as in coffee” and “tissue culture techniques have not been so advanced in cocoa” (Sondahl 1991) .

Table 4. Assumptions and scenarios for cocoa production 1990–2005.


Scenario A






increase 2.0%

increase 1.5%

increase 1.0%


reduction 20%

reduction 25%

reduction 30%


increase 3.1%pa

increase 3.1%pa

increase 3.1%pa






Scenario B


depends on exporta

depends on exporta

depends on exporta


reduction 20%

reduction 25%

reduction 30%


increase 3.1%pa







a [(consumption + export)/production] = 100%. Note: pa = per annum.

Export With respect to exports, a decrease in imports by the industrialized market economies is expected to dominate the growth prospects for exports. Exports will shrink by 20% during the period 1990–95, 25% during 1995–2000, and 30% to 2005. Saturation of consumption levels in the importing countries associated with the biotechnological prospects of displacing tropical beverage raw materials will influence the reduction in the export demand for cocoa. This reduction, however, is estimated to occur at a less sharp rate than in the case of coffee, for the reasons related to “availability of the technology” commented on before.

Consumption The internal demand for cocoa in Latin America is supposed to continue to grow at 3.1% per year up to 2005 based on the estimate provided by FAO (1988) for the period 1985–2000. In the analysis, an increase of 10% for each quinquennium from 1990–2005 is considered.

Employment The employment figures for the period 1990–2005 were calculated considering that the coefficient person-year/tonne will decrease by 5.0% in each quinquennium. This assumption is based on the mid-1980s tendency and on possible technological advances and improvements that may be available to more cocoa producers during the next years and alter, therefore, the demand for labour.

Table 5 shows the employment variation accruing from these assumptions. A reduction in the labour requirements of 15% may result if similar situations are faced by cocoa producers in Costa Rica.

Scenario B

In this scenario, the production of cocoa is subordinated to the export tendency This possible situation is based on the assumption that internal consumption of cocoa will not increase as expected in the previous scenario. It is assumed now that it will continue to grow as in the previous decades up to 1995 and, after that, will stagnate because of a slow down in population growth and unfavourable economic conditions constraining growth of demand. The other coefficients and variables remain constant, i.e., they were calculated as already described.

The production will adjust to face the declining external and internal demand for cocoa. The ratio between consumption plus export production and total production is fixed at 100% as in the previous scenario. A substantial reduction in employment of about 27% may be the result of such a situation. Table 6 shows the figures based on these assumptions.

Table 5. Scenario A: Cocoa.








Production (tonnes)







Export (tonnes)







Consumption (tonnes)







Employment (person-year)







Cons.+ Exp. (tonnes)





















a Data provided by PREALC, Panama.

Table 6. Scenario B: Cocoa.








Production (tonnes)







Export (tonnes)







Consumption (tonnes)







Employment (person-year)







Cons .+ Exp. (tonnes)





















a Data provided by PREALC, Panama.

Sources: Banco Central do Costa Rica, Cifras sobre producción agropecuaria: 1977–1986, San José, 1988: Banco Nacional de Costa Rica, Boletin Estadistico, San Jose, FAO. Production Yearbooks, and my own calculations (see methodology).

This scenario took into consideration the fact that more than 50% of the cocoa production in Costa Rica is directed to the internal market and only about 30% to the external market. More dramatic employment displacements would be felt by a country where cocoa is an important export crop.


The introduction of new plant characteristics, either by changes in food processing, such as improvements in the fermentation and enzymatic processes or by the industrial production of synthetic substitutes of plants or their components, can also lead to changes in international trade patterns by enhancing the possibilities for crop substitution.

The development of tropical plants tailored to meet the specific needs of processing countries’ industry and consumers is likely to lead to overproduction, declining prices, and economic and social instability in Third World exporting countries.

Assessment of many of these effects for rural producers in developing countries is beset with difficulties considering that many of the developments are still at the stage of laboratory-based research and, therefore, information on which to base the analysis of potential effects is limited.

Estimates of the magnitude of the possible direct employment effects resulting from declining demand from industrialized countries for Third World export crops is based on the availability of labour coefficients for the selected crop productions and on the availability of information on variables such as production, export, consumption, and employment by crop for the sample countries. This quantification is, therefore, a speculative exercise beset with difficulties and shortcomings.

Besides the long generation term of the biotechnological advances that may contribute to reducing the demand of tropical exports, there is a lack of reliable data. Data on employment by crops for developing countries are not systematically collected and, when they are available, they differ from source to source. The labour intensity by crop varies also according to size of plot, cultivation techniques, and regions in the country.

Even considering these constraints, employment losses resulting from shrinkage of exports were estimated for the case of coffee and cocoa production in Costa Rica. Scenarios were built according to different assumptions on the decline of coffee and cocoa demand from importing industrialized countries and its related implications on the variables production, export and, then, employment.

The results achieved from this simulation procedure point to a very significant employment reduction for exporting countries. A decrease in the labour force requirements may accrue even if the internal consumption and production increase at the expected rates.

The net employment effect of such substitutions, however, may be positive. It will depend on the quantitative significance of these displacements, the alternative production activities adopted by the affected producers to overcome the negative effects, and the labour coefficient of the crops involved, which varies across countries and within the country. The net employment effects induced by changes in the international trade pattern of tropical export crops need to be considered on a country-based analysis to be truly valid.

The estimations and scenarios analyzed here are not predictions but rather reasoned evaluations of possible situations. A more concrete estimation procedure should include the possibility of offsetting price movements, which would alter the production and employment for certain export crops; the analysis of the country’s possibility to increase production; an assessment of the import demand from developed and developing countries, which are in deficit in that commodity; and an assessment of the country’s share in total world import demand based on an analysis of trends and other relevant factors that are beyond the scope of this paper.


Alexandratos, N., ed. 1988. World agriculture: Toward 2000. An FAO study. Belhaven Press, a division of Pinter Publishers, London, UK.

FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations). 1988. Potential for agricultural and rural development in Latin America and the Caribbean, Annex I, Economic and Social Development; II Rural Poverty, and V Crops, Livestock, Fisheries and Forestry. FAO, Rome, Italy.

Galhardi, R.M.A.A. 1993. Employment and income effects of biotechnology in Latin America. A speculative assessment. International Labour Office, Geneva, Switzerland.

Junne, G. 1991. The impact of biotechnology on international trade. In Sasson, A.; Coslgreni, V., ed., Biotechnologies and prospective socio-economic implications for developing countries. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Paris, France.

PREALC (Programa Regional del Empleo para America Latina y el Caribe). 1991. Labour market adjustment in Latin America: An appraisal of the social effects in the 1980s. PREALC, Santiago, CL. Doc. WEP Working Paper no. 357.

Sondahl, P.J. 1991. Coffee and cocoa. In Gabrielle, J. Perslcy, ed., Agricultural biotechologies: Opportunities for international development. CAB International, Wallingford, UK.

Watanabe, S. 1985. Employment and income implications of the “bio-revolution”: A speculative note. International Labour Review, 124(3), May-June.

Biotechnology and the
Future of Agrcultural Development in Mexico

Michelle Chauvet1


The applications of biotechnology that have been made to date in agriculture and the environment have clearly been more limited than predictions during the 1970s would have led us to expect. The reasons underlying this fact have to do with the accelerating pace of change in the world.

New technologies lie at the heart of change everywhere, and their impact is felt in economic fundamentals as much as in everyday life. In developing a theoretical and methodological framework for understanding the scope of these effects, we must include a study of observable trends that will let us make a realistic assessment of progress in biotechnology.

Biotechnology and Basic World Trends

The changes now occurring in the world are being shaped by the process of globalization. This term, however, is subject to various interpretations in the debate about how best to define contemporary reality. Are we dealing with a new and unique phenomenon, or is it merely a stage or phase through which the world economy is passing? We hear talk of globalization from a wide range of people, in the media, in the academic world, and in international organizations, but are they all talking about the same thing?

It is beyond the scope of this paper to attempt to interpret these changes and their relationship to developing countries’ applications of biotechnology in agriculture and the environment. My purpose is merely to stress the importance of globalization as a factor in any theoretical and methodological framework for assessing the socioeconomic impact of biotechnology, and to propose a few analytical guidelines that should be kept in mind.

Globalization is said to be leading to homogenization. In effect, the influence of the stronger economies in terms of standardizing productive processes

1 Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana (UAM), Department of Sociology, Av. San Pablo # 180, Col. Reynosa, Azcapotzalco, 02200, Mexico D.F., Mexico.

and the workings of markets is seen as a linear process that embraces all nations as a group. Yet interdependence among countries is asymmetrical, and this in turn leads to heterogeneous forms and responses in the globalization process. Thus, progress in biotechnology has not yet been generalized in the world as a whole.

Another aspect of globalization concerns the new areas in which governments are expected to be involved. According to Alejandro Dabat, in countries that have completed the process of privatization “there is a broad consensus that the old functions of promoting economic growth through state ownership of large industrial complexes in order to subsidize production and the domestic market should now be replaced by policies favouring the development of advanced technologies, supporting international competitiveness, ensuring sustainable development, and dealing with the major social problems that are caused by accelerating technological change and international competition” (Dabat 1993, p. 25).

If this view is accurate, we can expect to see a wider use of biotechnology in agriculture and the environment. As the century draws to a close, we are in a period of transition, where, amid constant questioning and redefining, we find both resistance to and pressure for change.

In summary, for purposes of our work, we need to abandon the deterministic view that puts too much weight on the agroindustrial might of the “North” and underestimates the room for joint action by producers in countries of the “South” (Llambi 1994). We must look at those local and regional processes that seem to run counter to the global trend and be ready to monitor changes in productive processes that may modify the impacts of biotechnology as observed to date.

Methodological Approaches to Research
on the Socioeconomic Impacts of
Agricultural Biotechnology

There is much debate about the progress that has been achieved in biotechnology, as to whether it represents a rupture or continuity in the technology patterns that have been applied to agriculture. We reviewed this debate in an earlier paper. It is clear that biotechnology has been adopted as a new paradigm for agriculture by the scientific community, but not by the agricultural producers themselves.

We are now in a phase of transition from an old pattern of agricultural development to a new one that will have to take account of technology, among other factors. Technology by itself will not define the new pattern, but it will lead to a redefinition of the role of agriculture in modern society (Casas and Chauvet 1994).

In this time of transition, some biotechnology applications will tend to intensify the existing pattern of agricultural production, which Junne (1992) calls the “neo-Fordist” pattern, and is based on the creation of hybrids and the massive use of fertilizers, with serious consequences for the environment. There are other biotechnologies, however, which, if their use becomes general, will tend to shape a new agricultural pattern, (“post-Fordist,” as Junne calls it), where productivity improvements will be based on reproductively stable varieties that are not dependent on costly inputs and that should, in our view, make it possible for agriculture to become more sustainable.

In the paper cited, we concluded that “as a general argument, biotechnology offers some interesting possibilities for developing countries. Nevertheless, its degree of relevance for the Third World will depend on many factors, primarily the identification of specific problems that call for these technologies, the types of natural resources available, as well as the nature of the existing scientific and technical infrastructure and the existence of a policy framework that can produce a biotechnology strategy” (Casas and Chauvet 1994, p.12).

Another general aspect that must be included in a theoretical and methodological framework is the discrepancy of interests, both those of scientists and those of markets and consumers, between industrialized and developing countries. In the case of foodstuffs, for example, on the one hand, people in developed countries worry about the risks they may be exposed to in consuming agricultural products that incorporate biotechnology. In less well-endowed countries, on the other hand, the main concern for much of the population is not the quality of food or the level of toxicity it may contain, but simply to have access to food at all.

Specific Methodologies

Although there has been little work done on the socioeconomic impact of applying biotechnology to agriculture and the environment, there are a few studies available on economic, social, and political aspects2 that point to a certain methodological convergence as to the actual and potential impacts. The evidence presented following refers to actual impacts that have been studied with respect to Mexican agriculture.

2 For example, in Casas and Chauvet (1994), Rosalba Casas and I provided a partial compilation of works that make reference to each of these aspects.

Methodological Criteria

Background Research The initial studies of the socioeconomic impact of biotechnology on Mexican agriculture were done using three distinct methodological approaches. In the first, the development of agricultural biotechnology at the world level was contrasted with its progress to date in Mexico. The second approach attempted to assess the potential benefits that biotechnology might bring to agricultural products in which Mexico has a production deficit. Studies covered sorghum, soya, maize, and milk, with a focus on technological components. Finally, an analytical outlook for biotechnology in sugar, yucca, and forest products was prepared during the 1980s, when biotechnology applications were just beginning (Arroyo et al. 1989a, b).

Studies by Product and Region Studies by product and region have been conducted to assess the impacts of biotechnology in those agricultural processes where it has been applied. This approach moves away from generalizations about the socioeconomic impact of agricultural biotechnology and allows us to determine whether such effects may be concentrated in certain regions. In Mexico, as we know, the same product can be produced using widely varying methods.

In our studies of this aspect, we began with an analysis of the production process that existed before the introduction of biotechnology, and then assessed the changes that occurred as a result of its introduction. Case studies were conducted for livestock feed and breeding and flower growing. Research into potato cultivation is currently under way.

In our research, we examined both quantitative aspects related to increased yields, cost reduction, etc., and qualitative ones arising from cultural considerations, such as quality of life and customs, traditions, and popular preferences. We also distinguished between direct and indirect effects and anticipated and unanticipated ones.

Results from Case Studies

Next, we discuss results of the analysis of the actual impacts of biotechnology in the foregoing cases made during research done by the Sociology Department at the Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana in Azcapotzalco.3

3 The research team consisted of Michelle Chauvet, Yolanda Massieu, Yolanda Castañeda, and Rosa Elvia Barajas.

Biotechnology and Livestock

The livestock industry now extends over 65% of Mexico’s territory, if we include pasture lands as well as land used for feed crops. The basic variables to be considered in cattle production are feed, health, and management. Practices with respect to these three parameters vary between producers, even in the same region, with a general bias toward lower levels of technology (Chauvet 1993).

Cattle raising for beef is based on natural pasturage, which in turn depends on the rain cycle. For this reason, the dominant pattern is extensive/extractive. There is a relatively small sector in the arid part of the country that is based on irrigation and grass cultivation, and another in the tropic zones where pulse has been planted for grazing, but these account for only 8.2% of the total land area devoted to cattle production (Chauvet 1993) .

Technical assistance is generally limited to animal health aspects, and even here there is only minimal attention paid to disease prevention through the use of vaccines. It has been left to the public institutions to undertake the widespread campaigns required against the more contagious diseases. There is also little effort at genetic improvement, and natural mating is still the most common method of reproduction.

In terms of livestock management, each ranch worker makes his own approach, on the basis of family traditions, and with little other knowledge or training. In general, facilities are simple and crude, with little investment in machinery or buildings.

This is the pattern found everywhere in the cattle industry, in breeding, fattening, and dual-purpose production (meat and milk). The dry and semi-arid regions specialize in raising yearling calves for export, whereas the tropic zone produces fattened cattle for the domestic market. Milk production is located mainly in the temperate zone in the middle of the country.

In intensive livestock production, each productive variable is controlled. Feed is kept balanced and uniform throughout the year, and the animals are protected from diseases. Reproduction is not left to chance — artificial insemination is used to maintain or improve the genetic quality of the herd.

The stabling of dairy herds, the use of feedlots, and commercial poultry and pork production fall under this classification. Here, the technological level is similar to that of livestock raising in industrialized countries and, in fact, production models have typically been imported as a package from those countries.

These are the livestock sectors where biotechnology processes have been applied. Three of these are discussed in the following. The first is Biofermel, a composite cattle feed made from agricultural by-products.4 Its economic importance is that it can reduce feed costs by 50%. This technological innovation was developed at the Biomedical Research Institute of the National University of Mexico (UNAM/Instituto de Investigaciones Biomédicas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) with production and marketing support from the Centre for Technological Innovation (CIT/Centro de Innovación Tecnológica), also at UNAM. Two production plants were built in the country’s central agricultural region. Local farmers benefited by being able to sell their agricultural by-products, and nearby sugar mills provided the molasses (Castañeda 1991).

Despite the obvious potential of this new feed source for cattle, its use has not spread very widely among producers. This is mainly because of problems with marketing and distribution of the product to potential customers.

Other biotechnology products in use have come from laboratories abroad. These include probiotics for livestock and fodder crops, from Alltech Inc., and Monsanto’s somatotropin (a growth hormone to stimulate milk production).

The probiotics in greatest use are those designed for feeding programs that provide for better assimilation of nutrients, and microorganisms that promote fermentation in silage and so improve its conservation. We studied the impact of these biotechnology products on milk and poultry production in the area around Aguascalientes. We found that producers who make use of these products have at least an average level of technological knowledge and the financial capacity to purchase them.

The study concluded that the use of biotechnology has not become widespread, because livestock farmers have tended to resist change. From their viewpoint, they have seen improvements in their revenues over the past 10 years, based solely on existing farming practices, and without any encouragement from government economic policies in the sector, and thus they see no need to modify their production methods. The demonstration effect is gradually leading them to introduce changes, but if their efforts are not reflected in government pricing policies, the process will come to a halt (Chauvet et al. 1992).

Somatotropin has been one of the most controversial biotechnology products. Because it is prohibited in the United States and Europe, Monsanto has been seeking other markets. Mexico offered favourable conditions, because it has a severe deficit in milk production, and holds the dubious honour of being the world’s largest importer of milk powder. The product thus began to be used in certain Mexican dairying areas in 1990. In terms of its socioeconomic impact, the

4 Biofermel is a fermentation of molasses (60%), fibre (corn stubble, 20%), cattle manure (5%), urea (2%), and water (13%), which can be substituted for 50% of feed supplements for dairy cattle, and up to 70% for fattening beef cattle (Castañeda 1991).

hormone has an immediate effect in raising yields, but such an intense rate of production exhausts the cows more quickly, necessitating higher investments that cannot, as noted earlier, be recouped at current market prices.

The final area is that of embryo transplants, a method that has been used only sporadically and is still far from being common practice. Technology levels remain low, and the essential prior step of artificial insemination is not yet widely practiced. An official campaign was launched to promote embryo transplants as a way to genetic improvement in the dairy sector, but it has not succeeded. In conclusion, biotechnology does offer possibilities for development in the livestock sector, but the Mexican industry is not yet in a position, economically or technologically, to take advantage of them.

It should be pointed out that in the case of somatotropin (rbST), the real impact occurred under conditions that were hardly anticipated. Here was an example of advanced biotechnology, developed in the First World and expected to benefit producers in industrialized countries in the first instance, being adopted by a traditionally structured cattle industry in a developing country. This demonstrates that we must be open and flexible, not linear, in our analysis of the impact of biotechnology — in this particular case, it was economic and political conditions that determined the pattern of application of somatotropin around the world.

Biotechnology and Flower Growing

The second case study on the actual impact of biotechnology concerned the intensive cultivation of flowers. The variables studied here were employment, the labour market and the monopoly of advanced technology (Massieu 1994).

Although Holland is the reigning power in the international flower market, Colombia has achieved a position of undoubted importance since the 1970s. It was during those years that Mexican flowers began to penetrate the United States market. Starting from a small base, the Mexican industry has since moved into the more systematic and intensive production of flowers.

Yolanda Massieu’s field research focused on a comparison between traditional flower growing and that conducted in greenhouses, in terms of the variables mentioned earlier. Her work examined both state-owned and private enterprises. It showed the undeniable link between the use of genetically cloned materials and the increase in productivity of both land and labour. Greenhouse production of this type of plant is greater and more uniform than traditional, open-air cultivation, although a greenhouse implies a much higher level of investment.

As regards the effect on employment, state-owned greenhouses are relatively inefficient: in the State of Morelos, (greenhouse) production for export generates more employment than (traditional) production for the domestic market. In the State of Mexico, however, intensive private greenhouse cultivation reduces the number of workdays required, in comparison with traditional flower growing (respectively, 8 and 16 days per hectare). Nevertheless, the intensive growing of flowers in greenhouses, using biotechnology in the form of cloned plant materials, absorbs considerably more labour than do other agricultural crops: 2,975 workdays per year per hectare are needed for a greenhouse, whereas sorghum, for example, uses only 10 workdays per hectare during the whole season.

In terms of monopoly power over advanced technology, the cloned materials used in greenhouses originate from multinational Dutch, U.S., and French firms, and they are expensive, thanks to the high royalties these firms charge for use of their patented products. This leads to a paradoxical situation in a country like Mexico, where flower growing dates back to pre-Hispanic times, and where there is a considerable base of traditional technology and a great range of indigenous varieties, completely unpatented, that have never been utilized for intensive horticulture. One point that stands out is the low cost of agricultural labour in Mexico — were it not so, flower growers would never be able to afford these costly advanced technologies.

In conclusion, we can discern both positive and negative impacts. The former would include significant job creation, in the midst of the widespread unemployment that afflicts Mexican agriculture. This impact in effect contradicts the deterministic “law” that holds that advanced technology always displaces labour. A negative impact, however, lies in the high production costs occasioned by the monopolistic position of the suppliers of the technology — it is only the miserable wages paid to agricultural day labourers that makes it possible to afford these costs. One reason why it is possible to pay such low wages is that the work force is predominantly female, a feature common in rural Mexico.

Moreover, the high initial investment needed to launch intensive flower cultivation has prevented this technology from being widely used. To date, only a restricted number of producers have been able to take advantage of the technology and the competitive advantage it gives them over traditional producers in the domestic market.

Biotechnology in Sugarcane and Potato Cultivation

The research team is conducting another study to assess various biotechnology-based alternatives for overcoming the current crisis in the sugar industry (Castañeda 1991). We selected this as a further case study because of the importance of the crop in Mexico and the changes that have occurred in it as a result of the move to privatization. Because the study is not yet completed, we will mention only a few features relating to our initial remarks about the phenomenon of globalization.

When the sugar industry was being privatized, some of the buyers of the sugar mills were companies producing soft drinks. Under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) among Mexico, the United States, and Canada, sugar is one of the products that still retains tariff protection. Nevertheless, 5 months after NAFTA entered into force, the United States submitted a list of 150 products on which it wanted Mexico to accelerate tariff reduction, among them fructose syrups and sugar. Casas and Chauvet (1994) report that:

Behind this request there is a complex network of interests, which we shall merely cite without going into detail. The list lets us conclude, however, that while there may be no such thing as technological determinism (though we must take technological innovation into account in socioeconomic analysis), there are political and social forces that do indeed determine events.

The actors involved include:

1. Sugar producers in Florida, who are eager to export sugar to Mexico.

2. Sugar producers in Mexico, who would be out of business without the current tariff structure.

3. Corn producers in the United States, who supply the manufacturers of fructose.

4. US manufacturers of fructose, who are also interested in penetrating the Mexican market.

5. The two big soft drink bottlers, Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola, who have bought some of the Mexican sugar mills from state ownership.

6. Mexican licensees of those two bottlers, who missed out on buying sugar mills, and who now object to paying the prices set by the “Sugar Exchange” [Bolsa Azucarera] that has been formed by the owners of the integrated mills.

7. [Mexican] sugar manufacturers, who argue that continued protection is needed to allow them to modernize their mills, and who claim the right to such compensation for their investment.

8. The Mexican government, which seeks to protect Mexican agro-industry as the mainstay of millions of peasants, and which considers it inconsistent to undermine the integration of the sugar industry with the soft drink industry, which the government has been promoting.

9. US trade officials, who are pressing for changes to the agreed reduction schedules in favour of US fanners and manufacturers.

Yet another addition to this list should be the sugar industry labour union. The tariff reduction schedules have not been changed, but the conflict of interests remains.

In January, 1995, we undertook a study of the effects of biotechnology on potato growing. The study is being funded with a small grant from Consejo Nacional de Desarrollo (CONACYT/National Development Council), and Dr Luis Lago of the Cuban Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology is also collaborating with a view to making a comparative analysis of the subject between the two countries.


To end this review of some of the real impacts of the use of biotechnology in Mexican agriculture, I shall go back to the question posed at the outset: do the biotechnologies applied to date represent a help or a hindrance for the future of Mexican agriculture? The answer clearly cannot be categorical. In some aspects there has been progress, whereas in others, there has been stagnation or regression, which has been caused not by biotechnology itself, but by the circumstances in which Mexican agriculture has found itself immersed.

The rural economy of Mexico has been excluded from national priorities over the last dozen years. Development strategy has been based on leaving the course of the economy to the play of market forces, and the State has withdrawn from any active role in many sectors of manufacturing, finance and services. Under this model, the agricultural sector has lost its vital place as a source of domestic supply, and policy has turned increasingly to the notion of comparative advantage as a way of meeting the country’s needs in food and raw materials. The result has been a drop in profitability and a steady decapitalization of the agricultural sector. This has taken place at considerable social cost, as can be seen from the deterioration of rural living standards, growing impoverishment, and rising migration.

Mexico’s current financial difficulties offer a new context within which to redefine a series of policies, including those relating to domestic food production. Current exchange rates are a threat to the advantages that local producers have enjoyed in the domestic market. On the one hand, it is becoming essential to offer some support to domestic production, a fact that opens up possibilities for encouraging the spread of agricultural biotechnology. On the other hand, the devaluation of the peso also represents a constraint on the importation of certain biotechnology processes including, for example, the cloned materials used in flower culture.

These considerations lead me to make the following methodological proposals for discussion:

• Establish permanent monitoring of the world scene with respect to the progress of biotechnology as applied to agriculture and the environment.

• Give close attention to those productive processes where biotechnology has been applied, to assess whether or not to adopt such methods here. Measure the results obtained in terms of increased yields, productivity, market penetration, employment generation, etc.

• Analyze emerging sectors as possible new fields for investment in biotechnology. Two potential areas in particular are the enhancement and conservation of the environment, and the contribution that biotechnology can make to ensuring sustainable agriculture.

• Develop rural policy priorities in consultation with the producers themselves, taking account of their experience, and encourage them to communicate their successes.


Arroyo, G. coord. 1988. Biotecnología: ¿Una salida para la crisis agroalimentaria? Colección Agricultura y Economía, Plaza y Valdés/Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana (UAM), UAM-Xochimilco, México, MX. 391 pp.

——1989a. La biotecnología y el problema alimentario en México. Colección Agricultura y Economía, Plaza y Valdés/Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana (UAM), UAM-Xochimilco, México, MX. 235 pp.

——1989b. La pérdida de la autosuficiencia alimentaria y el auge de la ganadería en México. Colección Agricultura y Economía, Plaza y Valdés/Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana (UAM), UAM-Xochimilco, México, MX. 367 pp.

Casas, R.; Chauvet, M. 1994. La biotecnología: Recapitulación sobre sus impactos en la agricultura y el medio ambiente. 480. Congreso Internacional de Americanistas (CIA). 4–9 July, CIA, Stockholm/Uppsala, Sweden. 40 pp.

Castañeda, Y. 1991. Opciones biotecnológicas para la crisis de la agroindustria azucarera: Melazas y proteína unicelular. UAM-A, MX. Revista Sociológica, 16(mayo-augusto), 183–211.

Chauvet, M. et al. 1992. La biotecnología aplicada a la producción ganadera en México. In Casas, R.; Chauvet, M.; Rodriguez, D. ed., La biotecnología y sus repercusiones socioeconómicas y políticas. Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana (UAM-Azcapotzalco/Instituto de Investigaciones Económicas, Instituto de Investigaciones Sociales), Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), México, MX. pp. 181–200.

Chauvet, M. 1993. Auge, crisis y reestructuración de la ganadería bovina de carne en México. Tesis de Coctorado. Facultadad de Economia, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. México, MX. 216 pp.

Dabat, A. 1993. El mundo y las nacines. Centro Regional de Investigaciones Multidisciplinarias, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), México, MX. 225 pp.

Junne, G. 1992. Le grandes enterprises face à la révolution biotechnologique. Cahiers d’Economie et Sociologie Rurales, no. 24–25, Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA), Ivry, France, pp. 143–159.

Llambi, L. 1994. Globalización y ruralidad. Necesidad de un nuevo paradigma. Ponencia presentada en el Seminario Nuevos Procesos Rurales en México. Teorías, estudios de caso y perspectivas, Taxco, Guerreo 30 de mayo. MX. 24 pp.

Massieu, Y. et al. 1992. Aplicaciones de la biotecnología a la floricultura en México: Efectos e el empleo. In Casas, R.; Chauvet, M.; Rodríguez, D. ed. La biotecnología y sus repercusiones socioeconómicas y políticas. Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana (UAM-Azcapotzalco/Instituto de Investigaciones Económicas, Instituto de Investigaciones Sociales), Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), México, MX.

——1994. Biotecnología y mercados de trabajo: El caso de la floricultura. Tesis de Doctorado, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), México, MX. 322 pp.

Methodological Tools and Approaches

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Agricultural Biotechnology in Latin America:
Studying its Future Impacts

Gerardo Otero1


. . . [T]he efforts to resolve the pesticide problem in Latin America and elsewhere have largely remained trapped in a traditional development paradigm maximizing short-term growth with little regard for or understanding of longer-term sustainability and broader social and ecological dynamics (Murray 1994, p. 5).

Indeed, the beneficial dimension of biotechnology does not reside in its technical characteristics, but rather in the process through which the directions of biotechnological research are set, and on the processes through which the decisions concerning its consequences are made (Bonnano 1992, p. 131).

Biotechnology contains the potential to create products that may both perpetuate or transcend the petrochemical era of agriculture. Which way it goes largely depends on the institutions and social actors promoting its development. The short-term, profit-oriented view will prevail to the extent that governments, international public agencies, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) remain primarily as spectators of biotechnological development, rather than fulfilling their original missions of looking after the general-public interest.

The purpose of this paper is twofold. First, it offers some background analysis on the confrontation between conventional and alternative agriculture. The latter contains an agenda as to where future biotechnology research should be geared if it is to contribute to a sustainable agricultural development in both social and environmental terms. Second, it discusses the limitations of some previous impact analyses of agricultural biotechnologies to then propose a different perspective, one based on the “global commodity chains” approach and the “bottom-up linkages” approach.

1Spanish and Latin American Studies, Simon Fraser University, A.Q. 5121, Burnaby, B.C., Canada V5A 1S6.

Because biotechnology products remain largely in a laboratory stage, this section deals with the structures, trends, and social actors that will shape their future impact. It is argued that this type of perspective is necessary for studies of future impacts of biotechnology if adequate policy is to emerge from them. By examining both global and national-level determinants of the generation and adoption of technologies, the key social and institutional actors can be identified.

Between Conventional and Alternative Agriculture

Conventional or modem agriculture was developed in the postwar period, and was based on new seed varieties, fertilizers, pesticides, irrigation, mechanization, etc., which came to be known as the Green Revolution when exported to Third World countries. Although plant breeding related to the Green Revolution was confined to relatively few crops, the rest of the technological package of modern agriculture, namely agrochemicals, irrigation, and mechanization, was extended to many other cash crops. It is this broader phenomenon that is referred to interchangeably as “conventional,” “modern,” or “Green Revolution” agriculture in this paper. Much of the research that was the basis for this technological package came from Land Grant Universities in the United States, but eventually the private sector came to lead the research agenda, based on short-term, profit-oriented motivations (Kenney and Kloppenburg 1983; Kaimowitz 1993).

After various decades of increased agricultural productivity and production in the United States, conventional agriculture became socially and environmentally unsustainable. Some of the environmental problems associated with this model are soil erosion, the contamination of ground water resources, and the appearance of pesticide residues in food crops (NRC 1989; Beus and Dunlap 1991).

The focus of conventional agriculture has usually been on increasing output, without much regard for the fact that inputs were also increasing at a cost to farmers (Odum 1989). The latter reflects the loss of control by farmers of the agricultural labour process and how the petrochemical companies have come to dominate product development according to their own interests.

Because of this, the U.S. farm structure has become very polarized, with few but large-scale farmers accounting for most agricultural production. Medium-and small-scale farmers have become increasingly unviable, given the large-scale bias of modern agriculture (Vogeler 1982).

When exported to developing countries, conventional agriculture has had additional undesirable consequences to those exhibited in the U.S. For example, increased social polarization in the countryside did not have as a counterpart the robust process of industrialization that could absorb redundant workers that were being expelled from agriculture, as happened for the most part in the U.S. Much rural and urban unemployment ensued. Furthermore, during the 1970s and 1980s, much of Latin American agriculture focused on export crops to the detriment of producing food crops for the local population (Reinhardt 1987; Barkin et al. 1990).

Although biotechnology can be used to increase food production, most research efforts in Central and South America focus on export and luxury crops. Another major problem in Latin America is that there are very weak links between universities and the productive sector, which makes the introduction and commercialization of new biotechnologies difficult and leads to the duplication of research efforts. Other problems are that international organizations are the main investors in biotechnology research, taking over the role of state planners. Furthermore, the low level of university research leads to insufficient trained personnel to compete in advanced biotechnology, and the relative scarcity of attractive jobs for qualified personnel leads to a “brain drain” (Pistorius 1990).

An alternative agriculture should move in a direction nearly opposite to that of conventional practices. The public sector, including universities, should take a lead in setting the research agendas based on social and environmental needs, rather than the short-term interests of private companies. There should be more focus on food crops and basic grains, rather than on export and luxury crops. Rather than an emphasis on monocropping, a holistic perspective should be promoted with a focus on agrarian structures and the viability of rural communities. Local knowledge should be taken into account in developing new products, rather than merely detached science produced in laboratories, and there should be an effort to create an agriculture based on low inputs to make small-scale farmers more viable. To contribute to this end and that of greater environmental sustainability, biopesticides should be emphasized much more than agrochemicals.

It is relatively easy to posit all these prescriptions of what should be done to transcend the petrochemical era of agriculture, but the real social forces behind technological and product development respond to different dynamics than the discourse of social and environmental sustainability. Those forces act in an increasingly de-regulated, competitive, and market-driven environment, where short-term profits are the law. Public concern, however, for social and environmental sustainability has increased in the past few years, and there may be some policy changes that could affect the behaviour of firms so that they will move in a more desirable direction. It is, therefore, necessary to study those areas where policy may be most effective by conducting an analysis of the future impact of biotechnology.

Limitations in the Impact Assessment of Biotechnology

Two basic positions have been advocated in the socioeconomic impact assessment of biotechnology in Third World countries. On the one hand, there are those who see it as a panacea that will resolve all the food problems of the world; most typically the biotechnology companies themselves represent this position, e.g., Monsanto’s advertisements (Kleinman and Kloppenburg 1991). On the other hand, there are those who posit a rather pessimistic, sometimes apocalyptic, scenario, seeing biotechnology as a First-World phenomenon that will tend to enhance two processes in agriculture: the appropriation by industry of increases in agricultural productivity and the tendency for industry to substitute agricultural for industrial products, e.g., high fructose com syrup for sugar. In this view, there are few hopes that Third World countries will access higher levels of economic development (Goodman et al. 1987).

One example of the optimistic outlook, although not as extreme as that of the companies, is in the work of Robert Kalter, who did some of the first studies of the potential impact of bovine growth hormone in the U.S. on the basis of economic modeling (Kalter and Magrath 1985). Another example of the optimistic outlook is represented by Cassio Luiselli Fernandez (1987) for the case of Latin America. Even though the author presents both the opportunities and the threats offered by biotechnology, the final implication of his essay is that Latin American countries, and Mexico in particular, have a broad margin of action, if they only follow certain policy prescriptions. There are at least three main areas in which one may identify an unfounded optimism: the assessment of scientific and industrial resources for biotechnology in developing countries, the assumed economic scale neutrality of new biotechnology products, and the possibilities and disposition of the various developing countries to establish cooperation efforts among them. The rest of this section deals with each of these points.

Scientific and Industrial Resources for Biotechnology

As far as scientific and technological production in Latin America, university-industry research relations are almost nonexistent. Universities in Latin America are more oriented to learning and teaching than to doing research (Cadena et al. 1985; Goldstein 1989). One might say that the only practical relation between universities and industry is that of supplying the latter with a qualified labour force for professional and operative work.

For the sake of illustration, let us look briefly at the case of Mexico, where university research is highly concentrated. The National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) alone concentrates 50% of all research funds in the country. Nevertheless, UNAM’s research budget represented only 22% of its global budget for 1988. The rest represented wages and other operating expenses (Ortega 1988).

The Mexican dilemma is that its science and technology system produces so little technology that most of it has to be imported. Still, there are four categories of university-industry links: training of professionals, creation of basic and applied knowledge, provision of technical services, and production of technology. Part of the explanation for the weakness of university-industry links in Mexico is the near absence of a commercial criterion in research. Thus, the prevalent criterion tends to be defined in epistemological terms, which may be crucial for science but irrelevant for technology. For technology development, what matters is economic convenience, not epistemological relevance (Sabato and Mackenzie 1980)

There are, however, some institutions doing cutting-edge biotechnology research in Mexico (Quintero 1985). In total, there are about 25 centres with biotechnology projects broadly defined. If we narrow the definition of biotechnology to the newer techniques, such as those based on recombinant DNA, the generation of hybridomas, cell and tissue culture, and protoplast fusion, then the number of institutions is reduced to only seven. The rest are involved in traditional biotechnology research (Arroyo and Waissbluth 1988). Of those seven, three belong to the National Autonomous University of Mexico, two to the National Polytechnical Institute, one to the Autonomous Metropolitan University and another one to Chapingo Autonomous University. All of these universities are located around Mexico City, although three of the top research centres involved are decentralized in neighbouring cities (one in Irapuato and two in Cuernavaca).

The pioneering institution in promoting industry links has been the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), reputed as the largest university in Latin America. It created a “Centre for Technological Innovation” in 1984 to market UNAM’s science and technology. Although the explicit objective of the new centre is to market UNAM’s science and technology, a former director declared to Expansión, the Mexican version of Fortune magazine, that they wish to preserve their identity as an academic institution. They are not after tailor-made research, therefore, for the specific needs of companies. Rather, companies should find out what UNAM’s researchers are doing that might be of interest to them. The director of one of the firms that has supported UNAM’s research stressed that business firms should take advantage of Mexican technology, because it is cheaper and should allow them to compete better in international trade (Rodriguez Anza 1987, pp. 75–76).

In sum, Mexico does have several excellent research groups working in the frontiers of biotechnology. But the number of researchers is very small in comparison to those in advanced capitalist countries, both in universities and in firms. In developing countries, there tends to be a very weak if not totally absent link between universities and industry. With such great differences in the quantity of scientists and the differing patterns of university-industry linkages, it is hard to be very optimistic about the possibilities for developing countries to compete successfully in such a dynamic field as biotechnology on the basis of their own resources.

It is necessary, therefore, to undertake a more realistic analysis regarding the actual scientific potential of developing countries and what public policies it would take to translate research into products that might solve their specific socioeconomic and environmental needs. Unless the proper policy incentives exist, it is unlikely that these needs will be taken into account by the private firms doing biotechnology research, or by scientists from advanced countries who have other concerns as their central motivations.

Economic Scale and Biotechnology

Contrary to what optimistic analysts of biotechnology hold, it seems that the main tendencies indicate a bias favouring the large scale, rather than scale neutrality. That is to say, far from favouring small-scale farm operations, the new biotechnologies will tend to reinforce the bias introduced by modern agricultural technologies by requiring strong capital investments. With the new technologies then, the agricultures of developing countries are likely to require a smaller work force, even if we assume that many of the products of biotechnology may be adopted by those countries (Galhardi 1993).

The alternative might be that, if new technologies are not adopted, and given the global scope of today’s world market, agriculture in developing countries may cease to be a viable economic activity altogether. This would be a major paradox, for about 60% of the population in developing countries depends on agriculture. The following examples of new biotechnology products clearly reflect an economic bias toward large-scale production units. These are the implications of the “technological paradigm” represented by modern agriculture (Otero 1992).

The generation and sale of cattle and sheep embryos is generally reserved for large and modern production units, which utilize the most advanced genetic technologies. Commercial cloning of livestock is becoming a reality. There are research groups in the U.S. that are developing cell fusion methods with the potential to create multiple, perhaps unlimited, copies of individual cow- and sheep-embryos.

The target in cloning is to produce genetically predictable animals, with superior milk- and meat-production capabilities. University of Wisconsin Professor Neal First and colleagues have successfully cloned cow embryos, but it will be years before they can determine the quality of the resulting breed. For what they clone is not the mother cow but the embryo itself, i.e., an already fertilized egg. One of the goals of researchers is to improve the cloning technique to develop the entire process in test tubes and eliminate the need for embryos from the cows (Marx 1988).

One implication of this type of research is that, in the future, it will be possible to produce “elite” animals for meat and milk production. This genetic improvement of animals, combined with the use of growth hormones, promises to revolutionize production in these fields, and they will probably displace large numbers of farmers, given the large-scale bias. The dictum for this type of modem operation will continue to be, perhaps in an exacerbated manner, “get big, or get out of farming.”

Socially, this trend points to a future agriculture that will require not much more than a percent or two of a country’s labour force. The main concern will be with how to employ productively, with adequate incomes, those people who are displaced from agriculture. In the U.S., this stage has already been reached: only 2% of the labour force is directly employed in farming.

Another factor that reinforces the previous interpretation regarding the economic bias toward the larger scale is that new agriculture will probably combine two or more products of the current technological revolution, including computers, for the integrated management of agricultural enterprises (Kloppenburg et al. 1988). It is very likely that a systems approach to management will be reinforced. For instance, and continuing with the example of livestock production, the most sophisticated dairy operations may use embryo transfer technologies to improve the herd, while using computers to maintain exact yield records per cow and to monitor their feed requirements (Sun 1986, p. 151).

The result will be that only large-scale operations will be able to make the heavy capital investments required for such integrated systems for managing resources. All of this reinforces the economic-scale tendency to discriminate against small-scale producers and accelerates the process of “depeasantization without full proletarianization” (de Janvry 1981; Otero 1989). The dilemma involved in this process is that, although farming expels many of its workers because of increased capital-intensity, the larger economy cannot absorb all those redundant workers. This is the source of the swelling “informal sector” in Latin American economies.

Cooperation Among Latin American Countries

The third area where there seems to be an unwarranted optimism in assessing the impacts of biotechnology regards the possibilities of establishing cooperation links among developing countries on a regional level. Two types of alliance are generally prescribed: one among Southern countries, and the other with the U.S. For the case of arguments favouring the resurgence of a Latin American Common Market, it is correctly asserted that Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, and Mexico are countries with the best and most numerous biotechnology research groups in the region, followed at a distance by Chile, Colombia, Peru, and Venezuela.

Again, the structural possibilities for both types of alliance should be evaluated, with the purpose of specifying which is most viable and realistic. Little will be gained by suggesting alliances that appear rhetorically or ideologically sound, if recent history indicates that they are extremely difficult to obtain.

More concretely, evoking a Latin American alliance may find echoes of sympathy, but it is doubtful that it will materialize. It was already fashionable in the 1950s and 1960s to propose the economic integration of Latin America, but world economic forces have determined different results. As an example, Mexico’s principal trade partner is clearly the U.S., with more than 70% of its foreign trade (imports and exports) with its northern neighbour. The figures for other Latin American countries may show less dependence on the U.S, but the fact is that the economies of this region have developed a profound dependency on industrialized countries in general.

Even if Mercosur might have a chance to be strengthened, its greatest chance to encourage growth depends on the extent to which it strengthens its relationships with the U.S., in particular, and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) countries, in general. Furthermore, NAFTA itself will soon be expanded to include countries like Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, and Venezuela. This will be just the beginning in realizing the hemispheric plans of the U.S. government: to achieve a full economic integration within the Americas led by the prevailing neoliberal ideology.

From the point of view of developing-country governments, it is precisely the insufficiency of local capital formation that has induced governments to adopt neoliberalism, opening up to foreign trade and inviting new flows of foreign investments. Furthermore, the case of biotechnology requires important investments to develop new products, most of which exist only potentially in laboratories. Short of being produced in Latin America, it will be necessary to import them, further aggravating the trade deficits of many countries of the region.

The tendency toward a greater alliance with the U.S. will thus likely reinforce the patterns of foreign trade that make those countries depend on advanced capitalist countries. It would thus seem difficult to attain a Latin American (or an African) integration, even if it is only with regard to biotechnology. For the common problem of those countries is precisely the lack or insufficiency of capital for technological development.

These critical remarks on the goal of integration are not made in terms of their desirability but in terms of their historical feasibility. In today’s world, delinking from the main world markets is the least desirable outcome. If anything, developing countries should be striving to integrate even more, for the main currents of trade are increasingly being confined to advanced capitalist countries of the North, whereas intradeveloping-country trade blocks are dismal: “out of more than a dozen regional trading arrangements among developing nations, none has intra-regional trade greater than 15% of total exports.” In contrast, 50% of world trade is currently within the three main trade areas of Europe, North America, and East Asia (The Economist 1992).

Now, when it is recommended that the U.S. should cooperate with developing countries, analysts are merely voicing a wish. The real history of relationships between developing countries and the U.S. indicates that help generally comes with “strings attached” for recipient countries. During the 1970s, when there was a food scarcity in many developing countries, the U.S. policy regarding “food aid” was notorious for imposing its political and economic criteria on recipients (Burbach and Flynn 1983; Black 1991).

In sum, it cannot be expected that the U.S. will have anything more than a behaviour led by its military or economic interests. That is to say, when there is an affair judged by its leaders to be of “national security” one could expect resources to flow beyond those that would be expected from a merely commercial exchange. Otherwise, economic calculation will prevail.

It is likely that today’s “cooperation” will be established in a more spontaneous manner, as a function of the commercial interests of large transnational corporations (TNCs) investing in biotechnology. The only hope that TNCs might exhibit a beneficial behaviour toward developing societies may be seen in the changing public policies and political economy resulting from the move to outward-looking development models, based on the export of manufactures. If such changes also result in a different behaviour of TNCs, some positive development results could be expected.

In the import substitution industrialization model, TNCs were also protagonistic economic agents and they had an adverse economic presence in developing economies, to the extent that they simply took advantage of strong protectionist policies and subsidies and did not develop their productivity and quality standards for international competition. Furthermore, their products were generally costlier to consumers in developing countries than if they had been imported without restriction.

Unfortunately, the current economic and institutional trends lead more to pessimism than to optimism. In fact, biotechnology will probably reinforce and deepen the structural changes brought about by the Green Revolution and, given the very different institutional context in which biotechnology is emerging, it is likely to have far more socially and regionally polarizing effects than those associated with the Green Revolution. Moreover, it is hypothesized that the major obstacle to overcome to move in the direction of an alternative agriculture, both in the U.S. and in developing countries, is the current structure of input producers in the agrifood complex: it is made up of a set of oligopolistic TNCs that are focusing the trajectory of biotechnology research in the wrong direction. Rather than developing products that will make farmers less dependent on the use of chemicals, many of them toxic and carcinogenic, their research tends to entrench even further and extend the chemical and pesticide era of agriculture (Goldburg et al. 1990; Goldburg 1992).

Finally, a few words of caution on the pessimistic assessments of the socioeconomic impacts of biotechnology are in order. For the most part, such assessments tend to have two assumptions that should now be questioned: that biotechnology products should and will only develop on a national basis; and that the dependency of developing countries on advanced capitalist countries will only increase and will, in turn, further aggravate underdevelopment and poverty.

These two assumptions are actually two sides of the same coin: this consists of viewing development as happening primarily on a national level. Although this has indeed been the case for the better part of the last couple of centuries, the last two decades have witnessed an internationalization of the economy that questions some basic notions as “national development.”

Even industrialization should no longer be regarded as synonymous with development, for many industries formerly located in advanced capitalist countries have of late been transferred to developing countries. This is what has been involved in the complex process of globalization of the world economy. The question that needs to be addressed is whether such globalization will continue to concentrate disproportionately the benefits of development in advanced capitalist countries, or if this will allow some redistribution to the poorer countries.

Thus far, only the so-called newly industrializing countries of Eastern Asia have managed to carve out important market niches for their industries. In the beginning, however, much of their industrialization happened as a result of linking up with larger “commodity chains” that connected to advanced capitalist countries, namely Japan and the U.S. In the case of agricultural biotechnology, there is an inverted natural dependence of advanced capitalist countries on the biodiversity that resides in developing countries of the South, which is raw material for much of future plant breading. Beyond this dependence, the question remains as to whether future development of biotechnology will somehow respond to the social and environmental needs of developing countries, in general, and Latin American countries, in particular.

Studying Biotechnology’s Future Impacts

Because agricultural biotechnology products are still largely in a laboratory stage, there is room to hope that some social forces will be able to steer their development in more desirable directions. This calls for enlightened policy by governments and international agencies that must be ahead of the competitive dynamics that drive businesses and technological innovation. A tough call indeed, for governments must function within the confines of parliamentary committees or government agencies, whereas companies and researchers follow a much swifter market temporality. It is between the logics of state and markets where sociological analysis can help identify areas of social organization where some policy and action may be effectively directed. This section outlines a new approach to study the emerging dynamics of global capitalism and suggests ways in which it could be utilized in the assessment of future impacts of biotechnology.

There are actually two approaches that may be combined in studying the future impacts of biotechnology. One covers the global dynamics of capitalism, the “global commodity chains” approach (GCC), and the other might be termed “bottom-up linkages” (BUL) approach. The GCC approach addresses the links among households, enterprises, and states in global production, whereas the BUL approach highlights the importance of local conditions and social actors in future technological innovation.

With these two approaches one can move beyond and below the analysis of the nation state in studying the course of development. Let us begin with a brief description of the GCC approach.

William Friedland (1984) first proposed the “commodity systems” approach to understand the dynamics of global capitalism with regard to agricultural commodities. More recently, the contributors to Gereffi and Korzeniewicz (1994) developed a “ global commodity chains” approach that is complementary to that of Friedland.

On the one hand, as Laura Raynolds puts it, Friedland’s analysis “focuses on the organization of production (including production scale, labour organization, and the role of science and technology) and its integration into marketing and distribution systems” (Raynolds 1994, p. 146). On the other hand, the commodity chains approach, a term first proposed by Hopkins and Wallerstein (1986):

emphasizes the interlocking “nodes” of production that go into creating a finished commodity. This latter formulation is more sensitive than the former [Friedland’s] to the links between component production processes, the geographical location (and potential dispersion) of production, and the variability of “commodity chains” over time. Yet Friedland’s approach more carefully avoids the reification of commodity systems and places greater emphasis on microproduction relations (Raynolds 1994, p. 146).

In the case of future biotechnology products, one initial task would be to identify the key global commodity chains that will be affected to concentrate research on those that are regarded as the most relevant by social and environmental criteria. A global commodity chain (GCC) “consists of sets of interorganizational networks clustered around one commodity or product, linking households, enterprises, and states to one another within the world-economy.” Furthermore, this type of analysis, shows how “production, distribution, and consumption are shaped by the social relations (including organizations) that characterize the sequential stages of input acquisition, manufacturing, distribution, marketing, and consumption” (Gereffi et al. 1994, p. 2).

Some key concepts of comparative sociology, such as national development and industrialization, are increasingly perceived as problematic with this multilayered approach. For the locus of industrialization may no longer be an advanced capitalist country but a developing country, yet the control over the GCC continues to reside in the wealthier countries whose service industries seem to thrive.

Viewed in a global context, however, it becomes clear that the service sectors in wealthier countries are firmly linked to other productive sectors in a GCC, which shreds the thesis of postindustrial societies to pieces. In other words, manufacturing continues to be at the root of global capitalist dynamics, and the so-called service industries also entail transformation to the extent that they are based on human skilled judgment (Gereffi et al. 1994, p. 4).

Other important distinctions that have been elaborated by the GCC approach regard the dominant force within each commodity chain. This refers primarily to the type of market in question: is it an oligopolistic or an oligopsonic market, that is, one dominated by a few producers or by a few buyers? Oligopolistic GCCs are called “producer-driven” chains, whereas those dominated by a few buyers are called “buyer-driven” chains (Gereffi 1994).

This distinction is important in the case of agricultural production, even though most commodity chains are producer driven. In the agricultural inputs sector, for example, the agricultural machinery companies or the petrochemical companies largely determine the technologies supplied for agricultural production. They dominate their backward linkages with their own suppliers and, because the industry is highly concentrated, they also dominate their forward linkages with their consumers, the farmers.

Furthermore, there is the prevalence of contract-farming arrangements by producer firms that also act as a monopsony. For example, Campbell’s controls about 90% of the canned-soup market in the U.S. and is the single buyer of a number of agricultural commodities, namely tomatoes, from thousands of farmers. Similarly, many agricultural commodities such as many grains tend to be dominated by commercial capital or “buyer-driven” commodity chains. Witness the domination exercised by companies such as Cargill in the soybeans world market.

Whether biotechnology products will be channeled through producer-driven or buyer-driven GCC will likely involve a different combination of policies in trying to shape their social and environmental impact. For instance, Rodolfo Quintero (1992) recently suggested that tomatoes embody such a large relative value and are such an important export crop for Mexico that biotechnology research efforts should focus on this particular commodity. Although these facts may be true, we should also ask the social question of who controls this commodity chain and to whose benefit would such research efforts accrue. It is not enough to do an economic calculation in terms of value added and trade balances; one also has to study issues of employment, whether small-, medium-, or large-scale farmers dominate within each commodity chain, and the type of environmental practices that prevail.

Questions should also be raised as to the type of GCC that dominates the agricultural inputs sector that supplies a given commodity chain. Will it be possible to establish a new marketing network in a commodity chain with already firmly established agrochemical firms, e.g., Monsanto? Or would it be best to seek an alliance with such companies, trying to reshape their research agendas in more benign directions?

With regard to the “bottom-up linkages” approach, the key question is the extent to which local environmental and social conditions are taken into account in technology development. With conventional agriculture, scientific approaches have come to dominate the generation of technology, largely abandoning local knowledge and practices (Kloppenburg 1991; Feldman and Welsh 1995). Just as much biodiversity has been lost to the planting of homogeneous modern plant varieties, so has much local and indigenous knowledge been wiped out by the sweeping introduction of conventional agriculture in developing countries.

In the case of Latin America, our scientists tend to be trained in Northern countries and they adopt the technological paradigm of conventional agriculture. There has been much disregard, therefore, for building on the local conditions and local knowledge of farmers when introducing technological innovations (Otero 1994).

With the hegemony of neoliberalism and the dominant trend toward the globalization of the world economy, the forces of conventional agriculture can only get stronger. But public concern for social and environmental sustainability also runs high. It will take democratic politics and decision-making, therefore, to address these concerns beyond the dictates of the market and profitability concerns. Only if public institutions, including universities, and grassroots farmer organizations establish an alliance can there be any hope to move into a more desirable form of development.


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Biotechnology and Agriculture in Brazil:
Social and Economic Impacts

Heloisa L. Burnquist1


This paper presents some ideas for a concrete research agenda that addresses methodologies to evaluate socioeconomic impacts of agribiotechnologies in Brazil. The focus is on issues of food supply and income distribution. The evaluation of economic and social developments related to the process of technology generation and adoption is important because it usually leads to an understanding of a broader sectoral development process, which can be used to design policies and research strategies. The organization, therefore, of a research agenda to identify methodological approaches to evaluate the socioeconomic impacts of biotechnology for agriculture is of major importance, not only for national policymakers but also for international institutions to understand current developments and future prospects of the “new agricultural revolution” or “Bio-Revolution.”

In the mid 1960s, major changes in agricultural development were related to the Green Revolution. This phenomenon was well defined by Mellor (1970) as “the development of new improved varieties whose primary characteristic is that they have a greater response to the application of fertilizer.” Wheat production in Asia during 1969 exceeded the 1960–64 average by 30%, whereas rice exceeded the 1963–67 average by 18%. The yields were roughly double those possible with most of the older, local strains.

If, however, on the one hand, the introduction of high-yielding varieties eased a critical constraint for developing countries related to food production, on the other hand, it did not offer direct solutions for employment and equity problems and, indeed, has probably been destabilizing in that it widened income disparities within and between regions. In addition, soil and water have been degraded by chemical residues because the high-response varieties were adopted with a concomitant rapid growth in fertilizer use.

1 Universidade de São Paulo - U.S.P., Escola Superior de Agicultura Lui de Queiroz, Departmento de Economia c Sociologia Rural, Cz. P.9, Piracicaba, SP, Brazil 13418–900.

Recently, world agriculture has been subject to what looks to be a new agricultural revolution. Among the major factors that have encouraged this new technological revolution are the emerging agribiotechnologies. The major goals of the Bio-Revolution are to raise the quantity and quality of food production, preferably with a high output/input ratio.

Lee and Tank (1989) compared the Green Revolution and the Bio-Revolution with respect to their characteristics and socioeconomic impacts on developing countries. They affirmed that; unlike the Green Revolution, the infusion of biotechnology can stimulate new industries and continuous interactions that can ensure long-run prosperity for the Third World countries. They added that new industries may create new employment opportunities, thus leading to a positive employment impact of the introduction of biotechnology.

Harlander et al. (1991) affirmed that the “new” biotechnology, which has emerged since the early 1970s, expands upon the current ability to improve plants, animals, and microorganisms. It can dramatically improve the productivity and efficiency of food production and processing and expand and extend food and nonfood uses of raw agricultural commodities. Riepe and Martin (1989) have also stated that biotechnology offers great potential to increase farm production and food processing efficiency, lower food costs, enhance food quality and safety, and added the possibility of an increase in international competitiveness.

Others have criticized these new technologies indicating that the future use and impact of biotechnology in the Third World relies on crucial contradictions. Silva (1988) believes that there is a high likelihood that these contradictions will lead to traditional farming becoming increasingly obsolete, a persistent and perhaps increased technological and economic dependence of developing countries on developed countries, and persistent and increasing hunger and poverty, among other negative factors.

The challenge now, therefore, is to benefit from biotechnology and to avoid or at least minimize any potential socioeconomic and environmental costs. For that purpose, it is important not only to understand the current developments but also to understand and recognize what has happened with past technological revolutions in agriculture so that obvious policy mistakes are not repeated.

Socioeconomic Issues and Research

Any technology, including biotechnology, relates to and is developed within a social and economic context. Besides a technical dimension, biotechnology also contains a social dimension, reflected in the goal the process of technology development tries to attain. In the Brazilian agricultural context, biotechnology developments currently promote qualitative characteristics and resistance to natural adverse environmental contexts besides a specific form of integration of agriculture into the agroindustrial system (through the production of food products that are more appropriate to industrial processing).

It is likely, therefore, that its adoption may have an impact on income distribution and food supply, as well as consequences for intersectoral structural relationships and employment. Given that income distribution and food supply are primarily determined by social and natural factors, it is important to ask if the new agricultural research can compensate for any social and natural deficiencies and how this could happen within the current economic situation.

At any point in time, an economy has a structure of output, a level and composition of demand, and an associated set of prices and payments to factors that determine both the distribution of income and the absolute incomes of particular groups. When a reallocation of resources takes place in the economy, it may change the pattern of factor payments in terms of the distribution of incomes and of the employment structure, which can be either “desirable” or “undesirable.” There will always be winners and losers from the change, but attention should be given to those whose current position is economically precarious when developing a new research and/or technological transfer program.

The patterns of income distribution in Brazil are subject to improvements and should be considered when planning an agricultural/food products research program. Table 1 shows some major indicators of inequality and poverty for the income distribution among the working population according to data from the Brazilian Demographic Census of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.

During the 1970s, income inequality persisted, but was accompanied by a reduction in absolute poverty because of a substantial increase in per capita income. The 1980s has been considered a “lost decade” because of a series of external shocks that battered the Brazilian economy to the point that growth was practically at a standstill. Some additional data presented by Hoffmann (1992) indicate that income inequality has worsened throughout this decade such that in 1990, the Gini index increased to 0.607, the percentage of income owned by the poorest 50% of the working population was around 11.9%, whereas the richest 10% owned 48.7% and 5% owned 34.9% of the income. On the production side, the displacement of food crops by export crops as agriculture became increasingly modernized has created food supply problems in the Brazilian economy. Most of the agricultural expansion has occurred on the extensive margin, which means the addition of more land to cultivation, whereas increased productivity contributed little to its growth.

Table 1. Average productivity, inequality of income distribution, and absolute poverty for the working population, Brazil, 1960, 1970, and 1980.





Average productivitya




Median productivitya




Gini index




Participation in total income


Poor (50%)




Richest (10%)




Percentage of poorb




Source: Hoffmann (1992). Basic data source: Demographic census of 1960,1970, and 1980.

a In units of real value equal to the minimum wage of August 1980, using the implicit deflator of the National Accounts for the period 1960–70 and the DIEESE index for the period of 1970–80.

b The poverty line has been interpolated and has a real value equal to the minimum wage of August 1980.

This has been related to the relative slowness in adopting modern inputs such as fertilizers, chemicals, and improved seeds, particularly on staple food crops. Mechanization grew substantially in the 1960s, but it was far behind most developed countries’ standards by the mid 1970s.

According to Goldin and Rezende (1993), for reasons similar to those that explain the displacement of traditional crops by rice and wheat during the Green Revolution, food crops in Brazil have been relatively disadvantaged by technological advances that provided significant yield increases, mostly for nonfood crops, and allowed exportable products, such as soybeans and sugar, to compete more effectively for land and other resources.

Homem de Mello (1988) has added that inherent high levels of risk; very unstable profit perspectives, which have been aggravated by favourable tendencies of international prices; and the exchange rate levels led to a relatively weak performance in the staple food sector. Table 2 shows the evolution of per capita production of some major product aggregates such as: (a)domestic products: rice, maize, beans, potatoes, and cassava; (b) exportable products (I) (excluding coffee): cotton, peanuts, cocoa, tobacco, oranges, and soybeans; (c) exportable products (II): including coffee; (d) sugarcane, and (e) livestock products: beef, pork poultry, milk, and eggs.

Table 2. Index of per capita production. Domestic products, exportables, sugarcane, and livestock products, Brazil, 1977/86 (percentage).








































































Annual average











Source: Homem de Mello (1985). Prioridade Agrícola: Sucesso ou Fracasso?, São Paulo, Editora Pioneira, p. 14.

It is evident that domestic products have declined in per capita terms on a yearly basis (-1.35%), whereas livestock production stagnated. Exportable products had an yearly growth rate of 2.48% and 1.98% for group I (excluding coffee) and group II (including coffee), respectively, whereas the greatest increase was for sugarcane.

The pattern of agricultural growth has been considered a source of socioeconomic problems, particularly because of the relative decline in the supply of domestic food products. Because agribiotechnologies have potential to improve the productivity and efficiency of food production, a research program for Brazil should motivate researchers to direct their work toward staple food products.

Quantitative tests conducted by Hoffmann (1992) indicated that there is a clear, positive relation between the inflation rate and measures of income inequality among households and among the working population. Increases in food prices because of supply problems have often been related to price acceleration, therefore, a research plan related to agribiotechnology to augment food production and stabilize its supply could also reduce income inequalities.

It is also important to emphasize that agriculture research, like any type of technological research, tends to be responsive to specific market stimuli. This has been explained by Pastore (1984) in two different ways that are based on market mechanisms. First, relative prices tend to act as a signal of what is rewarding and what is useless to produce. Second, the perception of these advantages tends to encourage the formation of interest groups that lobby public agencies, including the research apparatus. Agricultural research is also responsive to the nature of the product in three interrelated ways: research tends to be more effective, in so far as the crop can be concentrated in a few good areas; research is more responsive to the extent that the crop can be industrialized; and effectiveness is facilitated to the extent that technology transfer is feasible. These three factors interact with the previous ones and were used by Pastore (1984) to make an apparently sound argument that they have biased production toward increased exportables instead of staple food products in Brazil.

The importance of planning agricultural research is evident within the production context. Take, for example, the first indicator that research tends to be more effective in so far as the crop can be concentrated on a few good areas. In Brazil, export products have been cultivated in concentrated areas, and staple foods are extremely dispersed. Even though export products, particularly coffee, sugarcane, and cotton have moved from region to region throughout the country’s history, they have moved in blocks (Pastore 1984). It is very difficult, however, to characterize a particular region as being typical for beans, rice, or corn. This has facilitated the interaction between coffee, sugarcane, and cotton farmers and agricultural researchers, increasing the research output toward these products at the expense of programs directed to food products.

In addition, isolation in training and lack of participation in the international community has aggravated the difficulties of finding solutions for dispersed and nonindustrialized products like rice and beans in Brazil. Even though developing countries tend to have poor agricultural research systems, therefore, these are seldom homogeneously inefficient. In general, the subsystems related to exportables are considerably more efficient. In fact, this corresponds to the Brazilian reality, where agricultural research and production have been mostly directed to handle balance-of-payment problems rather than persistent malnutrition in the last few decades.


Indications that policy choices related to the economic context have determined the basic guidelines of agricultural technological planning programs in Brazil have been presented. In addition, there seems to be evidence that the agricultural research programs applied throughout the last few decades had negative impacts upon income distribution and food supply (Pastore 1984; Homem de Mello 1985).

Several studies have indicated, however, that the Bio-Revolution will have a substantial (and possibly positive) impact on the agricultural sector within the Brazilian economy (Salles 1986; Silveira 1986; Kageyama et al. 1993; Possas 1994). In fact, in Brazil, as in most of the Latin American countries, biotechnology has been most successfully applied in agriculture. This is because of the greater importance of agricultural research per se, compared to the current research developments of other sectors, such as pharmacy, processed foods, chemicals, etc. (Jaffe 1991; Possas 1994).

It is important, therefore, to ensure that the impact studies of agribiotechnologies are done correctly and in a timely manner, because the type of impacts that the new technologies are expected to have can change current, “undesirable” aspects related to food supply and income inequality. Efforts must be directed to identify potential negative impacts before they become institutionalized, allowing possible adjustments. Potential positive impacts, however, must be enhanced by conducting an adequate research plan. Some general questions were selected to develop a research agenda of methodological approaches to assess the socioeconomic impacts of agribiotechnologies in Brazil, particularly those related to food supply and income distribution:

• How will these new technologies be absorbed, translated, and interpreted by the public and private agents responsible for their development and extension?

• Will policymakers and society be willing to use the new technology to change some of the current tendencies of agricultural growth or will these be maintained?

• More specifically, is there any concern about making agricultural research a priority for public investment and for solving income inequality and food supply problems in Brazil?

• If there are prospects to introduce changes, will the adoption of agribiotechnologies cause a better income distribution within agriculture and among agriculture and the industrial and service sectors of the Brazilian economy? Is there a need for complementary policies? Should these come through price support?

• As most agribiotechnologies are generated by the private sector, will the high value added result in such a high cost for first adopters that income distribution is worsened? If that is the case, should the government intervene?

• Will technological dependency of developing countries increase, because developed countries hold up the necessary technology? Will this be further aggravated because biotechonological products are subject to rigid control, require large investments, and, as such, have been produced in a market with some degree of oligopoly?

• Are policymakers more concerned with the adoption of the technologies and impacts on productivity, or with the potential socioeconomic impacts?

• Considering the economic horizon, what can really be expected from an agribiotechnological, policy-induced adoption program in a short-term perspective vs a long-term (20 years) perspective?

• What are the current institutional constraints that work against biotechnology having an effective impact in the agricultural sector?

Some of these aspects can be evaluated from a broader perspective, focusing the results in terms of structural changes at an intersectoral level. Others would require a narrower assessment that could focus on intrasectoral agricultural changes. A third dimension includes those questions directed at an evaluation of the socioeconomic issues as a study case, related to a particular product of a certain region.

Methodological Approaches

What the methodological approaches have in common is that they are different forms that can be used to compare the prevailing situation in a country’s economy before the adoption of a technological package with the situation likely to exist 1–3 years after its implementation. A comparison of these two situations indicates the most likely net impact of the technological packages on the future socioeconomic conditions.

Qualitative Approach: A Technological Assessment Model

Even though this type of research does not have a well-defined methodological pattern, it is possible to identify some procedures that are usually followed (House et al. 1979; Dierkes 1987). For example, all technological assessments are based on the construction of different scenarios within a future socioeconomic context. The scenarios can be expanded using different methods, such as Delphi, technical analysis, etc. The impacts are then evaluated comparing the results of adopting alternative technological strategies. In the current research, a process of policy formulation design can be used. The process must result in policies that are both effective and implementable. At the same time, it must be considered that the policies are usually developed in a very short period of time. In this sense, the process has to be built on what is already known, such as:

(a) Identifying, acquiring, and analyzing past work on technological innovation and productivity improvement. This should lead to a definition of targets, which should be based on the values and conditions of each region being studied. Some information related to employment, consumer and producer’s price levels, and use of natural resources could be included.

(b) Description of the relevant technologies. The required data would be related to technical production data, a description of the current level of technological development, and an identification of technical, social, and economic barriers to make the technology effective. These could also be found on issue papers developed on important aspects of technological innovation and productivity.

(c) Development of a current picture of the status quo of the society, based on the interaction among society needs and desires and technological development. Factors such as average purchasing power of the population, their real and potential behaviour, besides their needs and values should be described.

(d) Identification of the affected areas. This could be used to identify the areas that will suffer positive or negative impacts with the introduction of the technology.

(e) Preparation of a preliminary analysis of the effects. This consists of the identification and description of short- and long-run effects on individual areas using quantitative aspects.

(f) Identify possible options for action. This step is based on the characteristics collected at the previous steps besides planning, arranging, and convening a meeting with experts to identify problems and opportunities for improving technological innovation and productivity. This could indicate programs that should maximize positive aspects of the technology and minimize the negative aspects.

(g) Planning, arranging, and conducting visits to places where technological innovation and productivity are managed to achieve notable successes.

(h) Complete the analysis of the effects. The final step to evaluate the technology is to review and adapt the conclusions obtained at (e), using information collected at (f) and (g). The conclusions, with respect to whether or not the technology is appropriate, involve subjective values.

Working with the results of the activities already described, the formulation of a set of candidate policies is next. An evaluation of the policy is based on subjective values about advantages and disadvantages of the expected outcomes for the society as a whole and for particular groups of the society. Finally, the policies are chosen and recommended based on their capability of reducing the undesirable impacts and enhancing desirable ones. The policies can be further grouped in three categories:

• Those that would stimulate the creation of innovations,

• Those that would facilitate the diffusion of innovations, and

• Those that would encourage the implementation of innovations.

This approach can also be conducted using primary data collection and analysis about the current status quo of different areas or regions where the technology has been adopted, or for which it is being directed, instead of comparing different hypothetical scenarios. The advantage of these qualitative approaches is that they can be applied to most of the questions presented for the study. The major disadvantage is that the outcome is based on subjective values.

Quantitative Approaches

It is important to indicate that the quantitative approaches presented in this section have a high potential to be complements to the qualitative approach. The two types of quantitative approaches that could be used to evaluate socioeconomic impacts of biotechnology in Brazil are:

• Estimation of a simple structural model including demand and supply equations, and

• An input-output model to evaluate intersectoral interactions.

The first is a quantitative analysis involving econometric simulation procedures that can be used to quantify the effects of an increase in productivity upon prices and quantity demanded and supplied for specific products and regions. A similar type of analysis was used in a study developed by Marks et al. (1991), “Repercusiones de la Biotecnologia en el Sector Agropecuario de los Paises de América Latina y el Caribe. Una Evaluacion Preliminar.”

The basic lines of this work could be adapted and applied to the Brazilian context and more likely to specific markets. In the study conducted by Marks et al. (1991), the adoption rate of the new technology was based on “educated guesses.” An innovative aspect that could be introduced in this type of study is the consideration of different scenarios based on economic theory to simulate technology adoption in agricultural industries. These scenarios should express different farmers’ economic behaviour, which is primarily based on economic theory developments such as:

• Assuming that a technological change leads to a reduction in costs followed by increased output and lower prices. The expanded output will lead to an extended demand for inputs used in the production process, which will, in turn, increase input prices and production costs. The final result in terms of income depends on the various product and input supply and demand elasticises. When technological change leads to the production of a given amount of a product at a lower cost and assuming that producers will maintain their previous level of output, it is implicitly assumed that producers will maintain their previous level of output as the technological change caused a parallel shift in their total cost curve where the marginal cost is kept at its previous level.

This type of quantitative analysis could be conducted as a case study using field data to capture the results of primary impacts of the technology, such as increases in production from an improved plant. Secondary and tertiary effects would be forecasted. The secondary effects can be represented, for example, by the resulting decline in the product price and that of substitutes. Tertiary impacts reflect, for example, possible income decline for those not able to make full use of the new technology (as in the first case).

Case studies for cotton and papaya, for example, could be conducted for Brazilian agriculture as there is an ongoing process for their agribiotech transfer coordinated by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA). Cotton is a lead recipient of chemical pesticides that may have significant environmental benefits if handled properly. Papaya, however, is severely affected by ring spot virus (PRSV) for which genetically engineered resistance is a very effective control agent. In addition, both cotton and papaya are products that have commercial/export and small-scale farmer components that allow for comparisons of the technology adoption impact effects in each of the sectors.

The advantages of the quantitative approach is that the identification of rural residents who gain and lose from the introduction of a new technology can be more objective. The results could be used more effectively to identify means of assisting the disadvantaged by the innovations and enhance its benefits. The disadvantages are that research requires field data collection and the evaluation of the impacts would be restricted to some products or regions.

A second type of quantitative approach is the input-output model approach that could be used to evaluate intersectoral interactions between and among agriculture. This type of analysis has been done by Lee and Tank (1989), simulating interindustry interactions related to agriculture.

The behaviour specification of the model is useful to establish important linkages in the economy and can indicate how the economy operates, particularly with respect to demand shocks. Lee and Tank’s results indicated that if the exogenous demand for output is stimulated, technical input coefficients fall and gross output in the agricultural sector also falls. As a consequence, there was a negative impact upon the national gross output.

There are several limitations, however, for the application of this type of methodology in the Brazilian context. An important restriction is that the last input-output matrix for the Brazilian economy was published in 1980, and the agricultural sectoral is represented in a very aggregated form. In addition, this type of analysis is demand driven and ignores issues of resource allocation, productivity, and factor utilization triggered by changes in relative prices.


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Goldin, I.; Gervasio, Rezende. 1993 A agricultura Brasileira na Década de 80: Crescimento numa economía cm crise, IPEA, Série IPEA, 138, Rio de Janeiro, BR. 119 p.

Harlander, S.K.; BeMiller, J.N.; Stecnson, L. 1991. Impact of biotechnology on food and nonfood uses of agricultural products. Agricultural biotechnology: Issues and choices, Department of Food Science and Nutrition, University of Minnesota, M, USA. pp. 41–52.

Hoffmann, R. 1992. Desigualdade e pobreza no Brasil no período 1979–90. Anais do XIV Encontró Brasileiro de Econometria, Campos de Jordao, SP, BR. pp. 311–336, Dez.

Homem de Mello, F. 1985. Prioridade agrícola: Sucesso ou fracasso? Sao Paulo, Editora Pioneira, SP, BR.

——1988. Um diagnóstico Sobre Produção e abastecimento alimentar no Brasil. Seminario Internacional de Política Agrícola, SP, BR. Outubro.

House, R.W.; Kimzey, C.H.; Nash, T. 1979. On developing policies to improve technological innovation and productivity in the United States. IEEE Transactions on Systems, Man, and Cybernetics, SMC-9(9), 515–523, September.

Jaffé, W.R. 1991. La evaluación de impacto de las biotecnologías como instrumento de políticas. In Jaffé, W.R., Análisis de impacto de las biotecnologías en la agricultura: Aspectos conceptuales y metodológicos. Miscellaneous Publications Series, IICA, pp. 9–17.

Kageyama, A.; Mello, M.T.L.; Salles Fo, S.L.M. 1993. Biotecnologia e propriedade intelectual: Novos cultivares. IPEA/PNUD, BR, Estudos de Política Agrícola, 4, 170 p., Dez.

Lee, H.H.; Tank, F.E. 1989. The socioeconomic impact of agricultural biotechnology on less developed countries. Working Paper of World Employment Programme Research, International Labour Office, Geneva, Switzerland, 41 pp.

Marks, L.A.; Klien, K.K.; Kerr, W.A. 1991. Efectos economicos de la biotecnologia estudio de caso: La industria Mexicana de la papa. In: Jaffé, W.R., Analisis de impacto de las biotecnologias en la agricultura: Aspectos conceptuales y metodologicos. Miscellaneous Publications Series, IICA, pp. 129–184.

Mellor, J.W. 1970. Implications of the Green Revolution for economic growth. American Journal of Agricultural Economics, 52(5), 719–722.

Pastore, J. 1984. Brazilian agricultural research. In Yeganiantz, L., Brazilian agriculture and agricultural research, EMBRAPA, Brasilia, BR. pp. 99–115.

Possas, M.L.; Salles Fo, S.L.M.; de Mello, A.L.A 1994. O processo de regulamentação da biotecnologia: As inovações na agricultura e na produção agroalimentar. Estudos de Política Agrícola, Documento de Trabalho 16, IPEA/PNUD, BR. 129 p.

Programa Nacional de Melhoramento da Cana de Açúcar (PLANALSUCAR). 1983. Sumário executivo do projeto “Previsão e análise Tecnológica do Proálcool,” IA-FEA-USP, SP, BR.

Riepe, J.R.;Martin, M.A. 1989. Biotecnologia: Algunas repercussions socio-economicas. Investigacion Agraria, Economia, Department of Agricultural Economics of Purdue University, USA, 4(1), 69–79.

Salles Fo., S.L.M. 1986. Fundamentos para um programa de biotecnologia na Área alimentar. Caderno de Difusão Tecnológica, Brasilia, 3(3), 379–405, Set/Dez.

Silva, J. 1988. The contradictions of the biorevolution for the development of agriculture in the Third World: Biotechnology and capitalist interest. Agriculture and Human Values, 5(3), 61–70.

Silveira, J.; Maria, F.J. da. 1986. O desenvolvimento das biotecnologias e a avaliação de seus impactos económicos. Caderno de Difusão Tecnológica, Brasilia, 3(3), 407–418, Sct/Dez.

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Ex-Ante Evaluation of Potential Economic Impact
of Use of rbST on Canadian Dairy Herds:
An Analytical Approach

Max Colwell1


In April 1994, a parliamentary committee issued a report following hearings on rbST (the synthetic growth hormone somatotropin) and the receipt of public briefs. On 17 August 1994, the federal government tabled its response to the committee’s report. The government response included a commitment from the manufacturers of rbST for a one-year voluntary delay on the use and sale of rbST in Canada. The government accepted that the period of the moratorium be used to review in greater detail the impact of synthetic rbST on several topics including costs and benefits for the Canadian dairy industry. This review was tasked to staff in Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC). The following section of this paper relates to the methodological aspects of that review and the final section summarizes the results of the review.


The following paragraphs outline the overall structure of the review, and the methodology applied for each component. The review of costs and benefits was organized in the following five sections:

Part A

Aggregate impact of selected rbST adoption scenarios on the production, consumption and prices of dairy products, as well as on farm cash receipts, expenses, net farm incomes and quota values.

1Chief, Farm Analysis, Farm Economics Division, Policy Branch, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, 2200 Walkley Rd, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1A 0C5

Part B

An analysis of the potential impact of rbST on the Canadian milk supply management system.

Part C

An assessment of the range of financial impacts that individual Canadian milk producers could expect to experience with rbST adoption.

Part D

The fourth section also focused on the farm level; it looked, within a competitiveness perspective, at the impact of nonadoption of rbST in Canada with the dairy industry in the United States where rbST is available.

Part E

Finally, an assessment of the potential implications of the introduction of rbST for the dairy processing industry in Canada was provided. This part focused on an analysis of dual collection systems for milk from rbST-treated and nontreated herds.

It is important to note that the analysis focuses exclusively on the potential impacts of rbST on the Canadian dairy industry. All other factors are held constant. In particular it is assumed that current dairy policy continues unchanged for the duration of the rbST adoption period. The analysis undertaken for parts a, b, and d made substantial use of AAFC Policy Branch’s quantitative economic modeling capability to assess the impacts of selected scenarios.

The following three scenarios corresponding to a low, medium, and high impact of rbST adoption under a single delivery system have been examined. The rbST adoption scenarios and assumptions used in the analysis were either agreed to or specified by the Task Force.

Assumptions for Analysis of rbST Impacts

Adoption scenario




Maximum adoption rate (% producers adopting)




Percentage of cows treated in adopting herds




Days of treatment




Yield increase (litres/treated cow/day)




Two consumer demand scenarios were examined — no consumer reaction to rbST and an adverse demand reaction where fluid milk consumption declines by 3% because of consumers’ concerns about rbST-treated milk. Finally, it was assumed that the lower production costs at the farm level arising from the adoption of rbST were passed through into milk and dairy product prices at the producer, wholesale, and retail levels.

Methodology for Part A

The aggregate analysis involved an application of the Branch’s econometric model of Canadian agriculture called FARM. FARM is used for policy analysis and in the production of Agriculture Canada’s Medium Term Outlook. The dairy component of FARM predicts prices, production, consumption, and trade of major fluid and industrial dairy products in Canada. It also calculates farm cash receipts from dairy and makes an estimate of quota values. The model currently runs out to 2001.

In this review, the FARM model of Canadian agriculture was used to examine the aggregate impacts, under a single delivery system, of selected rbST adoption scenarios over the period 1995 to 2000 on:

• Production, consumption, and prices of dairy products at the farm and consumer level;

• Farm cash receipts, farm expenses, profitability margin, and milk production quota values; and

• The Canadian beef market.

Methodology for Part B

The Canadian industrial milk target price is based in part on a cost of milk production formula. The cost of milk production (COP) is developed from empirical dairy farm data sets covering four Canadian provinces, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Ontario, and Quebec. The COPs are weighted using their corresponding share of the national industrial milk quota. Each producer has quotas that govern the quantity of milk going to the fluid and industrial milk markets, respectively.

This analysis assessed the potential, long-term impact of the three rbST scenarios on the national COP, based on Quebec and Ontario aggregated results using the 1992–1993 provincial allocation of the national industrial milk quota. Each scenario was evaluated (for impact on cost of milk production, overquota production, and quota value) under the following two possible herd management strategies that would be implemented by the individual producer:

• The case where the producer decides to keep the same level of milk production. In this strategy, the producer ships the same quantity of milk after having adopted rbST. The herd size, therefore, has been reduced; and,

• The case where the producer decides to increase the level of production. In this strategy, the producer ships a greater volume of milk after having adopted rbST, the extra quantity of milk being equivalent to the amount of rbST response. Consequently, the producer keeps the herd size the same and purchases quota for the additional production.

Methodology for Part C

An assessment of the range of financial impacts that individual Canadian milk producers could expect to experience with rbST adoption was undertaken using benchmark or representative farms. These benchmark farms were developed using actual data from a statistically valid sample (130 farms) of Ontario dairy farms. The approach used was initially to select a base case situation and analyze the revenue, expense, and income implications of one rbST impact scenario for that benchmark farm. Subsequently, the impact of changes in the following five factors on revenue, expense, and income were evaluated:

(a) rbST Impact

As noted earlier, low-, medium-, and high-impact levels have been defined. The medium impact was included as part of the base case analysis, whereas the low- and high-impact levels were subsequently analyzed.

(b) Management Performance Before Adoption of rbST

Low-, medium-, and high-management levels were defined with the medium level being included in the base case farm specification. Net farm income/hL, a measure of profitability, was used to sort the farm sample into 10 profitability groups. The base case benchmark farm was developed from data for those farms with net farm incomes/hL between the 41st and 50th percentiles of the sample. The high- and low-management benchmark farms were drawn from the 11th to 20th percentile range and the 81st to 90th percentile range, respectively. The impacts of the medium rbST impact on high- and low-management farms were assessed separately.

(c) Quota Adaptation Strategy

The base case analysis assumed that the producer maintained herd size and acquired extra quota. The subsequent analysis examines the impact of three adjustment possibilities on a base case farm where the producer chooses to maintain the pre-rbST adoption quota level and reduce herd size.

(d) Herd Size

The base case looked at a 40-cow herd with impacts for farms having smaller (30-cow) or larger (62-cow) herds being analyzed for the medium rbST impact.

(d) Consumer Reaction to rbST

The base case analysis assumes that there is no change in consumer demand. This is the same base case situation as is analyzed in the market-level analysis. The sensitivity analysis estimates the farm-level impact if the aggregate impacts of a 3% reduction in consumer demand for fluid milk were to be experienced by this specific base case producer.

Methodology for Part D

The fourth section looked at the impact of nonadoption of rbST in Canada within a competitiveness perspective with the dairy industry in the United States where rbST is available. The small-, medium-, and large-scale Ontario benchmark farms before rbST adoption were compared with dairy farms of similar size in New York State. The latter farms were assumed to adopt one of the three rbST impact scenarios used in the rest of this review.

Methodology for Part E

To provide an assessment of the potential implications of the introduction of rbST for the dairy processing industry in Canada, information was obtained in three main areas. First, inquiries were made concerning the experience of U.S. processors since the start of rbST use there in January 1994. Second, information was obtained on how kosher milk operations are currently conducted in Canada. Third, the feasibility of operating a dual processing system in Canada was addressed.


Effects of rbST on the Canadian Dairy Industry

The effect that rbST has on the dairy sector and on dairy farmers as a whole depends to a large extent on how much of the cost savings arising from the adoption of rbST by dairy farmers are passed through to consumers. If the cost savings are completely passed through, consumers will gain and producers and processors could be slightly negatively affected on average.

To the extent that farmers, processors, or retailers can avoid passing through some of the cost savings, consumers will gain less and the group able to retain the rbST benefits will gain. Consumer gains could also be dampened if a substantial dual milk market evolves for rbST and non-rbST milk where overall collection or processing costs are increased. If the non-rbST milk product market is relatively small, these costs could be higher for rbST-free products with little effect on the processing and distribution costs of products that might use rbST milk.

If the cost savings are reflected in milk prices to processors and in dairy product prices at the consumer level, the following general effects can be expected (as compared to a no rbST scenario):

• Higher production of milk from a smaller dairy herd;

• Lower milk and dairy product prices;

• Higher consumption of dairy products;

• Little change in dairy farm cash receipts, farm expenses and farm income at an aggregate level; and

• Little change in quota values in the long-term.

An adverse consumer reaction would decrease farm profitability at the aggregate level. Under the assumptions used in this analysis, the reduction in farm sector profitability would be about 2.4%. Overall, the effects are phased in over several years, and the percentage changes in variables are at most 3–4%, and often less than 1%.

Implications for the Canadian Milk Supply Management System

The adoption of rbST in Canada would have a very modest impact on the cost of production (COP) calculations used to determine the target price for

2 This section of the paper is excerpted directly from the Executive Summary of the rbST task force report of May 1995.

industrial milk, and only if there is a very high number of rbST adopting producers with the vast majority of them choosing to expand their production. Over time, the rbST impacts on the COP calculations will be transferred to the industrial milk target price, slowing down price increases to the benefit of consumers.

With no adverse demand reaction by consumers, the utilization of rbST by dairy producers should not increase the level of overquota production. On the contrary, rbST will be one more tool in producers’ hands to help them in reaching their production targets.

A 3% decline in fluid milk consumption, although of major concern to the industry, does not represent a large risk in terms of overquota production, unless it coincides with the end of the implementation period of the recent WTO agreement under which no more than 2.64Mkg of subsidized butter exports by Canada will be allowed.

Under a medium adoption scenario, where rbST-adopting producers choose to purchase quota to cover their increased milk production, the quantity of quota demanded could increase by 21% during the adoption period, compared to the current level of transactions. Toward the end of the adoption period, however, as the rbST impact on COP calculations is transferred to the target price, producer milk prices will fall, other things equal. By itself, this will reduce the expected returns from quota purchases, causing downward pressure on quota values.

Farm-Level Economic Impacts

The base case benchmark farm used in the farm level analysis of rbST adoption has 40 dairy cows with 56% of the milk produced being sold for industrial use. The net farm income prior to rbST adoption is $39,491.

In a situation where consumer demand does not change due to rbST, the base case producer who maintains herd size and acquires additional quota could expect net farm income (before funding costs of extra quota) to rise to $40,258, $41,286, and $42,328 for the low-, medium-, and high-impact scenarios, respectively. By contrast, those producers who choose not to use rbST on their herds could expect net farm income to decline to $39,002, $37,835, and $36,478, respectively, under the low-, medium-, and high-adoption scenarios; they will experience lower prices for their milk with no offsetting cost reductions.

Some producers who adopt rbST may choose to maintain quota level and reduce the herd size. The impact on net farm income at the farm level is highly dependent on the use of land, labour, buildings, and capital no longer required in the smaller dairy herd. The base farm adopting rbST at the medium-impact level could reduce herd size by 10% and produce the same level of milk. The resulting net farm income, however, would be below that of the pre-rbST adoption situation unless the freed up resources were used in an alternate enterprise, e.g., grain corn production.

Adverse consumer reaction to rbST resulting in a 3% drop in fluid milk consumption has a relatively minor impact on net farm income, reducing it from $41,286 to $40,282 for the base farm under the medium rbST impact.

Impact of farm management performance. Benchmark farms selected on the basis of actual profitability before the introduction of rbST were examined. The profitability before introduction of rbST had a much larger influence on net farm income than did the marginal income effect of rbST adoption.

Producers, however, with average to high profitability before rbST adoption who could achieve a high rbST impact could well be in a substantially better position to bid for quota than a producer with low profitability before rbST adoption.

Impact of herd size. The data on profitability (margin/hL) do not support the contention that larger herds and better profitability are synonymous and directly related. The marginal costs/hL of producing milk from rbST-treated cows are quite similar for the three herd sizes analyzed in this study.

It is unlikely that the use of rbST on larger herds will automatically give them a competitive advantage compared to the operator of a smaller herd who can obtain a similar rbST response.

Number of dairy farms. The size of the national dairy herd is expected to decline if rbST is adopted in Canada. The resulting impact on the number of dairy farms will reflect the proportion of adopters who choose to maintain quota levels and reduce herd size. It is probable that the adoption of rbST will result in a slight incremental decline in the number of dairy farms.

U.S. – Canada Competitiveness

Based on a comparison of the costs of producing milk in Ontario and New York State, New York dairy farmers are in a comfortable position to compete with their Ontario counterparts with or without rbST. Costs of production per hectolitre at 3.6kg of butter fat per hL in New York before rbST adoption are $22.07, $19.69, and $18.71 lower than in Ontario for dairy herds of less than 40 cows, 40–54 cows, and 55–69 cows, respectively.

Three reasons account for these differences:

• The existence of milk quota systems in Ontario,

• Higher yields per cow in New York, and

• Differences in terms of interest on equity capital.

These factors account for about 30, 40, and 20% of the cost difference, respectively, in a 40–50 cow herd.

Under a management strategy where producers increase production by an amount equivalent to the rbST response, dairy farms in New York show a decrease in terms of COP per hectolitre compared to the situation where rbST is not used. With adoption of rbST, the New York farms improve their competitive position by about 3%. Thus the COP gap between New York and Ontario dairy farms widens under a scenario where rbST is used in New York but not in Ontario.

Implications for the Dairy Processing Industry

The U.S. experience indicates that additional costs can be incurred in meeting consumer demands for milk from non-rbST-treated herds, once rbST has been authorized as generally available for use. These additional costs can be incurred at all stages of industry operations, although they appear to be associated with higher prices of up to 10% for rbST-free fluid milk at the U.S. retail level at the present time.

The existing system of kosher milk production in Canada is similarly associated with higher costs and prices, in the process of providing a stream of products separate from those of the Canadian dairy industry in general. In certain cases, such higher costs and prices appear relatively more substantial. The relatively small size of these operations, however, suggests they may not be the most appropriate indicator for the far greater range of considerations and problems that could apply in the case of rbST.

Based on information obtained from Canadian processing industry representatives, the establishment of a more broadly based dual production system in Canada would be expensive. Major problems could be encountered in a wide range of critical processing plant operations, the cost and institutional arrangements affecting raw milk supplies, and at the retail distribution level.

The information on dual system costs based on U.S. experience to date would appear to diverge somewhat from that suggested by Canadian processor representatives. One reason for this divergence could be that, whereas U.S. processors obtain their milk supplies directly from producers, their Canadian counterparts must access their milk through the milk marketing boards. It would appear that a movement toward a dual production system would require a number of important modifications to the institutional arrangements by which raw milk supplies are made available to Canadian dairy industry processing operations at the present time.

This assessment of processor implications indicates the higher costs and prices that could be associated with the supply of rbST-free products compared with rbST products, under circumstances where rbST is available for use. It does not estimate the effect of using or not using rbST in Canada on the international competitiveness of the Canadian milk processing and distribution industries.

Integrating Impact Assessment Data
into Decision-Making

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Improving Biotechnology Research Decision-Making
with Better Procedures and Information

C. Chan-Halbrendt, J.I. Cohen, W. Janssen, and T. Braunschweig1


Technological advances serve to meet national goals and objectives. But, because scientific and technological development brings with it a shift in the pattern and distribution of wealth and health, there are certain societal risks to end users, consumers, and the environment (Sinclair 1971/1972). Thus, it is vital that the technology choice be assessed in terms of potential impacts.

Biotechnology holds promise for millions of people, particularly in developing countries (Cohen 1994). Biotechnology could enhance agricultural productivity and quality with the same quantity of inputs or possibly even a reduction. But, some of the new biotechnology developments2 require huge investments and have greater social and economic risks due to the use of novel techniques such as genetic engineering. As a result, superior technology does not necessarily translate into successful commercial products because of increasing public scrutiny. The uncertainty in the technological innovation process underscores the need for careful assessment of biotechnology research opportunities.

Improved information and improved procedures can assist biotechnology decision-making by identifying present and future food supply and demand situations, and how they will be affected by new technology; by identifying to what extent research contributes to national goals and objectives; by establishing future goals and priorities; by predicting the likely impacts of alternative policies; and by reducing research management risks.

The goal of this paper is to highlight the importance of systematic procedures and information collection in decision-making for biotechnology. To achieve the goal, this paper will first delineate the different levels of decision-making at issue. It will then outline a decision-making procedure and, finally, will

1Intermediary Biotechnology Service (IBS)/International Service for National Agricultural Research (ISNAR), Laan van Nieuw Oost 133, 2593 BM, The Hague, The Netherlands.

2Biotechnology that involves genetic modification in either the food production process or the final product or both.

present current Intermediary Biotechnology Service (IBS) activities that contribute vital information to enhance strategic thinking and decisions of National Agricultural Research Systems (NARs) on biotechnology.

Levels of Decision-Making

There are three different levels of decision-making affecting biotechnology research. At each level, a different set of issues needs to be answered. The three levels are: individual scientific research projects, national biotechnology policy and planning, and the international technology and competitive environment (Busch 1994).

Scientific Project Level

It is crucial to understand the circumstances that lead to particular research decisions at the scientific project level. Decisions may be driven by a researcher’s own motivations or capability, by the reward system of the research organization, by exogenous factors such as high probability of economic success, or by some combination of these factors. Biotechnology decisions need to consider developments that go far beyond the project. The decision to develop a transgenic plant versus a transgenic animal, although equally feasible, would face very different reactions by the public. Thus, knowledge of public perception is vital to the success of the project.

Users/Consumers Even though most initial research decisions are based on technical feasibility, demand studies for biotechnologically-derived products must be conducted. With increased accountability for research, managers need information on market potential and chances of nonacceptance. At the scientific project level, therefore, research on willingness to consume, adopt, and pay for potential products has to be conducted. User/consumer-related research is routinely conducted by the private sector because their tolerance for product failure is much lower.

In times of tight resources, the public sector research system should also be conducting demand studies (e.g., contingent valuation) to assist in prioritizing the research agenda and to focus on areas that give the greatest return to stakeholders. For export products, demand studies should be assessed for those export markets. Different cultures and taste preferences influence the value one places on goods and services. It is essential to have market intelligence on these consumption and purchasing decisions to have an advantage in technology design and afterwards in pricing strategies.

Benefit/Cost Other important information concerns the benefit/cost ratios of various biotechnologies. If estimations are conducted with appropriate methodologies, they will be very useful for guiding biotechnology research decisions.

National Policy and Planning Level

Many technology decisions are made at the national level by state agencies that finance research (Busch 1994). The decisions are heavily weighted toward how well the financed technologies contribute to national goals and objectives. Although national goals and objectives are country- and time-specific there are surprisingly similarities across countries. Often they include increasing economic growth, improving income distribution and equity, improving environmental conditions, and ensuring adequate food supply.

To evaluate economic growth, socioeconomic research will evaluate the potential for income generation and employment opportunities. For biotechnology in particular the prospects for facilitating higher productivity and better quality in nontraditional commodities are promising.

There are a number of income-distribution issues of importance in considering biotechnology research. One is the impact on the current structure of the industry, especially concerning size of exploitations and employment. Other issues related to equity are gender, size and quality of farm resources, region, staple versus cash crop, etc.

International Level

At the international level, research decisions concern external collaboration and potential foreign markets. As the trend toward freer international trade continues, countries will have to be more technologically competitive and less reliant on domestic and trade intervention policies. Biotechnology could play a major role in helping countries to become competitive. Already, biotechnology is rapidly creating changes in world trading patterns (Braunschweig and Gotsch 1995).

The potential upheaval caused by biotechnology makes it imperative for countries to monitor the world market closely. Selecting the types of information to be gathered, however, is a challenge. Countries that are export-oriented need information on public acceptance of biotechnology products with modified genetic construct in key export markets. Information of this nature is gaining importance as public acceptance is playing an increasing role in defining feasible technological innovations. Because information is so easily transmitted, we must not overlook the power of external influence on local users and consumers even though countries differ in culture and economic opportunities.

Actions of private research organizations, such as multinational enterprises, will have an impact on national goals and objectives. Technologies that require more commercial inputs and less labour, for example (such as herbicide-resistant crops), have a direct impact on the income distribution of a country. Documenting biotechnology developments in other countries could assist in the selection of the most appropriate technologies to adopt or to develop. Determining whether or when to include biotechnology in national research programs requires careful consideration. Global intelligence information can improve decisions. Because economic competition is inherently based on the exploitation of advantages over competitors, information is an essential input to develop strategies for self-preservation. Without new technologies and good information the prospects for economic returns on development investments in any country are grim.

Decision-Making Procedure for
Biotechnology Research

Effective decision-making requires adequate strategies, such as the organization of a fruitful and realistic dialogue between experts, politicians, and affected citizens, and using the most appropriate methodologies for technological assessments (Paschen and Gressen 1974). The final outcome of any research priority-setting exercise is to agree on the research agenda. Socioeconomic research can help to create an information base for stakeholders to form their judgements systematically on technological choices. Furthermore, to make effective decisions, wide participation is essential.

The Intermediary Biotechnology Service (IBS) approaches the decisionmaking process for biotechnology in the context of the objectives established for national agricultural research. As such, biotechnology is viewed as an enabling tool that could better assist in meeting those goals and objectives. Determining strategies, priorities, and policies relevant to biotechnology, therefore, relies on a firm understanding of national goals and objectives, as well as the information and technical needs specific to biotechnology. Coupling this information with the relevant socioeconomic analyses and considerations is then accomplished through the following six steps.

Procedure for Integrating Impact Assessment
into the Decision-Making Process

Step 1. Establish Goals and Objectives In this step, the goals and objectives are established for the project, country, or institution(s) considering biotechnology research. People involved in this step are decision-makers and stakeholders. Some priority setting training might be needed in this step. Examples of the goals that may be set in this step are economic growth or the need to assist resource-poor farmers.

Step 2. Defining Research Objectives In this step, the research objectives need to be defined according to the goals and objectives established in Step 1. There are no set limits for what should or should not be included in the decisions, however, the scope of enquiry is limited (aside from researchers’ productivity) by the demands of the client or sponsors, by the deadline set, and by the amount of money available (Paschen and Gressen 1974). It is important that research hypotheses and objectives are clearly delineated reflecting the scope and types of technology impacts to be assessed. This step should include decision-makers, sociologists, economists, and interest group representatives.

Step 3. Defining Feasible Technologies Here it is important to include feasible technologies that could potentially contribute to the goals and objectives. It is important that technologies not be eliminated based on a single criterion (e.g., yield). Instead, judgment should be reserved until all the technologies have been evaluated against all the criteria. This step should include researchers and scientists.

Step 4. Deriving Measurement Standards for Criteria After defining the feasible technologies, measurement standards have to be derived using criteria that allow for objective and systematic comparisons (Janssen 1994). There are two problems related to this point. One is that ex-ante impacts are difficult to quantify and the other is that the advancement of technology assessment lags behind the actual technology generation. Particularly when it involves public acceptance and environmental and perceived health risks, more efforts are needed to develop methodologies to quantify these social values. The difficulty in the quantification process is that it becomes more complex as we move away from direct impacts to indirect impacts.

Another challenge is to determine the limits of the technological impact in terms of temporal and spatial distribution. According to Lord Kelvin (Bohn 1994) in 1890:

When you can measure what you are speaking about, and expressing it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind ....

This step is essential to gathering useful data for technology comparisons and should include sociologists and economists. Different criteria (Solleiro and Quintero 1995) are needed for comprehensive evaluation, such as socioeconomic adequacy, technology feasibility, and market attractiveness.

Step 5. Performance Assessment of Technology Alternatives Once measurement standards have been derived, data can be collected for performance assessment. Performance assessment can be conducted by evaluating how the alternatives affect the chosen criteria. Predictions on each criteria should be made with practical assumptions on the state of other factors that influence performance. A word of caution: forecasts of impacts are only as good as the predictions we make regarding expected outcomes and future value standards.

Each step of the process should be transparent to avoid problems with interest groups and their value judgments. Also, the assessment has to be argumentative, i.e., in the course of these processes, new issues, alternatives, and actions may continually crop up that require reassessment based on different assumptions.

This step should include economists, political scientists, sociologists, and statisticians. Because there are a number of research objectives and the measurement standards for each are different, a simple assessment method may be required to evaluate against all criteria. If one research objective is more important than another, a weighing scheme might be useful to rank the technologies. It is imperative in this step that all those who are affected be involved.

Step 6. Approval and Implementation After the assessment has been subjected to peer and other expert evaluation, the findings should be presented to the decision-makers and to a wider audience. Public scrutiny is crucial to form solutions based on a consensus that reflects society’s values.

Table 1 illustrates the way in which sequential steps could be applied to biotechnology program priority setting and planning.

IBS Activities

One of the main goals of IBS is to facilitate strategic thinking and action on how to integrate biotechnology in national research programs. A number of information-generating activities undertaken by IBS are contributing toward this agricultural goal and to the decision-making framework for biotechnology:

Table 1. Possible steps in integrating impact assessment into the decision-making process.



Source: Adapted from Janssen (1995), Solleiro and Quintero (1993)

IBS Directory of Expertise

Development of this Directory of Expertise (BioServe) helps establish international collaboration. This directory helps IBS respond to its role as an intermediary between those having identified needs for new technology and those being able to provide collaboration. Each of the programs contained in the Directory and its electronic database, BioServe, aim to facilitate developing countries’ access to modern agricultural biotechnology. They conduct, fund, or coordinate collaborative research focusing on developing-country agriculture (Cohen and Komen 1994).

In addition, the database is structured such that aggregate analysis of its information can be undertaken, with searches possible by collaborating countries as well as by the technical details of international biotechnology efforts. Such a tool is valuable when looking at investments and decisions made by the international donors and their effect on and relation to national program needs. Much information remains to be extracted from this data, including an analysis of how socioeconomic considerations are being undertaken by the programs represented.

IBS/ISNAR Research Reports and Policy Seminars

Development of IBS/ISNAR research reports and external papers document socioeconomic assessment and market potential relevant for prioritizing biotechnology research programs. These papers are intended to serve as reference materials to socioeconomists for use during biotechnology impact assessments. To date, one paper, entitled “Socioeconomic Considerations for Agricultural Biotechnology Priority Setting and Planning,” has been written and presented in an IBS/ISNAR-sponsored regional seminar on Planning Priorities and Policies for Agricultural Biotechnology held in South Africa, 25 April 1995. The proceedings for the seminar in which this paper will appear will be forthcoming. Another paper, entitled “Market Attractiveness: A Criterion for Biotechnology Research Priority Setting,” will be presented in the Second Conference on Agricultural Biotechnology, 13 June 1995 in Jakarta, Indonesia.

There are a number of issues to be considered when integrating biotechnology into any research program. When is the most opportune time for a country to enter into the biotechnology field? What technique and species should a country be engaged in? What are the costs and benefits of the various biotechnology activities? The ability to derive answers to the above issues would enhance the probability of successful integration of biotechnology programs. A survey was conducted in April 1995 to gather some financial and technical data on existing biotechnology projects from participants attending an IBS/ISNAR-sponsored regional policy seminar on planning, priorities, and policies for agricultural biotechnology in Sub Saharan Africa. A summary of the findings will be found in the forthcoming proceeding from the IBS/ISNAR regional seminar on Planning Priorities and Policies for Agricultural Biotechnology.

Commissioned Reports

Special reports on biotechnology issues have been commissioned by IBS responding to client demand. A forthcoming report on cocoa biotechnology surveys the current biotechnology research activities on cocoa (Braunschweig and Gotsch 1995). In addition, the report presents a state-of-the-art methodology to assess the potential economic impact due to biotechnological innovations. As mentioned earlier, economic growth that takes efficiency into account is one of several national objectives. Other objectives, which may be at odds with efficiency achieved, should also be taken into consideration. Limited research resources make it difficult to realize all the stated objectives. Consequently, we have to set priorities concerning these objectives. In this sense, efficiency criteria used by this methodology may help to evaluate the social costs of the achieving any particular goal.

The cocoa report argues that an approach called the Policy Analysis Matrix (PAM) developed by Monke and Pearson (1989) to analyze the impact of government policy on efficiency and competitiveness of agricultural production systems could also be “...particularly well suited to empirical analysis of technological change.” The theoretical framework of the PAM is a partial equilibrium model and can be seen as an expansion of social benefit-cost analysis. Its basic structure is a matrix that distinguishes between private and social profitability. The first refers to the profits of an agricultural production system of the producer, whereas the second reveals the comparative advantage for the country.

Private profits are important for the analysis of adoption behaviour of producers regarding new technologies as they indicate responsiveness to the provided incentives. Social profits are a measure for the efficiency of a production system. Comparisons of two budgets (with and without the technology under consideration) give the necessary information about the impact on private profits and other economic measures such as the change in input requirement or in comparative advantage.

In addition, the PAM approach was originally developed for the analysis of agricultural policy to provide results on the distortions of national agricultural factor and product markets and their impact with respect to the adoption of new technologies. For example, the introduction of a particular biotechnological innovation in a production system could significantly improve the comparative advantage of a country (measured as social profitability in the PAM matrix) but, at the same time, the profits for the producers (measured as a private profitability) could deteriorate because of the distorted cost, and/or price structure leading to nonadoption of this new technology. The PAM approach, therefore, can be used to generate results showing the extent of trade-off between efficiency and nonefficiency objectives according to the priorities of the country.

As the potential biotechnological change will only occur in the future, assumptions on exogenous prices and costs and with various social values have to be made for appropriate assessments of its impact. It is critical, therefore, that sensitivity analysis be conducted to test the robustness of any PAM results.


This paper stresses the importance of impact assessment as a means of improving technology choice to meet national goals and objectives. To assist in this process we need better assessment procedures and information. Different decisions require different assessment emphases. This paper attempts to outline a procedure to integrate impact assessment within priority-setting for biotechnology activities, and to describe the efforts of IBS/ISNAR to gather information for dissemination to the international community to encourage effective planning, programing, and collaboration.


Bohn, R.E. 1994. Measuring and managing technological knowledge. Sloan Management Review, Fall.

Braunschweig, T.; Gotsch, N. 1995. New biotechnology and competitiveness: The case of cocoa. Guidelines for assessing the potential economic impact of future biotechnology developments on national cocoa production, April. (Forthcoming)

Busch, L. 1994. Socioeconomic analysis of biotechnology: A concept paper for IBS. Department of Sociology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, US.

Cohen, J.I.; Komen, J. 1994. Biotechnology priorities, planning, and policies. A framework for decision-making. A biotechnology research management study. International Service for National Agricultural Research (ISNAR), ISNAR Research Report No. 6. The Hague, Netherlands.

Cohen, J.I.; Komen, J. 1995. Priority setting and program development in biotechnology. Paper prepared for the second conference on agricultural biotechnology, Jakarta, Indonesia. IBS/ISNAR, The Hague, Netherlands. (Forthcoming)

Janssen, W. 1994. Biotechnology priority setting in the context of national objectives: State of the art. Paper presented at Asia regional seminar on planning, priorities and policies for agricultural biotechnology, Singapore. IBS/ISNAR, The Hague, Netherlands.

Monke, E.A.; Pearson, S.R. 1989. The policy analysis matrix for agricultural development. Cornell University Press, Ithaca and London, UK.

Paschen, H.; Gresser, K. 1974. Some remarks and proposals concerning the planning and performance of technology assessment studies. Research Policy 2, 306–321.

Sinclair, C. 1971/1972. The incorporation of health and welfare risks into technological forecasting. Research Policy, I, 40–58.

Solleiro, J.S.; Quintero, R. 1993. Research and development priorities in agro-food biotechnology. International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Ottawa, ON, Canada.

Dealing with Socioeconomics
Surrounding Biotechnology in the
Canadian Federal Government

Joyce Byrne1

The Canadian government has placed a high importance in ensuring the regulatory system for products of biotechnology is in place. In 1993, the Federal Cabinet announced the Federal Regulatory Framework for Biotechnology. This framework contains six key principles that have served as guidance for the federal departments in developing regulatory changes, guidelines, and policies.

In Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, guidelines have been developed this year that allow for the environmental release of canola, flax, potatoes, and corn. Four canola lines have been approved this year (two each produced using mutagenesis and genetic engineering) and 25 veterinary diagnostic kits have been registered to date.

Traditional Approach Components

The traditional approach to making regulatory decisions has been based on internationally accepted standards. Components of this process include risk assessment, risk management, and risk communication based on sound scientific methodologies, and international standards for procedures have been adopted wherever possible.

Risk management and risk communication deal with costs and benefits. In general, there are few universally accepted standards to conduct risk management, and decisions tend to be based on a case-by-case basis.

Risk management is an important component of decision-making. This is the area where cost/benefit analysis and value judgements, based on factors such as economic implications, are made.

Trade realities also need to be considered, particularly for countries not as advanced in the development and regulation of products developed using new

1 Biotechnology Strategy and Coordination Office, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, 59 Camelot Drive, Nepean, Ontario, Canada K1A 0Y9. (Note: The views expressed in this paper are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.)

methods of biotechnology such as genetic engineering. More recently, there is increasing recognition that social, cultural, and ethical issues need to be taken into account in the making of risk management decisions.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada is in the initial stages of determining ways in which these factors can be taken into account in a transparent manner. To be credible, a process for public input may need to be developed. It is possible such a process would be triggered by key agreed-upon principles.

If such a process existed, rbST (recombinant bovine somatotropin) may not have prompted an intervention by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food before Health Canada, the department responsible for reviewing the safety of rbST made a decision on whether to licence it for sale.

It is possible that the establishment of such a process may be a viable option to handle new products including those products through biotechnology. If the criteria chosen are reasonable, it is likely that very few products would ever even trigger such a system.

Overview of rbST in Canada

Bovine somatotropin (bST) is a hormone naturally produced by cows and that increases a cow’s mobility to produce milk. Recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST) is a synthetic product produced through genetic engineering and is virtually identical to the natural product.

The rbST products from two manufacturers have been undergoing a review by Health Canada for their safety to animal and human health. As yet, Health Canada has not made a decision on the issuance of a Notice of Compliance, without which rbST cannot be licenced for commercial sale or use.

In February and March of 1994, the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food consulted widely on rbST use in Canada. Hearings were conducted in response to a number of issues raised about the use of rbST. These hearings were independent from the safety review being undertaken by Health Canada. The result was a report outlining seven recommendations to the government.

The government responded to these recommendations by obtaining a commitment from the manufacturers to a one-year voluntary delay on the sale and use of rbST and by establishing a Task Force to collect and make available the information requested by the Standing Committee.

The Task Force oversaw the completion of four specific tasks:

• A review by my department of the costs and benefits for the Canadian dairy industry, including an estimate of the costs of a dual delivery system, with information provided by the manufacturers and other interested parties:

• A discussion paper on the safety of rbST to animal and human health, by Health Canada;

• A review of the impact of rbST on animal genetics by the Genetic Evaluation Board, manufacturers, and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada; and

• Regular updates of U.S. consumer reactions to rbST by Industry Canada and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

The Task Force Report was presented to the Standing Committee on 10 May 1995 and is now publicly available. The first task was dealt with by Policy Branch of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (see the paper by Max Colwell (this volume) for a review of the methodology and results of this analysis).

Reviewing potential socioeconomic impacts are not only occurring in Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, but in the federal government as well. Early in 1995, the federal government produced a document entitled the “Jobs & Growth Agenda.”

As part of commitments made to Canadians and the industry at large, the government stated that the regulations for products of biotechnology would be in place in 1995 and that a forum to address issues would be held.

The Socioeconomic Forum is seen as an ongoing process where the public and various organizations can share their perspectives on socioeconomic issues. The process envisioned to date, will likely include the release of a background document as a means of providing information and eliciting responses from interested parties.

This document will contain background information on what biotechnology and risk assessment are, the regulatory process for products of biotechnology, and an overview of broad categories of socioeconomic issues that could form the basis of the Socioeconomic Forum.

Socioeconomics is a difficult area to deal with because of the depth of issues involved, the difficulty in separating societal vs individual values, and the problem of dealing with public input in a meaningful way. Compounding these factors is the low level of awareness on what biotechnology is, how it will affect consumers, and the governments role.

Ultimately, a regulatory decision has to be made, and the objective scientific assessment will have to be balanced against a more subjective cost/benefit analysis in risk management.

Government is increasingly being called upon to regulate in the areas of new technological advances, such as biotechnology, to provide frameworks that will allow such products to be used safely for society’s benefit. Hence, it is important that all sectors of the public have input into the process so that the policies and decisions made reflect the majority views.

Environmentally Sound
Management of Biotechnology
in Latin America1

Terry Mclntyre2


Developing-country governments in Latin America and elsewhere are having to make decisions about biotechnology investments in the face of increasing pressures from competing and sometimes volatile forces. Some of these forces include widespread down sizing of state institutions, liberalization of markets, periodic political instability, increasing privatization, deregulation of prices, competing demands for reduced resources, burgeoning population growth, diminished public-sector support for basic research, and requirements for enhanced environmental considerations contingent upon donor agency support from developed countries and international funding mechanisms (Allende 1990; Cohen 1994a; Weiss 1994).

To capitalize on the incredible potential that biotechnology offers to developing countries, a government must make a considerable commitment to development of the scientific and technical infrastructure to transform this promise into reality. One of the main components of this infrastructure is the need for consideration of the environmental dimensions of any proposed biotechnology development (Stewart 1989). The following paper describes a conceptual model of how these environmental dimensions could be considered.

Environmental Management of Biotechnology

The conceptual model that has been developed identifies seven environmental points to consider as a basis for the development of specific

1 This document has not been circulated internally for prior review and comment within Environment Canada. As such, the views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Environment Canada.

2 Commercial Chemicals Evaluation Branch, Environmental Protection Service, Environment Canada, Hull, Quebec, Canada.

environmental assessment and management considerations. These points have evolved through analysis of environmental initiatives sponsored by, inter alia the Inter-American Institute for Co-operation on Agriculture (IICA), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, in an effort to avoid the process of “prioritizing middle-class environmental concerns solely from developed countries” (See Beckerman 1994).

In addition, and wherever possible, environmental assessments/concerns raised by scientists with a special interest in developing countries, and experiences associated with technology development/transfer were utilized (See Ikram 1980; Wu 1986; Sasson 1988; Biswas 1989, 1995; Cohen 1989, 1990, 1994a, b; Abu-Zeid 1990; Allende 1990; Tolba 1990; Bishay 1992; Seragelden 1993; Zilinskas 1993; Current 1994; Krattiger and Rosemarin 1994; Jaffe 1995; Tzotzos 1995). These points to consider and their rationale include the following considerations.

Environmental Protection Regulations and the Need for
Prior Assessment of Biological Substances

Consistent with ongoing regulatory initiatives in Canada, the United States, the European Community and internationally great importance has been attached to the requirements for assessment of biotechnology products (genetically modified organisms) prior to import, manufacture, or use in the host country. This process of prior assessment is considered critical, given the possibility of importation of “starting materials” by the host countries as a precursor to development of an indigenous biotechnology capability and in light of previous untoward environmental experiences associated with intentional/accidental introduction of organisms (OTA 1993).

Orientation of the assessment should be based on whether the substance has already been assessed elsewhere and whether the assessment would determine:

• Whether the biotechnology was harmful to the environment,

• Whether it was capable of becoming harmful,

• Whether a control was required or the determination of measures to control the presence of the substance, once found harmful.

If an assessment was required in the host country, then an indication of how data should be collected or how investigations could be conducted should be based on the following categories of information:

• The nature of the biotechnology product;

• The presence of the biotechnology product and/or any metabolic products in the environment and the effect of its presence on the environment or on human health;

• The extent to which the biotechnology product or product constituents could become dispersed or persist in the environment;

• The ability of the biotechnology product to become incorporated or accumulate in biological tissues or to interfere with biological processes;

• Methods of identifying the biotechnology product and distinguishing it in the environment;

• Methods of controlling the presence of the biotechnology product in the environment through intentional or accidental release;

• Methods for testing the fate and effects of the presence of the biotechnology in the environment (on both ecosystem structure and function);

• Development and use of alternatives to the biotechnology product;

• Quantities, uses, and disposal of the biotechnology product;

• Methods of reducing the amount of the biotechnology product used, produced, or released into the environment; and

• Mechanisms for monitoring the biotechnology product and product constituents once released into the environment.

Institutionalized Biosafety Criteria

Although there is little to suggest, based on practical experiences in developed countries, that genetically engineered biotechnology products are inherently any more or less safe than traditional biotechnology products; current interest in biosafety is manifested in increasing numbers of national and international regulations designed to control the products of genetic engineering (see Hambleton et al. 1992).

Particularly noteworthy, in this regard, has been the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in 1992, whereby a voluntary action plan called Agenda 21 and a Framework Convention on Biological Diversity were signed.

Agenda 21 (as well as the Biodiversity Convention) and a subsequent IICA workshop (1994) make specific provisions for the environmentally sound management of biotechnology recognizing its potential for substantially contributing to sustainable development by improvements in food and feed supply, health care, and environmental protection.

Furthermore, these documents also acknowledge that the community at large could only maximize their benefits from biotechnology if it were developed and applied in a fashion not inimical to environmental and human health (see James and Krattiger 1994; Tzotzos 1995).

Consideration of the need for well-established biosafety criteria also owes its origins to the recognition that, currently, some transgenic materials (plants) are being tested in certain developing countries where there is no official regulatory system to review and ratify applications (see James and Krattinger 1994); that current regulations in developed countries covering the industrial use of microorganisms are being augmented by regulations designed to control the impact on worker safety and the immediate environment of any hazardous biological substance or organism (see Hambleton et al. 1992); that the absence of a established biosafety procedure in developing countries constitutes a major constraint to field testing and to product development (see UNCSD 1995); and that the way government and industry alike respond to public concerns over biosafety issues has been identified in developing countries as critical to the social acceptability and commercial viability of biotechnology (see Hambleton et al. 1992; IICA 1994).

Given the focus of the current IDRC-supported initiative (or at least the Mexican component) on biopesticides with special emphasis on the large-scale production of transgenic plants expressing chemical or biological tolerance, the orientation here should be on the determination of how the following biosafety issues will be addressed:

• Identification of biological vector effects and genetic materials utilized from pathogens;

• Altered host range of viral agents;

• Existence of accreditation procedures for certification of laboratories and production facilities involved in transgenic crop activities;

• Presence of a well-defined procedure for establishment of biosafety committees and determination of terms of reference, composition, accountability, and penalties for noncompliance (see IICA 1994; Tzotzos 1995); and

• All aspects of environmental and human health associated with activities at the laboratory, production, field testing, scale-up, commercialization, labelling, consumption, and disposal stage of biotechnology product life cycle (OECD 1986; 1993; USEPA 1993).

Consideration of the importance of biosafety as an integral component in all stages of biotechnology development in Latin American countries would be consistent with ongoing biosafety activities in Canada, the United States, and various South American countries and in the international community, for example, the OECD Recombinant DNA Safety Considerations (1986, 1992), the ongoing UNEP/UNIDO/ICGEB Biosafety Workshops Initiatives, the UNIDO/UNEP/WHO/FAO (World Health Organization and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) Informal Working Group on Biosafety (1994), the International Service for National Agricultural Research/International Biotechnology Service (ISNAR/IBS 1995), the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) Biosafety Initiative (1994), or the Biotechnology Advisory Commission of the Stockholm Environmental Institute (1994).

Consideration of Ecosystem Management Approaches

Since the 1980s, a number of scientists and natural resource policy analysts in North America and Europe have advocated a new, broader approach to environmental management. Called ecosystem management, this approach builds upon the “ecodevelopment concept” of the 1970s, and recognizes that plants, animals, and microorganisms are interdependent and interact with their physical environment (air, water, and soil) to form distinct ecological units that often span political jurisdictions.

Proponents of ecosystem management believe that the coordination of human activities across large geographic areas to maintain or restore healthy ecosystems, rather than managing legislatively or administratively established units and individual natural resources, would, among other things, better address declining conditions and ensure the sustainable long-term use of natural resources, including the production of natural resource commodities (GAO 1994). Proponents also believe that this approach will help avoid and mitigate future ecological and economic conflicts by providing greater flexibility to coordinate activities over larger lands areas.

Assessment of the ecosystem approach in the Latin American context should begin by analyzing the methodological approach for the conduct of existing or proposed environmental assessment schemes for biotechnology products, and whether they recognize the ecosystem management approach based upon ecological rather than political or administrative boundaries.

Furthermore, assessment should determine what steps are being taken to apply ecosystem management principles against such considerations including:

• Delineating ecosystems before the introduction of the biotechnology product,

• Understanding their ecology and the impacts from the interaction of the biotechnology product,

• Making management choices, and,

• Adapting existing management strategies on the basis of new information received (GAO 1994).

Environmentally Sustainable Development Considerations

In the past decade, the concept of sustainable development has emerged as an important global consideration as evidenced in the 1987 Bruntland Commission Report, the 1992 UNCED, the World Bank’s World Development Report of 1992, and the United Nations 1994 Agenda for Development.

Calling for development that “meets the needs of present generations without compromising the needs of future generations” all four reports have highlighted the need for governments worldwide, to address developmental and environmental imperatives simultaneously. They have also recognized that the global nature of many environmental problems means that conditions necessary to sustain development and the quality of life in industrialized countries and in developing nations, such as those in Latin America, are intricately linked.

Given the difficulties inherent in drawing out the operational implications of the concept of sustainable development, and the number of issues that are important for sustainable agricultural development, the focus of the assessment in the Latin American context should be on the determination of how government policymakers and project proponents integrate a number of factors in consideration of sustainability and agricultural development through biotechnology (Current 1994; National Round Table Review 1994; Biswas 1995):

• The economic planning horizons (e.g., possible long-term sustainable goal of government vs short term survival of the farmers);

• Externalities (e.g., whether private costs or benefits equal social costs or benefits);

• Risks and uncertainties and associated with complex systems (e.g., to what extent could the agricultural production system within the targeted Latin American country be intensified without sacrificing sustainability);

• Considerations of environmental, cultural, social, and other values that are not traditionally measured by economists, as a prelude to full cost accounting for any biotechnology investment; and

• Diffusion efforts and mechanisms for disseminating positive project activities throughout the host country.

Biodiversity Convention Considerations

Closely linked to the sustainable development provisions outlined in the Rio Declaration of 1992, was an International Convention on Biodiversity. This Framework Convention on Biological Diversity outlines the importance of and prescribes steps for both the protection and the sustainable use of the world’s diverse plant and animal species as well as biosafety considerations.

It has three major objectives:

• Conservation of biological diversity,

• Sustainable use of its components, and

• Fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the use of genetic resources.

As a number of Latin American countries are signatories to this convention, as well as the Rio Declaration, the orientation of questions in this area should be structured to determine the host countries’ understanding of the following:

• Familiarity with and status of the respective Latin American government initiatives in fulfilling their obligations for the Biodiversity Framework Convention (See also Jaffe 1995);

• State of knowledge about the known effects of biotechnology (both positive and negative) on biodiversity;

• Understanding of the potential for environmental impacts of field testing, scale up, and commercial production of transgenic crops on biodiversity;

• State of knowledge of the location and extent of sites in the respective country of national and international ecological/biodiversity significance (important given that natural areas of ecological and biodiversity significance are likely to cover greater areas in South America because of the richness of biodiversity as opposed to that found in the North);

• Awareness of the linkages to the need for prior determination of target and nontarget species as a basis for assessment of transgenic species and their impacts on the environment;

• Understanding of mechanisms for socioeconomic evaluation of biodiversity;

• Awareness of natural and anthropogenic changes in patterns of genetic, species, and habitat diversity; and

• Effects of global and regional change on biological diversity.

Provisions for Public Awareness and Capacity Building

Public opinion has exerted a direct effect on the processes involved in biotechnology development in both North America and Europe, and has proven to be a powerful force in ensuring that sound developmental practices are initiated and adhered to. Capacity building is a process that has been defined as advancing the development of environmental institutions, creating appropriate incentives for environmentally sound behaviour, and securing a participatory flow of information to promote environmentally sound development (World Bank 1995).

The right of the public to be involved in all aspects of biotechnology owes its origin to the recognition of the extent of public influence in all aspects of biotechnology development as a function of:

• Their support of government activities through tax dollars,

• Their role as ultimate users/consumers of the products, and

• Their exposure to the risks associated with the various stages of biotechnology development.

Particularly noteworthy has been the recent recognition of the complementary role that the public and constituent stakeholder groups can and have played in helping to facilitate the diffusion of information and public acceptance of biotechnology in a number of developing countries (Graham 1994; UNCSD 1995).

Several recent United Nations, World Bank, and bilateral initiatives to promote biotechnology among farming communities and indigenous people have benefited from public involvement through relevant shared experiences of indigenous knowledge, and through direct participation in integrating the biological tools into traditional agricultural practices (World Bank 1995). Developing countries have also benefited by the government gaining insight to specific education and equipment needs of local users to expedite the judicious use of often limited financial resources, to more effectively manage strategic science and technology initiatives in biotechnology at the national level, and to improve the quality of discussions of research needs with international donor agencies.

Public awareness, education, and the institutionalization of mechanisms for regular public input have been identified as “critical components” in the transfer, assimilation, and acceptance of biotechnology in developed and developing countries (Parenteau 1988; Cohen 1994; Current 1994).

In evaluating a Latin American country’s efforts at public awareness and capacity building (incorporating provisions for public input and debate into the process by which biotechnology is introduced and develops in the respective host country and for appropriate training of its users), the focus should be on the determination of the existence of the following:

• A comprehensive and up to date information base on all aspects of biotechnology,

• A mechanism by which this information can be readily and widely disseminated to all affected parties,

• A national mechanism for central direction of biotechnology initiatives across sectors, and

• The availability of funds to support nongovernment organizations;

• Stated commitment by government to ensure that these components will be addressed (see UNDP 1989).

If a consultation mechanism exists within the Latin American country, it should be evaluated against the following principles:

• Is it purpose-driven?

• Transparent?

• Predictable?

• Inclusive or exclusive?

• Involve voluntary participation?

• Self-designed?

• Flexible?

• Provides equal opportunity?

• Contains respect for diverse interests?

• Accountable?

• Defined time limits?

• Implementable? (Clifford 1994; National Round Table Review 1994)

Commitment to Ecological Risk Assessment
Research and Development

Concomitant to the development and application of a diverse array of biotechnology products and processes throughout North America and Europe has been the development of associated ecological risk assessment programs (Wu 1986; Zilinskas 1993; Lemons 1994). These programs have evolved in part, to the recognition that:

• Different priority areas, microorganisms of choice, and processes have been targeted in support for biotechnology development among several industrialized countries ranging from human and animal health care products through nitrogen fixation and plant strain development to mineral leaching and microbial enhanced oil recovery in largely new and unproven areas; hence, there are difficulties in extrapolating from other country’s experiences;

• Historical context of many of the environmental problems associated with the rapid introduction and assimilation of new chemicals and nuclear technology to society;

• Public concerns that potential human and environmental effects associated with biotechnology may be down-played or ignored by sponsoring government agencies in the face of pressures to:

• Expedite the development of an indigenous biotechnology capability,

• Encourage private sector investment,

• Cultivate development of a favourable regulatory infrastructure, and

• Improve the host country’s competitiveness in the international market (see Nader 1986).

• Origin of much of our ecological risk assessment data from our collective experience with higher organisms only (plants and animals) and primarily from exposure to chemicals and radioactive materials;

• Recognition that the area of ecological risk assessment of biotechnology is a relatively young field of endeavour with considerable need for development of better test methods for identification of microorganisms, determination of effects of recombinant organisms on ecosystem function and structure, and mechanisms to determine effects of cumulative impacts from recombinant organisms on the environment;

• Appreciation of the considerable differences that exist in biodiversity between countries, necessitating consideration of country-specific testing protocols to determine effects from testing of biotechnology products on target and nontarget organisms;

• Acknowledgement that risks associated with the use of biological materials in the laboratory and in the field are vastly different in:

• Ecological community exposed to released materials,

• Spectrum of potential ecological effects not restricted to pathogenicity alone but which could include a range of abiotic and other biotic effects; and,

• The degree of control offered by contained experiments in the laboratory is lost in the field (see Sharples 1991; Tzotzos 1995).

• The absence of ecological risk assessment data from large-scale field trials of the majority of transgenic plants in development for commercial application (Stone 1994; Mellon and Rissler 1995); and

• The general lack of scientific information on critical problems ascribed to environmental decision-makers (Lemon 1994).

The targeting of transgenic plants with pesticidal properties as a prior area for development by the Latin Americans would involve the need for 1 demonstration and consideration of a range of ecological research a development activities including consideration of the following:

• What happens when the transgenic plant finishes its growth cycle: Has just the targeted pest been exposed to the pesticidal material? Has the soil litter been exposed or the soil itself?

• If pesticidal residue remains in the plant after completion of its growth cycle, where is it found: In the crop portion of the plant? Elsewhere? Is the pesticidal element tied up or free to migrate?

• Does pollen from the transgenic plants also contain active pesticidal properties? If so, what might be the implications: Could pollen from the plant cross-pollinate an undesirable plant species (weed) and confer it with resistance to either natural control or available commercial herbicides?

• What occurs when organisms, other than those targeted, feed on the plant materials: Do they ingest the pesticidal material? If so, what might be the outcomes?

• What are the implications for sequential planting of a nonpesticidal crop plant following a pesticidal plant? Would a transfer of pesticidal capability occur? (USEPA 1995).


The successful integration of targeted priority areas of biotechnology development by the IDRC-supported initiative is a daunting task, compounded by the need to insure rigorous environmental accountability. This conceptual model, coupled with the stated commitment of IDRC, and participation of individual Latin American countries, should allow the integration to occur with minimum cost and disruption to all participants.


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Carliene Brenner, OECD Development Centre, 94, rue Chardon-Lagache ,75016,

Paris, France

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E-mail: Carliene

Heloisa Lee Burnquist, Universidade de Sao Paulo (USP), Departamento de Economía e Sociología Rural, Cx. P.9 – Piracicaba – SP, Brasil – 13418–900

Tel: (0194) 29–4119 or 29–4164, Fax: (0194) 34–5186


Joyce Byrne, Biotechnology Strategy and Coordination Office, Agriculture and Agri–Food Canada, 59 Camelot Drive, Nepean, Ontario, Canada K1A 0Y9

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Max Colwell, Chief, Farm Analysis, Farm Economics Division, Policy Branch, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, 2200 Walkley Rd, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1A 0C5

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Jason Flint, Program Manager, Canadian Institute of Biotechnology, 130 Albert Street, Suite # 420, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada KIP 5G4

Tel: (613) 563–8849, Fax: (613) 563–8850, E-mail:

Regina Galhardi, Employment Strategies and Policies Branch, International Labour Office, 4, route des Morillons, CH-1211 Geneva 22, Switzerland

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William Lesser, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, 14853–1902 USA

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Terry Mclntyre, Environment Canada, Senior Science Adviser, New Substances Division, Commercial Chemicals Branch, 14th Floor, P.V.M., 351 St Joseph Blvd, Hull, Québec, Canada K1A 0H3

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Rodolfo Quintero, Instituto de Biotecnologia, UNAM, Apartado Postal 510–3, Cuernavaca, Morelos 62271, Mexico

Tel: (525) 616–2698, Fax: (5273) 172–388


Javier Verastegui, Coordinator, Latin America, Canadian Institute of Biotechnology, 130 Albert Street, Suite # 420, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada KIP 5G4

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Rick Walter, Executive Director, Canadian Institute of Biotechnology, 130 Albert Street, Suite # 420, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1P5G4

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José Luis Solleiro, Visiting Research Fellow, Environment and Natural Resources Division, 250 Albert Street, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada KlG 3H9

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After June 30th: PO Box 20–103, 01000 Mexico, D.F.

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