Modern agricultural biotechnology has profound implications for global and local agricultural and food systems, and for the livelihoods of farmers in the developed and developing worlds. The actual consequences will depend on the pathways along which the technology is developed and applied in practice.
The implications may be positive or negative; but the outcomes are not predetermined and are not inherent in biotechnology itself. On the contrary: the outcomes will depend on issues of governance – the policy and regulatory choices of governments, scientists, companies and others.
The policy processes surrounding new agricultural biotechnologies involve a wide range of actors holding diverse interests, including scientists, government officials, international organisations, local and transnational companies, farmers’ organisations, consumers, environmentalists and development campaigners, among others.
These policy processes occur at different scales, ranging from local negotiations about priorities for agricultural technology, to global debates concerning trade, property rights, biosafety regulation and the protection of biodiversity.
Globalisation and technology
Given the rapid pace of technological change, the pace of economic globalisation and the changing international context for regulation, the development of effective national and local policy processes is a major challenge for all countries, and especially for countries of the South. And yet, it is a vitally important goal, if we are to ensure that appropriate, coherent, effective and legitimate policies and regulations are adopted and implemented.
Unless we can take steps to make policy processes better informed, more inclusive and responsive, there is a serious risk that agricultural biotechnology could, not only fail to deliver the promised benefits for agriculture and poor farmers, but even expose such farmers to heightened risks and undermine their livelihoods.
However, relatively little work has been undertaken to examine how these local, national and international policy processes work in practice, and especially the linkages between the three levels. Most importantly, there has been a lack of critical attention to the ways in which the policy processes connecting local, national and international levels can be made more inclusive and responsive to the needs of normally less powerful groups, so that the emerging policies and regulations support the livelihood needs of poor people in developing countries.
The work described in these pages makes up a three year programme of interlinked research projects examining these issues, from various perspectives and including case studies of the situation in four developing countries: China, India, Kenya and Zimbabwe.
The projects involved researchers from IDS in collaboration with partners from the Foundation for International Environmental Law and Development (FIELD, London, UK); the Chinese Centre for Agricultural Policy at the Chinese Academy of Science (CCAP-CAS, Beijing); the Biotechnology Research Institute at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Science (BRI-CAAS); the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS, Delhi); Research and Information Systems for the Non-aligned and Other Developing Countries (RIS, Delhi, India); the National Law School, University of India (Bangalore); the African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS, Nairobi, Kenya); the Institute of Social Studies (ISS, the Hague, Netherlands); and the University of the Western Cape (Cape Town, South Africa), together with independent researchers based in Zimbabwe.