Biotech farming for development

OECD Observer

Agricultural biotechnology might just be the land where many farmers fear to tread, yet assessing its potential benefits and uses may become essential to developing countries if they are to meet the food supply challenges of the coming decades.

While conventional cost analysis approaches will continue to frame the impact of modern agricultural biotechnology, analysing such impacts at the community or household level is necessary to determine if poor farmers in developing economies can actually access and benefit from these technologies. Most current crop biotechnology products focus on lessening production costs, primarily through reducing vulnerability to losses due to pests and diseases.

At a November 2002 OECD Global Forum on Knowledge Economy, different country policies to address agricultural biotechnology were discussed in the hope of opening a global dialogue not only on the promise of this technology, but its inherent risks.

Ironically, modern agricultural biotechnology is probably most useful to those countries least capable of developing it. Only a limited number of countries are in a current position to benefit from agricultural biotechnology, meaning that the rest, including Brazil, China and India, must invest significantly more public resources as well as adapt foreign technologies before realizing measurable returns.

Recent advances in agricultural applications of modern biotechnology promise to bring sustainable gains in agricultural productivity, both reducing poverty and enhancing food security in developing countries. Yet while impact assessment is a critical tool for addressing potential social, economic and environmental costs and benefits, this is incapable of considering the complex nature of rural communities in emerging and transition economies.

©OECD Observer No 237, May 2003

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