Theme 3: The role of the private sector and corporate control

This theme is part of the Biotechnology Research Archive.

This section of includes studies of biotechnology business in action, including detailed analyses of the role of the corporate sector – and particularly the former Monsanto Company (now part of Bayer) in India. Case studies from China look at the close relations between state and private sectors, while Latin American cases, particularly from Argentina, examine the changing nature of corporate agriculture.

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Key findings include:

  • The relationships between the private sector and the state are crucial to understanding the politics of biotechnology policy processes globally and in developing countries. The biotechnology industry lobbies for state support, tax breaks, pro-business regulation, etc., in many countries. The close relationship between public and private biotechnology R and D is especially apparent in China.
  • The consolidation and globalisation of the seed sector has frequently resulted in a limiting of seed varieties available to farmers, and an increase in profit-taking. Yet the structure and ownership of the seed sector varies too. Not all biotechnology corporations are large, global conglomerates like Bayer and Syngenta. The relationship between a private seed sector – large or small, with or without biotechnologies – and state provision of seeds is an important factor influencing the degree to which a ‘pro-poor’ developmental space exists.
  • Profit-driven companies are accountable to their shareholders. In the global South, relatively prosperous farmers may benefit as private agribusinesses develop the emerging markets in the global south, but the poorest and most vulnerable farmers remain of marginal interest to the big biotech firms. The public sector, aid donors, non-profit companies and philanthropic organisations should promote public goods that benefit poorer farmers and their communities.
  • Public-private partnerships (PPPs) – around intellectual property sharing, for example – are often very one-sided, with public resources subsidising private sector activity in return for limited public gain. The dynamics of these relationships, and the interests driving them, deserve careful scrutiny.

Theme 3 Archive


Glover, D. (2008) Made by Monsanto: The corporate shaping of GM crops as a technology for the poor, STEPS Working Paper 11, Brighton, UK: The STEPS Centre.

Newell, P. (2008) Debating Biotechnology, BioRes: Trade and Environment Review, Vol. 4, 7-9.

Glover, D. (2007) Monsanto and smallholder farmers: a case study in corporate social responsibility, Third World Quarterly, Vol. 28, No. 4, 851-867.

Glover, D. (2007) Monsanto and smallholder farmers: a case study on corporate accountability, IDS Working Paper 277, Brighton, UK: IDS.

Glover, D. (2007) The Role of the Private Sector in Modern Biotechnology and Rural Development: The Case of the Monsanto Smallholder Programme, DPhil thesis, Brighton, UK: IDS and University of Sussex.

Newell, P. (2007) Corporate power and bounded autonomy in the global politics of biotechnology, in Falkner, R. (ed.) The International Politics of Genetically Modified Food, Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave, 67-85.

Newell, P., and Glover, D. (2004) Business and biotechnology: Regulation of GM crops and the Politics of Influence, in Jansen, K., and Vellema, S. (eds.) Agribusiness and Society: Corporate Responses to Environmentalism, Market Opportunities and Public Regulation, London, UK: Zed Books, 200-231.

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

Glover, D. (2003) GMOs and the politics of international trade, Democratising Biotechnology: Genetically Modified Crops in Developing Countries Briefing Series, Briefing 5, Brighton, UK: IDS.

Glover, D. (2003) Corporate dominance and agricultural biotechnology: implications for development, Democratising Biotechnology: Genetically Modified Crops in Developing Countries Briefing Series, Briefing 3, Brighton, UK: IDS.

Glover, D., and Newell, P. (2003) Business and Biotechnology: Regulation and the Politics of Influence, IDS Working Paper 192, Biotechnology Policy Series 17, Brighton, UK: IDS.

Yamin, F. (2003) Intellectual property rights, biotechnology and food security, IDS Working Paper 203, Biotechnology Policy Series 22, Brighton, UK: IDS.

Glover, D. (2002) Transnational Corporate Science and the Regulation of Biotechnology, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 37, No. 27, 2734-2740.


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., Kameri-Mbote, P., and Wafula, D. (2003) Globalisation and the international governance of modern biotechnology: implications for food security in Kenya, IDS Working Paper 199, Biotechnology Policy Series 20, Brighton, UK: IDS.


Newell, P. (2007) Biotech Firms, Biotech Politics: Negotiating GMOs in India, Journal of Environment and Development, Vol. 16, No. 2, 183-206.

Scoones, I. (2007) Biotechnology in Bangalore: the politics of innovation, ID21 Insights, 68.

Scoones, I. (2007) The contested politics of biotechnology: biotech in BangaloreScience and Public Policy, Vol. 34, No. 4, 261-271.

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

Newell, P. (2003) Biotech firms, biotech politics: negotiating GMOs in India, IDS Working Paper 201, Biotechnology Policy Series 11, Brighton, UK: IDS.

Scoones, I. (2003) Making policy in the ‘New Economy’: the case of Karnataka’s biotechnology policy, IDS Working Paper 196, Biotechnology Policy Series 13, Brighton, UK: IDS.

Scoones, I. (2002) Biotech Science, Biotech Business: Current Challenges and Future Prospects, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 37, No. 27, 2725-2733.

Latin America

Marin, A., and Stubrin, L. (2017) Oportunidades y desafíos para convertirse en un innovador mundial en recursos naturales el caso de las empresas de semillas en Argentina, Desarrollo Económico, Vol. 56, Nº. 220, 471-497.

Marin, A., Stubrin, L., and da Silva Jr, J. J. (2015) KIBS Associated to Natural Resource Based Industries: Seeds Innovation and Regional Providers of the Technology Services Embodied in Seeds in Argentina and Brazil, 2000–2014, Inter-American Development Bank Competitiveness and Innovation Division, Discussion Paper, Nº. IDB-DP-375.

Marin, A. (2015) Los dueños de las plantas en Argentina: ¿quién decide?, ¿cómo se decide?, Iberoamericana, Vol. 15, No. 58, 184-190.

Newell, P. (2009) Technology, Food, Power: Governing GMOs in Argentina in Clapp, J., and Fuchs, D. (eds.) Agro-Food Corporations, Global Governance, and Sustainability, Cambridge, USA: MIT Press.

Biotechnology Research archive

Our Biotechnology Research Archive is a collection of evidence-based research by STEPS-affiliated researchers and projects, spanning over two decades.

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