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Special Issue "Biotechnology and Sustainable Development"

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A special issue of Sustainability (ISSN 2071-1050).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (31 March 2011)

Special Issue Editor

Guest Editor
Dr. Philipp Aerni (Website)

Director of Center for Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability (CCRS) at the University of Zurich, Zähringerstrasse 24 CH-8001 Zürich, Switzerland
Phone: +41 44 634 40 60
Fax: +41 44 634 49 00
Interests: agricultural biotechnology; sustainable agriculture; political economy; environmental economics; stakeholder attitudes; consumer behavior; science and moral education

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Technological change is often portrayed as a threat to sustainable development because it creates risk and uncertainty and makes social planning difficult. This politically popular rhetoric starts from the baseline assumption that nature conservation is better than technical innovation. But this defensive view might even pose a bigger risk for a sustainable future on this planet because the practices and technologies we use today might not be able to cope with the sustainability challenge we will face in the near future. An experimental approach is required to find out how economic growth can be reconciled with social and environmental sustainability through technological innovation. In this context, the modern tools of biotechnology have a great potential. They could play an important role in climate change mitigation (e.g. nutrient-efficient plants) and adaptation (e.g. drought-tolerant plants), renewable energies, biodegradable products, agro-biodiversity conversation, rural development and global food security.

Yet, the success of biotechnology depends on adequate institutional support that encourages public and private actors to collaborate in efforts to address sustainability problems and to tailor the technology to local needs. At the same time, it requires a progressive view in science. Such a progressive view of sustainable development unites social scientists, ecologists and molecular biologists in their joint objective to combine the potential of new technologies with existing sustainable practices.

In this issue, we would like to invite scholars who have embraced such an interdisciplinary and progressive approach in their research activities and have achieved promising results. Moreover we welcome contributions from practitioners who have been involved in successful public-private partnerships in the field of biotechnology and sustainable development.

Dr. Philipp Aerni
Guest Editor

Keywords

  • technological change
  • institutional economics
  • rural development
  • agro-ecology
  • genetic engineering
  • biotechnology
  • industrial ecology
  • public-private partnerships
  • climate change
  • food security

Published Papers (9 papers)

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Research

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Open AccessArticle Potential Impact of Biotechnology on Adaption of Agriculture to Climate Change: The Case of Drought Tolerant Rice Breeding in Asia
Sustainability 2011, 3(10), 1723-1741; doi:10.3390/su3101723
Received: 2 August 2011 / Revised: 14 September 2011 / Accepted: 19 September 2011 / Published: 30 September 2011
Cited by 12 | PDF Full-text (177 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
In Asia and Africa the poor tend to live in marginal environments where droughts and floods are frequent. Global warming is expected to increase the frequency of these weather-induced perturbations of crop production. Drought tolerance (DT) has been one of the most [...] Read more.
In Asia and Africa the poor tend to live in marginal environments where droughts and floods are frequent. Global warming is expected to increase the frequency of these weather-induced perturbations of crop production. Drought tolerance (DT) has been one of the most difficult traits to improve in genetic crop improvement programs worldwide. Biotechnology provides breeders with a number of new tools that may help to develop more drought tolerant varieties such as marker assisted selection (MAS), molecular breeding (MB), and transgenic plants. This paper assesses some preliminary evidence on the potential impact of biotechnology using data from surveys of the initial DT cultivars developed through one of the main programs in Asia that has been funding DT rice breeding since 1998—The Rockefeller Foundation’s Resilient Crops for Water-Limited Environments program in China, India, and Thailand. Yield increases of DT rice varieties are 5 to 10 percent better than conventional varieties or currently grown commercial varieties than it has been in years. So far we only have experiment station evidence that DT varieties yielded better than conventional or improved varieties during moderate drought years (the one drought year during our study period in South India gave inconclusive results) and in severe drought both the DT and the conventional varieties were either not planted or, if planted, did not yield. We find that the governments could help overcome some of the constraints to the spread of DT cultivars by increasing government funding of DT research programs that take advantage of new biotech techniques and new knowledge from genomics. Secondly, public scientists can make breeding lines with DT traits and molecular markers more easily available to the private seed firms so that they can incorporate DT traits into their commercial hybrids particularly for poor areas. Third, governments can subsidize private sector production of DT seed or provide more government money for state extension services to produce DT varieties. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Biotechnology and Sustainable Development)
Open AccessArticle Do Political Attitudes Affect Consumer Choice? Evidence from a Large-Scale Field Study with Genetically Modified Bread in Switzerland
Sustainability 2011, 3(9), 1555-1572; doi:10.3390/su3091555
Received: 12 August 2011 / Revised: 13 September 2011 / Accepted: 13 September 2011 / Published: 22 September 2011
Cited by 4 | PDF Full-text (570 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Independent of the left-right model of ideological structure, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food and agriculture are resented across the political spectrum in Switzerland. In the absence of any real experience with genetically modified (GM) food but faced with continuous exposure to [...] Read more.
Independent of the left-right model of ideological structure, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food and agriculture are resented across the political spectrum in Switzerland. In the absence of any real experience with genetically modified (GM) food but faced with continuous exposure to warning messages in the media, conditioned feelings related to such a politically sensitive product may have a significant influence on revealed consumer choice. In our large-scale field study, we examined this assumption by selling three types of bread labeled as ‘made with organic corn’, ‘made with genetically modified corn’ and ‘made with conventional corn’ respectively in five locations across Switzerland using different price scenarios and selling groups. Customers who decided to buy bread also received an envelope containing a questionnaire about their prior political attitude expressed through their voting decision in a national referendum on a five-year ban on GMOs in 2005. The results demonstrate that consumer purchase decisions are determined by contextual factors not captured by general political attitudes. Surprisingly, the mere presence of GM food did have a positive impact on overall sales. The assumption that consumers would feel turned off by the mere presence of GM food for political reasons can therefore be safely discarded. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Biotechnology and Sustainable Development)
Open AccessArticle Public-Private Partnerships and Sustainable Agricultural Development
Sustainability 2011, 3(7), 1064-1073; doi:10.3390/su3071064
Received: 1 July 2011 / Accepted: 12 July 2011 / Published: 20 July 2011
Cited by 5 | PDF Full-text (104 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Agriculture in Africa is not sustainable because average yields have been stagnating for decades due to underinvestment, especially in the development of agricultural markets, crop improvement and the sustainable management of agricultural systems. Low public sector funding for agricultural research and lack [...] Read more.
Agriculture in Africa is not sustainable because average yields have been stagnating for decades due to underinvestment, especially in the development of agricultural markets, crop improvement and the sustainable management of agricultural systems. Low public sector funding for agricultural research and lack of incentives for the private sector to operate in areas where there is no market largely explain the yield gap in many food-importing developing countries. Yet, there are effective ways in which the public and the private sector could work together and jointly improve agricultural sustainability in poor countries. The public sector provides a favorable institutional environment for the development of agricultural markets and investment in rural infrastructure, facilitates local business development and funds research with local relevance. The private sector, in return, brings its considerable expertise in product development and deployment. This article illustrates how new forms of public-private partnerships (PPPs) for agricultural development can work in challenging environments. It discusses three promising examples of PPPs in which the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA) is actively involved, and shows that an experimental approach can sometimes be more effective than social planning in efforts to achieve sustainable agriculture. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Biotechnology and Sustainable Development)
Open AccessArticle The Theory and Practice of Genetically Engineered Crops and Agricultural Sustainability
Sustainability 2011, 3(6), 847-874; doi:10.3390/su3060847
Received: 2 May 2011 / Revised: 7 June 2011 / Accepted: 7 June 2011 / Published: 17 June 2011
Cited by 5 | PDF Full-text (293 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text | Correction | Supplementary Files
Abstract
The development of genetically engineered (GE) crops has focused predominantly on enhancing conventional pest control approaches. Scientific assessments show that these GE crops generally deliver significant economic and some environmental benefits over their conventional crop alternatives. However, emerging evidence indicates that current GE crops will not foster sustainable cropping systems unless the negative environmental and social feedback effects are properly addressed. Moreover, GE crop innovations that promote more sustainable agricultural systems will receive underinvestment by seed and chemical companies that must understandably focus on private returns for major crops. Opportunities to promote crops that convey multi-faceted benefits for the environment and the poor are foundational to a sustainable food system and should not be neglected because they also represent global public goods. In this paper, we develop a set of criteria that can guide the development of GE crops consistent with contemporary sustainable agriculture theory and practice. Based on those principles, we offer policy options and recommendations for reforming public and private R&D and commercialization processes to further the potential contributions of GE crops to sustainable agriculture. Two strategies that would help achieve this goal would be to restore the centrality of the public sector in agricultural R&D and to open the technology development process to more democratic participation by farmers and other stakeholders. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Biotechnology and Sustainable Development)
Open AccessArticle Modern Biotechnology—Potential Contribution and Challenges for Sustainable Food Production in Sub-Saharan Africa
Sustainability 2011, 3(6), 809-822; doi:10.3390/su3060809
Received: 26 March 2011 / Revised: 26 May 2011 / Accepted: 31 May 2011 / Published: 8 June 2011
Cited by 4 | PDF Full-text (221 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Modern biotechnology, including the application of transgenic techniques to produce Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), can play a significant role in increasing agricultural production in a sustainable way, but its products need to be tailored for the developing world. In sub-Saharan Africa, the [...] Read more.
Modern biotechnology, including the application of transgenic techniques to produce Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), can play a significant role in increasing agricultural production in a sustainable way, but its products need to be tailored for the developing world. In sub-Saharan Africa, the capacity to develop GMOs and ensure they meet stringent regulatory requirements is somewhat limited. Most African governments contribute little to science and technology either financially or through strong policies. This leaves the determination of research and development priorities in the hands of international funding agencies. Whereas funding from the United States is generally supportive of GM technology, the opposite is true of funding from European sources. African countries are thus pulled in two different directions. One alternative to this dilemma might be for countries in the sub-Saharan Africa region to develop stronger South-South collaborations, but these need to be supported with adequate funding. African governments as well as external funding agencies are urged to consider the important role that biotechnology, including GM technology, can play in contributing to sustainable development in Africa, and to provide adequate support to the development of capacity to research, develop and commercialize GMOs in the region. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Biotechnology and Sustainable Development)
Open AccessArticle A Meta Analysis on Farm-Level Costs and Benefits of GM Crops
Sustainability 2011, 3(5), 743-762; doi:10.3390/su3050743
Received: 11 February 2011 / Revised: 15 April 2011 / Accepted: 3 May 2011 / Published: 10 May 2011
Cited by 18 | PDF Full-text (480 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
This paper reviews the evidence on the socio-economic impacts of GM crops and analyzes whether there are patterns across space and time. To this end, we investigate the effect of GM crops on farm-level costs and benefits using global data from more [...] Read more.
This paper reviews the evidence on the socio-economic impacts of GM crops and analyzes whether there are patterns across space and time. To this end, we investigate the effect of GM crops on farm-level costs and benefits using global data from more than one decade of field trials and surveys. More specifically, we analyze the effects of GM-crops on crop yields, seed costs, pesticide costs, and management and labor costs and finally gross margins. Based on collected data from studies on Bt cotton and Bt maize, statistical analyses are conducted to estimate the effect of GM crop adoption on these parameters. Our results show that, compared to conventional crops, GM crops can lead to yield increases and can lead to reductions in the costs of pesticide application, whereas seed costs are usually substantially higher. Thus, the results presented here do support the contention that the adoption of GM crops leads on average to a higher economic performance, which is also underlined by the high adoption rates for GM crops in a number of countries. However, the kind and magnitude of benefits from GM crops are very heterogeneous between countries and regions, particularly due to differences in pest pressure and pest management practices. Countries with poor pest management practices benefited most from a reduction in yield losses, whereas other countries benefited from cost reductions. However, our study also reveals limitations for meta-analyses on farm-level costs and benefits of GM crops. In particular, published data are skewed towards some countries and the employed individual studies rely on different assumptions, purposes and methodologies (e.g., surveys and field trials). Furthermore, a summary of several (often) short-term individual studies may not necessarily capture long-term effects of GM crop adoption. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Biotechnology and Sustainable Development)

Review

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Open AccessReview Benefits and Costs of Biologically Contained Genetically Modified Tomatoes and Eggplants in Italy and Spain
Sustainability 2011, 3(8), 1265-1281; doi:10.3390/su3081265
Received: 22 April 2011 / Revised: 22 June 2011 / Accepted: 12 August 2011 / Published: 22 August 2011
Cited by 4 | PDF Full-text (350 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
In this paper we assess the benefits and costs of introducing biologically contained genetically modified (GM) crops, with an application to the potential introduction of GM tomatoes and eggplants in Italy and Spain. Such crops possess both the standard beneficial GM traits, [...] Read more.
In this paper we assess the benefits and costs of introducing biologically contained genetically modified (GM) crops, with an application to the potential introduction of GM tomatoes and eggplants in Italy and Spain. Such crops possess both the standard beneficial GM traits, and they prevent introgression of transgenes from GM crops to their conventional or wild relatives, thereby adding to the safety of their cultivation. As a result, coexistence regulations for these crops are less stringent than for crops without biological containment. The potential adoption of biologically contained GM tomatoes and eggplants is assessed in a cost-benefit framework for Italy and Spain. We conclude that biological containment has considerable potential benefits if policy makers are willing to loosen the restrictions on the introduction of these varieties. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Biotechnology and Sustainable Development)
Open AccessReview Enhancing Sustainability of Cotton Production Systems in West Africa: A Summary of Empirical Evidence from Burkina Faso
Sustainability 2011, 3(8), 1136-1169; doi:10.3390/su3081136
Received: 13 June 2011 / Revised: 13 July 2011 / Accepted: 20 July 2011 / Published: 28 July 2011
Cited by 8 | PDF Full-text (1447 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Africa has been hesitant to adopt agricultural biotechnology, lagging behind global trends over the past decade. One exception is Burkina Faso, a West African country that commercially released 125,000 ha of Bt cotton in 2009. Bt cotton may serve as a working [...] Read more.
Africa has been hesitant to adopt agricultural biotechnology, lagging behind global trends over the past decade. One exception is Burkina Faso, a West African country that commercially released 125,000 ha of Bt cotton in 2009. Bt cotton may serve as a working example of how African countries can enhance sustainability using modern, science-driven technology to increase production levels while reducing input use and energy consumption. This paper reports the potential impact that Bt cotton can have on sustainability in Burkina Faso’s cotton sector based by summarizing empirical evidence from previously published studies. Based on the summary of published data collected from six years of field trials and producer surveys, Bt cotton increased cotton yields by an average of 21.3% and raised income by $106.14 per ha. Using an energy balance model, the introduction of Bt cotton would also result in a 6.6% saving in energy use. The significant increase in productivity and economic returns could be the catalyst for Burkina Faso, and other African countries, to emerge from the decade or so of stagnation and regain their competitive stance in world cotton markets while providing environmental and social benefits. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Biotechnology and Sustainable Development)

Other

Jump to: Research, Review

Open AccessCorrection Correction: The Theory and Practice of Genetically Engineered Crops and Agricultural Sustainability Sustainability 2011, 3, 847-874
Sustainability 2011, 3(7), 955-956; doi:10.3390/su3070955
Received: 2 May 2011 / Revised: 7 June 2011 / Accepted: 7 June 2011 / Published: 30 June 2011
PDF Full-text (58 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract Replace the second sentence in the Introduction on p. 848. [...] Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Biotechnology and Sustainable Development)

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