The scholarly and policy literature on technological ‘catching up’ in developing countries generally assumes that that there is only one direction of technological change within industries towards which capabilities should be accumulated; namely, the direction followed previously by industry leaders in the advanced industrial economies. The possibility that there may be different technological options for capability development, in particular industries and at particular times, some of which may be might be more useful than others for meeting economic and social development objectives, has rarely been explored. In this paper we explore catching up options in the seed industry in Argentina by examining the impacts that different approaches to seed innovation have had on the growth and productivity of soya production in Argentina since the 1990s. Existing, influential, analyses argue that genetically engineered seeds have played a central, transformative role in that sector, and that it is therefore this area of biotechnology in which domestic capabilities in seed innovation should in future be accumulated. However, we argue that those analyses ignore the performance gains from non-transgenic improvements to seeds, or misattribute them to genetic engineering, in large part because they assume that plant genetic engineering must represent the technological frontier in seed innovation. Our more disaggregated analysis suggests that non-transgenic techniques may be primarily responsible for performance gains.  Our analysis has potential implications for the allocation of resources and policy support to the seed industry, and, more generally, to how technological options should be considered and assessed within strategies for developing technological capabilities.

By Anabel Marin; Lilia Stubrin; Patrick Van Zwanenberg

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