Analysis of transgenic rice development in China – a social

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					 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
          Xiaobai.shen@ed.ac.uk



                                       1
                    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?


                                                                     2
    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


                                                            3
      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

                                                                                     4
    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



                                                                               5
Interlocking forces – natural
   constraints and human
         constraints


    Rice chosen as principle food               Increase of population




                            Limits of arable land




                                                                         6
      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”

                                                   7
Jinggeng Xizuo : skill oriented precision
farming system in pre-modern China c.f.
            Western mode
Chinese                           Western
• Human skill orientation         • Sophisticated machinery
• Maximising the productivity     • Maximising the productivity
  of land and water                 of labour input
• Small land-holding – ensure     • Larger land-holding
  the living of individual          - create economies of scale
  families - sets obstacles for     - displacement of landless
  mechanisation                     farmers
• Skilled rice farmers who        • Farmers deskilled through
  might be very                     increased dependence on
  knowledgeable of the              the supply of production
  related natural and socio-        materials and equipments
  technical issues                  (Bray 2004)

• focusing internally on          • Focusing externally on
  human capital                     material resources

                                                                  8
  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

                                                                9
      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.




                                                                          10
   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




                                                                          11
       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.

                                                           12
  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‟).

                                                       13
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.

                                        14
                           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.




                                                                                     15
          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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