Biotechnology Paths in Developing Countries: Analyzing GM in Costa Rica and Jamaica and Learning from Plant Tissue Culture

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Bortagaray, Isabel
Cozzens, Susan E.
Gatchair, Sonia
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GM biotechnology has been hailed as one of the most significant advancements in agriculture since the green revolution with the potential to reduce hunger and deprivation in the world's poorest countries and contribute to continuing advances in the developed countries. While a few countries appear to be reaping the promised benefits, more than twenty years after the first introduction of commercial genetically modified crops, most developing countries have not engaged in widespread adoption. Agricultural biotechnology has failed to deliver its promise of revolutionizing food production in poor countries. Although the number of crops and transgenic events approved for cultivation in the developed world continues to increase, developing countries lag behind in approvals for commercial GM crop cultivation. Developing countries that have led the way in the approval process include the Philippines, South Africa, Argentina, Mexico, and Uruguay. Many of the countries at the forefront of adoption have large scale commercial activities where concerns about productivity and profitability are likely to figure prominently. Commercial production appears stymied not by the lack of research as over 50 crops have been transformed in 16 developing countries, but by the high cost and slow pace of regulatory approvals (Sairam & Prakash, 2005). Other explanations for the low level of adoption in developing countries include rejection of GM crops by important trading partners; lack of absorptive capacity for basic and applied research; and environmental implications (J. I. Cohen & Paarlberg, 2004; Paarlberg, 2002). Developing countries, when putting in place appropriate regulatory frameworks have to contend with the task of balancing mixed signals from the political and scientific communities in developed countries, inadequate capacity and resources, national sentiment and needs. This paper takes a systematic look at agricultural biotechnology, in particular GM crop cultivation in two small developing countries, Costa Rica and Jamaica in an effort to identify the conditions in which the technology has emerged in the country, both in terms of the knowledge production, and its introduction into the productive system. It examines the countries' science, technology and innovation systems, institutional and trade arrangements as well as historical and cultural factors within the national contexts in an attempt to identify factors that impede or facilitate the adoption of the technology. It attempts to identify specific policies that could be adopted to make better use of the technology. Furthermore, the study of GM in Costa Rica and Jamaica is contrasted with the introduction of an older biotechnology that is more widely adopted and utilized in developed countries, as it is the case of tissue culture. We analyze the conditions in which tissue culture has been incorporated, with the focus on banana, a very relevant crop in the economy of both countries. The aim is to take the experience and trajectory of tissue culture and use it as a yardstick, and as a learning tool, given its older condition, in spite of the enormous differences surrounding both biotechnologies at different levels, i.e., technological, cultural, regulatory, costs, markets, etc. This paper draws on extensive interviews and reviews of secondary data, including reports and other documents that allow us to trace the biotechnology path in the two countries. The two countries were chosen because of their similarity and concerted efforts to make use of STI policies in social and economic development, yet these efforts have met with only limited (mixed) success. The study results from a larger research project on distributional consequences of emerging technologies, Resultar, coordinated by Susan Cozzens at the School of Public Policy, Georgia Institute of Technology.
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