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1 Analysis of transgenic rice development in China – a social shaping of technology perspective Dr. Xiaobai Shen Senior lecturer Management School and.

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Presentation on theme: "1 Analysis of transgenic rice development in China – a social shaping of technology perspective Dr. Xiaobai Shen Senior lecturer Management School and."— Presentation transcript:

1 1 Analysis of transgenic rice development in China – a social shaping of technology perspective Dr. Xiaobai Shen Senior lecturer Management School and Economics The University of Edinburgh

2 2 Background Since the application for the commercialisation of transgenic rice trials was first filed in 2004 to date, no approval has yet been given by the Chinese regulatory authority; There has been a heated debate in which promoters and opposing camps rally support from both domestic and international communities At core of this controversy are intractable social, economic and political issues. Research Questions: What is the role of the genetic engineering technology in the evolution of the Chinese rice technology system? What are the key problems and how these have been emerged in the intricate interplay between technical and socio-economic elements in China’s context? What are policy implications?

3 3 Analytical Framework- A technology studies perspective While noting the uncertainty and serendipity that surround technological innovation / development, it takes positive and constructive stance. Instead of leaving technology as the exclusive preserve of scientists and engineers, this perspective seeks to open the “black-box” of technology development and to address the important interplay between social and technical features within the specific organisational setting and the broader context. It adopts a processual approach instead of a rather decontextualised snap-shot approach to studying technology

4 4 Applying technology studies perspective to the rice technology in China Treat rice technology as a socio-technical ensemble specific to China’s context: Identify key players; technical and social and organisational elements and mechanisms; and the interfaces between them; Examine the intricate interaction amongst them Take into account the historical processes through which the rice technology system was constructed and developed over time in Chinese history to understand its specific trajectory of development. Identify the distinctive features of the rice technology system: As an agricultural technology, rice technology has multiple-interfaces with human society that it resides, different from most other modern technologies It has extremely close relationship with the natural environment within which it is embedded and that is diverse in physical locations It suggests that the rice technology system is bound to be different from other countries, in particular that in the West, and thus European/North American approaches may well not be suitable for the Chinese case

5 5 The socio-technical ensemble of rice technology in China Study of the insertion of agricultural technology into an agrarian society provides an outstanding vantage point for technology studies One can not effectively study rice technology in China, where rice cultivation and consumption plays a central role, without looking into many other aspects of social life and the natural environment Historical elements can be traced to ancient times; e.g. rice become principle food as early as 7,000 years ago; because of its nutritional efficiency to human diet and needs, it led to population increase and agricultural activities in growing rice plants; etc. The socio-technical infrastructure includes, e.g. water supply and irrigation system; land holding and tenure system, agriculture administration, the family structure and inheritance system, the division of labour within the family, the community and the society, government policies in migration Natural forces, e.g. rice plant as a self-supporting semi-aquatic plant; the diverse climate and soil regimes in China

6 6 Interlocking forces – natural constraints and human constraints Increase of population Limits of arable land Rice chosen as principle food

7 7 Compounded social and environmental elements Natural disasters of floods and droughts which may be partly derived from overuse of the land Chinese society faced incentives to be more communal at a much larger scale in fighting against severe natural forces Migration from north to south, e.g. Yangzi Delta, that brought rice cultivas into a new environment where some were adapted into and began a new strain Agricultural administrative system, such as “nongshi”

8 8 Jinggeng Xizuo : skill oriented precision farming system in pre-modern China c.f. Western mode Chinese Human skill orientation Maximising the productivity of land and water Small land-holding – ensure the living of individual families - sets obstacles for mechanisation Skilled rice farmers who might be very knowledgeable of the related natural and socio- technical issues focusing internally on human capital Western Sophisticated machinery Maximising the productivity of labour input Larger land-holding - create economies of scale - displacement of landless farmers Farmers deskilled through increased dependence on the supply of production materials and equipments (Bray 2004) Focusing externally on material resources

9 9 Rice “technology trajectory” – focusing on rice varieties A broad genetic spectrum of rice varieties present in China (Chang 2000, Latham 1998). For thousands of years, rice seed selection has been vigorously practiced by farmers to create varieties to meet the diverse needs of natural and social environments and human preferences (Chang 2000): rice-fields in China range from rain-fed fields in the South to dry-land in the north, an enormous diversity across the country, and moreover the changes of their condition over time – including soil properties, water supply, solar radiation intensity, day length, and temperature range Rice farmers embodied cultivation skills and knowledge about these local conditions; seed alteration through both nature and human selection. Rice farmers were rice producers, consumers and technology innovators

10 10 Modern version of “jinggeng Xizuo” mode Small size of land-holdings reinforced by the land redistribution in the foundation of PRC, which pursued equal shares for every household Hukou – residential registration system has tied farmers to the land in spite of the increasing density of population (the decreasing ratio between arable land and farmers) The people’s commune movement in the 50’s had little effect in the consolidation of the land for mechanisation The segregation of rice breeding activities from the traditional rice society created a knowledge gap between rice breeders and rice producers. *Note: the Nanjing Higher Agricultural School and Guangzhou Agricultural Specialised School was set up in 1919, and subsequent systematic and targeted breeding research institutes and projects were established since the foundation of PRC in 1948.

11 11 Hybrid rice technology and its technical constraints Major break-through in rice yields by applying hybridisation technology in the 1960s Wide application of high yielding varieties and commercialisation of these hybrids from the 1970s Drawbacks of the conventional breeding methods Very limited sources – a few plants having the requisite male- sterility-inducing cytoplasm, of which even fewer are suitable to be used to form one of the parental lines for stable production of hybrids This severe limit on the possible germplasm hinders breeding for disease and pest resistant varieties Labour intensive and long lead time for developing new varieties Unstable and low successful rate of production of hybrid seeds

12 12 Social and environmental impacts of hybrid rice technology the high yields of rice production depended upon the increasingly heavy usage of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. Large scale application of hybrid rice with a high degree of cytoplasmic uniformity created a threat of erosion in rice biodiversity The choice of rice varieties to grow in different rice fields in different regions is largely associated with the available varieties developed/bred by R&D institutions and managed by agriculture administration in individual localities. A limited number of available varieties could not meet the needs of diverse climate types, soil conditions and ecological systems in different regions.

13 13 Intricate interplay between the hybrid rice technology and the socio- economic and political context However the then political and economic system did not provide favourable conditions for individual/companies to make profits from this; the state subsidised the hybrid rice seed production and kept the rice seeds price at an affordable level for rice farmers Under the “mass participation” political line, farmers were encouraged to take training courses and engage in research activities; at the same time, intellectuals including scientists and technical experts to the countryside. In these circumstances, the introduction of hybrid rice technology did not cause the discontent amongst rice farmers and instead it was welcome by farmers (contrast to other national settings of the ‘Green Revolution’).

14 14 Genetic engineering technology Provides effective tools for assisting conventional breeding methods Introduces a new technical route to the continuous effort in developing rice varieties The adoption of transgenic BT cotton reduced pesticide use and reduced the cost of cotton production; this success paved the way for acceptance of transgenic Bt rice amongst farmers.

15 15 Conclusion Rice technology is not singular artefact but rather a socio-technical ensemble The rice technology system was locked into Jinggeng xizuo mode in Chinese history; this skill oriented precision farming in pre-modern China worked well within existing social and economic system, however the modern version creates deskilling of rice farmers and segregates them from technology innovation system the rice “technology trajectory” in China which focused on rice varieties was the outcome of the intricate interaction amongst socio-technical and environmental elements and related mechanisms The development of hybrid rice technology and its wide application across the country in the 60s and 70s brought negative impacts on the environment and created threats to the revolutionary changes in rice production system. However, the social and political context in the 60s and 70s had buffered the negative social impacts from the development and deployment of hybrid rice technology and avoided the social outcry in China. the introduction of genetic engineering technology to rice variety development can be seen as just an extension and the evolution of existing rice technologies. So are the negative impacts on the natural environment and the society.

16 16 Policy implications China’s current regulatory regime for dealing with bio- safety issues, which was established to align with the practices in the West, might well not be suitable and effective for addressing the pressing issues faced in China. In China’s socio-technical rice system, some of the current problems had emerged with the introduction of hybridisation breeding technologies. The unbalanced application of the “precautionary principle” to GM rice varieties, but not to hybrid rice, may bring much more immediate risks. This provides an illustration of “misalignment” between a western management tool and the Chinese context.


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