Genetic Resource Policies for the Poor

Research Program

Genetic Resource and Crop Biodiversity Management

IFPRI is collaborating on a project with its CGIAR partners that aims to develop a decision-support tool to help genebank curators manage their collections cost-effectively.

  1. In collaboration with Bioversity International and other CGIAR centers, IFPRI is developing a methodology for assessing the impact of crop genetic choices—defined as farmer choice of cultivars or combinations of cultivars—on host resistance to pests and diseases.
  2. Building on earlier work on seed systems and biodiversity conservation, IFPRI is studying the necessary policies and strategies that can lead to successful marketing of underutilized plant species to benefit the poor. There are many lesser-known plant species, grown in rural areas of developing countries, whose utilization could lead to enhanced income generation while providing incentives for conserving crop biodiversity. The goal is to identify under which conditions and through which policy environments the marketing potential of underutilized plant species can be successfully exploited.
  3. IFPRI maintains BioConserv, a web bibliographical database of economic studies on the conservation of plant and livestock genetic resources in developing economies.

Genetic Resources and Crop Improvement

Properly applied advances in agricultural uses of modern biotechnology have significant potential to contribute to sustainable gains in agricultural productivity and reduce poverty and enhance food security in developing regions. A growing body of literature documents the farm-level benefits of genetically modified (GM) crops, such as introducing new traits with enhanced resistance to diseases, tolerance to drought and soils contaminated with high concentrations of salt or heavy metals, and improved productivity.

IFPRI is finalizing the first phase of a project that aims to identify best practices and methodologies for evaluating the social and economic impacts resulting from the adoption of GM crops by smallholder farmers in four countries—Bolivia, Honduras, the Philippines, and Colombia. Funded by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), this project’s outputs will be used by researchers, analysts, as well as high-level decision makers in member countries of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. Countries, including those not currently parties to the Protocol, are discussing the use of socioeconomic assessments as part of biosafety decision making. The findings from the four case studies will provide new insights into the conditions under which the introduction of GM crops can be most beneficial to smallholder farmers. Furthermore, a set of feasible impact assessment methods and their trade-offs will help guide decision makers in evaluating the impacts of genetically modified crops. A second phase of this project is planned for late 2009.

bEcon is one of the outputs of the IFPRI-IDRC project. bEcon is a comprehensive web bibliography of available peer-reviewed studies on the economic effects of transgenic crops on farmers, consumers, sectors, and international trade in developing and developed countries, and is maintained by IFPRI.

In close collaboration with its partners, IFPRI will increasingly provide ex post and ex ante socioeconomic impact assessments and technology policy research. The table below shows a sample of the studies completed to date. Future work will focus on the opportunities and risks of biotechnology, including genetic engineering, for smallholder farming systems, poor consumers, and trade. Research will also examine the closely related issues of conserving and sustainably managing genetic resources for food and agriculture and preserving biodiversity.

Examples of socioeconomic impact assessment studies implemented by IFPRI

Ex Ante Ex Post
Insect-resistant (IR) maize in Kenya IR maize in the Philippines
GM bananas in Uganda and Tanzania IR maize in Honduras
IR potato in Colombia Herbicide-tolerant soybean in Bolivia
IR cotton in five countries of West Africa IR cotton in Colombia

Building on Current Research Through 2013

Through 2013, IFPRI is pursuing three major directions for its genetic resource policies research:

Research-based policy tools on the necessary conditions to enhance access to and sustainable use of seed-based technologies
Despite continued efforts in the development community and sustained crop breeding efforts, millions of small farmers are still unable to access new seed-based technologies—from crop breeding to modern techniques—that could contribute to raising their productivity and income. This research will continue to explore which enabling conditions can increase farmers’ access to well-adapted technologies. In particular, IFPRI is examining informal seed systems, including those led by farmers, and the interactions between formal and informal seed sectors and farmers. IFPRI is also studying the adaptability of crop breeding and national research systems to small farmers’ needs. Finally, IFPRI is initiating a research program to analyze recent issues around technology transfer, including the use of intellectual property rights in developing countries. IFPRI will consider specific strategies to improve the conditions under which genetic innovations are transmitted to the poor and the potential implications of access and benefit sharing on technologies and poor farmers, including the role of farmer’s rights.

Potential role of crop biodiversity management in adapting to global economic and environmental changes
IFPRI will explore the role of policies and strategies that can foster biodiversity conservation, with the aim of increasing the poor’s resilience to new climatic and economic constrains. Research projects are already exploring the role that biodiversity can play in crop resistance to pests and diseases. Proposed projects include:

  • Effects of crop biodiversity (and the use of underutilized species) on improving poor people’s resilience to climate change
  • Effects of invasive species and trade on biodiversity conservation
  • Role of organic farming systems in maintaining and enhancing crop biodiversity
  • Injecting research-based inputs into high-level policy debates related to the use of geographical indicators and their potential role in providing market-based incentives for crop biodiversity conservation, in the context of sustained high food prices

Continued support for socioeconomic impact assessment of new technologies
In this area, the research team is emphasizing the development and validation of a “best practices” method for assessing the economic and social impact of genetically-engineered crop varieties in smallholder farming systems. Results from this research will provide national researchers with a toolkit, enabling them to effectively support policy decisions in the context of the Convention on Biological Diversity.