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agriculture and the politics of policy: the case of biotechnology in India
By Ian Scoones
Published by Orient Longman
Available from www.ntd.co.uk/idsbookshop
2006, 429pp, ISBN 81 250 2942 7(Pb), £15.95
In 1999, the southern Indian state of Karnataka elected a new state government,
and a new chief minister. Keen to promote himself as 'tech-savvy', the
minister created a 'vision group' and launched a state-level policy that
aimed to make the biotechnology industry the next big thing in Karnataka,
following the success of the IT boom. In time the government's pro-biotech
stance enabled the planting and later, releasing, of GM cotton varieties;
meanwhile dissenting groups developed into networks of opposition, and
polarised pro and anti GM positions were formed. These tensions do not,
of course, apply only to Karnataka, but are central to the future of India,
a country where despite huge grain reserves and rapid economic development,
650 farmers in Karnataka committed suicide in the 2002-3 season and rural
livelihoods are widely acknowledged to be in crisis. Or so, at least,
claims Ian Scoones in his latest analysis of the intersection between
agriculture, politics and development.
Agricultural biotechnology, writes Scoones, means more than just the
sum of its various technologies; it represents a narrative about the future.
For some it symbolises the renewal of growth and innovation of a kind
last seen during the Green Revolution; for others it represents external
commercial domination, elite expertise and a threat to poor, marginalised
agricultural communities. Almost all biotech supporters want it to be
pro-poor, but he argues, achieving this requires more than just selecting
the right technologies (e.g. disease or drought resistance), or economic
niches. How systems of regulation operate is a case in point. Currently,
regulatory systems around the world follow a developed country pattern,
where the safety of the product is the only concern. But such systems,
he argues, ignore the values, politics and ethics that are also intimately
linked to the decision to support or reject biotechnologies.
Such values can be found in the context of science itself. The biotech
revolution has taken agricultural research out of the field, subject to
the vagaries of the weather and the priorities of farmers, and into the
lab. This has led to a new understanding of what is 'good science'. It
has favoured an agricultural system where all the knowledge is to be found
in the seed, rather than in the skills and ingenuity of farmers. The costs
involved in biotech research also favour a mass market, one-size-fits-all,
'deskilled' production system, with farmers under contractual relations
with seed and other input suppliers. The range of technologies available
to farmers may also be artificially limited by multinational companies,
who need market dominance to be profitable. And for the scientists themselves,
success and esteem may come from having their latest patent application
accepted, their innovations protected and the development process thrown
into chaos by piracy and strict market controls.
Scoones is not opposed to biotechnology per se. If developed in
an appropriate policy context - rather than the current alliance of big
business and political agendas - genetic technologies, he believes, have
much to offer. For public sector biotech research, further funding should
be made available, but should be tied to 'open source' property arrangements
and the matching of technologies with publicly defined needs. Above all,
both agricultural policies and systems of innovation must be responsive
to the needs of diverse users in different settings, not least the poor.
Only if this is done will biotechnology achieve the developmental gains
that its supporters espouse.
Articulate, if densely written, Science, agriculture and the politics
of policy is extremely pertinent, not only to the future of agriculture
in India but throughout the developing world. Beyond the specifics of
biotechnology in Karnataka, Scoones asks the reader to consider broader
questions: what impact can the new global industries have on poverty reduction,
and what are the wider consequences of choosing one technology vision
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as if the world matters
By Jonathon Porritt
Published by Earthscan
2005, 304pp, ISBN 1 84407 192 8(Hb), £18.99
The front cover of Capitalism as if the world matters quotes the
UK's Financial Times, saying that Porritt has 'a message that businesses
may find they are surprised to agree with'. The book is premised on our
planet's growing 'ecological crisis', the scientific evidence for which
he believes is now 'rock solid', and something which both governments
and businesses cannot ignore. Porritt begins by describing 'our unsustainable
world', arguing that economic growth cannot continue forever, and that
'on a finite earth, physical growth must eventually end'. He then goes
on to outline a 'framework for sustainable capitalism', using scientific
principles such as the law of thermodynamics to justify his conclusions.
The final section of the book discusses how to confront denial and create
'better lives in a better world'.
Central to Porritt's argument is the message that sustainable development
is as much about the well being of humans as about the natural world.
He suggests that parallel measures of the quality of life need to be developed
to accompany the usual measures of economic growth such as GDP. He supports
ecological tax reform, the pursuit of happiness and an interest in mental
health and community rather than economic goals, as a positive step towards
a 'better world'. But ultimately, as commented by Lord May, President
of the UK's Royal Society, 'if capitalism and free markets cannot be bent
towards sustainability - towards being part of the solution - then I believe
there is no solution. Hence the importance of this book. Read it.'
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