Thursday, June 14, 2012


Suman Sahai

All technologies but especially those related to food and agriculture must be adopted in developing countries only if small farmers and rural communities can benefit from them.
It is important to recognize that there are many indigenous technologies and knowledge systems that work well for rural communities because they are affordable, accessible and communities are skilled in their use. New technologies must neither displace nor diminish such indigenous technologies.

A new agricultural technology must have a strong local context to be meaningful and the agenda must be determined by local stakeholders. The research goals must be determined by the needs of local agriculture, not imported as a package as is the case currently with Bt and Herbicide Tolerant  (HT) crops. A technology developed for industrial agriculture is unlikely to work for resource poor farmers in developing countries because it is usually more expensive, it can be irrelevant or even harmful  and it is alien in its application.

Growing Bt cotton which is expensive and has complex requirements of maintaining non Bt refuges and counting insects to determine when an insecticide spray is required, places great financial burdens and provides opportunities for things going wrong.  HT crops constitute a labor saving technology, which is absolutely wrong for labor surplus developing countries where agricultural operations like weeding, threshing and winnowing provide much needed wages to agriculture labor. In addition, weeds that would be destroyed by herbicide application serve as leafy green vegetables for the family, fodder for livestock and medicinal plants for health and veterinary care in rural areas.

The adoption of regulated technologies like Ag biotechnology may not be difficult where regulatory systems can be established and enforced easily. This is not necessarily the case in developing countries where there is a deficit of skilled manpower and finances to run a stringent regulatory system. In the absence of a technically competent, transparent and accountable regulatory system, adoption of Ag biotechnology which has environmental, health and socio-economic implications is not advisable in poor countries.

To develop new technologies relevant to the poor, the public sector must step up spending to create accessible and affordable public goods. International research and development agencies must support such efforts and intervene in the creation of novel approaches to deal with innovation and intellectual property (IP) so that new technologies do not remain shackled in patents, available only to the rich. Countries should develop sensible domestic IP policies incorporating equity and justice.

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