The International Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology Research (ICABR)


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Agricultural Biotechnology and the Rural Poor
Alain de Janvry, Gregory Graff, Elisabeth Sadoulet, and David Zilberman
University of California at Berkeley


Biotechnology has started to revolutionize agriculture. In the United States, some 20 million hectares have been planted in genetically engineered corn, soybeans, cotton, and potatoes. These crops are also starting to diffuse in the commercial sector of developing countries. Genetical engineering is used not only to raise yields, but also to pursue a wide range of attributes such as risk-reducing, chemical saving, area expanding toward marginal environments, transactions costs reducing, nutrition enhancing, health improving, and environment preserving. These attributes have the potential of being highly effective to help reduce rural poverty. Yet, before this potential materializes, a number of issues remain to be resolved. (1) How will poor farmers’ needs for specific technological attributes be taken into account in setting research agendas, particularly as the role of the private sector becomes dominant over that of the CGIAR and public National Agricultural Research Systems? How can the public sector manage intellectual property rights and collaborate with the private sector in delivering technological innovations that can be effective for the rural poor? (2) For given genetic innovations with the potential of being effective for poverty reduction, what will be the institutional vectors through which these innovations are introduced into germplasms usable in smallholder farming systems and delivered for adoption to the rural poor? How can biotechnological innovations be combined with other technological innovations such as agroecology to improve the farming systems of the rural poor? Innovative institutional arrangements are needed to combine technological advances, diffuse information, share risks, insure biosafety, regulate environmental impacts, offer competitive pricing, and reduce transactions costs. (3) Given availability for adoption, how will the market failures and institutional gaps that constrain adoption by the rural poor be managed to allow adoption? Here also, a vast array of institutional innovations is necessary for this to happen. This paper maps this broad array of new issues, proposes a conceptual framework, and illustrates its usefulness with case studies. This helps identify an agenda for research and policy interventions that can help make the promise of biotechnology for poverty reduction into a reality.