Theme 1: Poverty reduction and food security: impacts of genetic technologies

This theme is part of the Biotechnology Research Archive.

What have been the impacts of modern agricultural biotechnology on poverty and food security? Studies include broad international overviews to particular case studies from India, China and the Philippines. The emphasis across this work is on the social and economic differentiation of impacts on diverse rural livelihoods.

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Key findings include:

  • Agricultural production technologies may not always be the major limiting factors on productivity: market access, input supplies, environmental contexts, etc., may be as important.
  • Productivity is not the only thing that matters: hedging and managing risks, building resilience, and balancing priorities among farm and non-farm incomes and livelihoods, are just as important to small-scale farmers.
  • Poverty and food insecurity emerge from dynamic and multidimensional local contexts; solutions need to be locally tailored.
  • Modern biotechnologies beyond genetic engineering, including marker-assisted selection, may be more appropriate breeding strategies for a given situation.
  • Crop varietal choice and integrated crop/soil/pest management approaches may be as important to boosting production as new genetic traits.
  • It is one thing to develop a new genetic trait, but quite another to ensure that it produces benefits for particular target communities, such as small-scale farmers, poor consumers, or malnourished children.

Theme 1 Archive


Ely, A., and Marin, A. (2021) Genetic technologies in agriculture: considering the international situation from different dynamic contexts, [Video], SPRU Sustainability Seminar Series, Brighton, UK: SPRU.

Glover, D., Kim, S. K., and Stone, G. D. (2020) Golden Rice and technology adoption theory: A study of seed choice dynamics among rice growers in the Philippines, Technology in Society, Vol. 60.

Stone, G. D., and Glover, D. (2020) The Philipines has rated Golden Rice safe, but farmers might not plant it, STEPS Blog.

Geall, S., and Ely, A. (2019) Agri-food transitions and the “green public sphere” in China, Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions, Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions, Vol. 30, 33-42.

Stone, G. D., and Glover, D. (2017) Disembedding grain: Golden Rice, the Green Revolution, and heirloom seeds in the Philippines, Agriculture and Human Values, Vol. 34, 87-102.

Ely, A., Geall, S., and Song, Y. (2016) Sustainable maize production and consumption in China: practices and politics in transition, Journal of Cleaner Production, Vol. 134A, Part. A, 259-268.

Ely, A., Geall, S., and Song, Y. (2015) Transgenic vs Agro-ecological approaches for sustainable agri-food systems in China: Prospects, Politics and Practices, in Sausmikat, N. (ed) Sustainable agriculture in China: land policies, food and farming issues, Stiftung Asienhaus.

Macnaghten, P., and Carro Ripalda, S. (2015) Governing Agricultural Sustainability: Global lessons from GM crops, Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

Macnaghten, P. (2015) Global lessons for agricultural sustainability from GM crops, STEPS Blog.

Glover, D. (2014) GM crops: what people in the global South really think, STEPS Blog.

Brooks, S. (2013) Biofortification: lessons from the Golden Rice project, Food Chain, Vol. 3, No. 1-2, 77-88.

Glover, D. (2009) Undying Promise: Agricultural biotechnology’s pro-poor narrative, ten years on, STEPS Working Paper 15, Brighton, UK: STEPS Centre.

Newell, P. (2006) Agricultural biotechnology and development. Report for International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development, Geneva, CH.

Newell, P. (2006) ‘Biotechnology’ in Robertson, R., and Scholte, J. A. (eds), Encyclopedia of Globalization, New York, USA: Routledge.

Brooks, S. (2005) Biotechnology and the Politics of Truth: From the Green Revolution to an ‘Evergreen Revolution, Sociologia Ruralis, Vol. 45, No. 4.

Mayer, S. and Stirling, A. (2004) GM crops: good or bad? EMBO Reports, Vol. 5, No. 11, 1021–1024.

Scoones, I. (2004) Debating GM crops, Eldis, ID21 Insights, Vol. 52.

Glover, D. (2003) Bt cotton: benefits for poor farmers?, in Institute of Development Studies, Democratising Biotechnology: Genetically Modified Crops in Developing Countries Briefing Series, Briefing 9, Brighton, UK: IDS.

Scoones, I. (2003) Can agricultural biotechnology be pro-poor?, Democratising Biotechnology: Genetically Modified Crops in Developing Countries Briefing Series, Briefing 2, Brighton, UK: IDS.

Scoones, I. (2002) Agricultural biotechnology and food security: exploring the debate, Working paper series, No. 145, Brighton, UK: IDS.

Scoones, I. (2002) Can agricultural biotechnology be pro-poor? A sceptical look at the emerging consensus, IDS Bulletin, Vol. 33, No. 4, 114-119, Brighton, UK: IDS.

Newell, P. (2001) Biotechnology for the Poor?, Science as Culture, Vol. 10, No. 2, 249-254.

Millstone, E. (2000) Analysing Biotechnology’s Traumas, New Genetics and Society, Vol. 19, No 2, 117-132.

Millstone, E., and Dixon, B. (1992) Our Genetic Future: the science and ethics of genetic technology, The British Medical Association, Oxford University Press.


Makoni, N., and Mohamed-Katerere, J. (2006) ‘Genetically Modified Crops, in Chenje, M and Mohamed-Katerere, J. (eds), Africa Environment Outlook 2: Our Environment, Our Wealth, UNEP.

Scoones, I. (2006) Can GM crops prevent famine in Africa?, in Devereux, S et al. (eds) New Famines, London, UK: Routlage.

Ely, A. (2003) Evaluation of Environmental Risks of Bt Maize in the US and EU: Lessons and Challenges for Kenya, Globalisation and the International Governance of Modern Biotechnology, Brighton, UK: IDS.

Glover, D. (2003) Biotechnology for Africa? , Democratising Biotechnology: Genetically Modified Crops in Developing Countries Briefing Series, Briefing 10, Brighton, UK: IDS.

Keeley, J., and Scoones, I. (2003) Seeds in a Globalised World: Agricultural Biotechnology in Zimbabwe, IDS Working Paper 189, Biotechnology Policy Series 8, Brighton, UK: IDS.

Odame, H. (2002) Smallholder Access to Biotechnology: Case of Rhizobium inocula in KenyaEconomic and Political Weekly, Vol. 37, No. 27, 2748-2755.

Odame, H., Kameri-Mbote, P., and Wafula, D. (2002) Innovation and Policy Process: Case of Transgenic Sweet Potato in Kenya, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 37, No. 27, 2770-2777.

Mwangi, P., and Ely, A. (2001) Assessing risks and benefits: Bt maize in KenyaBiotechnology and Development Monitor, No. 48, 6-9.


Huang, J., Hu, R., Fan, C., Pray, C., and Rozelle, S. (2003) Bt cotton benefits, costs and impacts in China, IDS Working Paper 202, Biotechnology Policy Series 5, Brighton, UK: IDS.

Huang, J., Hu, R., Wang, Q., Keeley, J., and Falck-Zepeda, J. (2002) Agricultural Biotechnology Policy and Impact in China, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 37, No. 27, 2756-2761.


Shah, E. (2008) What Makes Crop Biotechnology Find Its Roots? The Technological Culture of Bt Cotton in Gujarat, European Journal of Development Research, Vol. 20, 432-447.

Scoones, I. (2007) comment on Stone, G. Beyond Agricultural Deskilling and the Spread of Genetically Modified Cotton in Warangal, Current Anthropology Vol. 48, 93-94.

Scoones, I. (2006) Science, Agriculture and the Politics of Policy: the case of biotechnology in India, Delhi, IN: Orient Longman.

Shah, E. (2005) Local and Global Elites Join Hands: Development and Diffusion of Bt Cotton Technology in Gujarat, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 40, 4629-4639.

Scoones, I. (2003) Regulatory manoeuvres: The Bt cotton controversy in India, IDS Working Paper 197, Biotechnology Policy Series 14, Brighton, UK: IDS.

Seshia, S., and Scoones, I. (2003) Tracing policy connections: the politics of knowledge in the Green Revolution and biotechnology eras in India, IDS Working Paper 188, Biotechnology Policy Series 21, Brighton, UK: IDS.

Visvanathan, S., and Parmar, C. (2003) Social constructions of Bt Cotton, Biotechnology Policy Series 15, Brighton, UK: IDS.

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