Technology Paradigm Shifts in Agriculture: Drivers of Sustainability and Catch up

Ajay Thutupalli, UNU-MERIT

While radical technological breakthroughs lay the foundation for a major shift in existing technological domains, such shifts entail a range of socio-economic and environmental uncertainties. These uncertainties are likely to create a range of policy problems to ensure sustainability. At the same time, technology paradigm shifts or transitions can bring about significant changes in the innovation system generating new strategic problems or opportunities for other actors such as farmers, local firms, multinational firms and public laboratories. In this context this thesis examines the drivers of sustainability and technological catch-up in the context of technology paradigm shifts in crop production technologies. The proposed theoretical construct for technology paradigm shifts integrates both the evolutionary responses of ecology that strive to achieve bio-physical efficiency along with the evolutionary behaviour of economic actors trying to achieve economic efficiency.

The empirical evidence on GR and GM cotton transitions in India suggests that while the GR transition is marked by uncertainties on environment outcomes, Bt cotton in India raised questions on both socio-economic and environmental issues. On the socio-economic front the Bt cotton analysis does not reveal any evident uncertainty, on ecological front the uncertainty is revealed in the form of evolutionary changes to cotton pests. With respect to the triggering of controversies the analysis suggests that, with respect to crop production technologies, the ecological outcomes rather than economic outcomes are likely to be stronger focal points of controversy. High immediate payoffs can override concerns founded on scientific uncertainty in the adoption of new technologies. Controversies are also likely to increase as the innovation system becomes complex.

The farmer’s survey revealed a close association between resource endowments and farmer preferences towards technology choice and its implementation in the case of GM cotton. While impact perceptions of Bt cotton adopters were heterogeneous farmers with small farms with no access to irrigation were ecologically conscious than their counterparts with large irrigated farms.

The analysis of the strategic behaviour of local seed firms in India vis-a-vis new agri-biotechnologies revealed that local firms engaged in agri-biotech R&D can choose from diverse strategies based on their strengths in global and in-situ knowledge components. The underlying technology and the differences in knowledge capabilities present diverse pathways of technological catch-up. The strategy of a multinational firm, Monsanto, in localizing its radical innovation, Bt cotton in India suggests that multinational enterprises should work towards legitimizing their radical innovation by strategic outreach to multiple stake holders in the emerging country. Firms can choose from passive co-existence, market interaction, collaboration, confrontation and compromise strategies.

Venue: Room 1.169, Minderbroedersberg 4-6, Maastricht

Date: 04 November 2015

Time: 14:00 - 15:30


UNU-MERIT