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Agriculture, Technology, and Environmental Impacts In Developing Countries

FarmThree stories focusing on innovation and on the impact of climate change demonstrate the difficulty of fairly distributing the costs, risks, and benefits of technologies.

Nature reports that Monsanto and Syngenta have withdrawn their support for the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology. The $10 million project, which involves at least half a dozen transnational agencies including UNESCO and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, aims to produce quality forecasting of global social, environmental, and technological changes related to agriculture. The companies reportedly were disappointed that the International Assessment placed a high degree of emphasis on risks of agricultural biotechnology, rather than on its benefits.

Meanwhile, The World Bank (another institution involved in the IAASTD project) has released a new report, “Technology Diffusion in the Developing World” (pdf), which indicates rapid technological progress in the developing world, but also indicates a need for developing nations to become more receptive to foreign technology. Alan Gelb, chief economist at The World Bank, commented that “governments may need to intervene directly to encourage the rapid diffusion of technology and a domestic culture of ‘new-to-the-market’ innovation.” Presently, the report says, technical illiteracy and poor business climates stifle the “absorption” of new techniques and ideas (via SciDev.Net).

Finally, a new study led by ecological economist Richard Norgaard at the University of California, Berkeley reports that the world’s richest countries owe a debt of $1.8 trillion to developing nations due to environmental damages. “We know already that climate change is a huge injustice inflicted on the poor,” said Neil Adger at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, who was not involved in the research. “This paper is actually the first systematic quantification to produce a map of that ecological debt,” he said.

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