Methodological and Technological Issues in Technology Transfer

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3.5 Agriculture

Agriculture is a world-wide critical strategic resource expected to double its production in 30 years to feed the world. Yet, agriculture is most directly affected by climate change through increased variability as well as temperature and moisture changes. Agriculture's adaptation to climate change will require new genetic stocks, improved irrigation efficiency, improved nutrient use efficiency and improved risk management and production management techniques.

Agriculture can contribute modestly to mitigation through carbon sequestration in soils. Emissions from manure can be turned into methane fuel. Methane from ruminants can be reduced through straw ammoniation and increased feed efficiency, and methane from rice paddies can be mitigated. Better nutrient management can reduce emissions of nitrous oxide. Agricultural soils can be managed to increase soil organic matter through improved tillage practices, and tillage agriculture can be concentrated on better soils, allowing marginal soils to be converted to grasslands or forests. Each of these mitigation opportunities, however, requires farmers to change existing practices, creating the need for technology transfer.

Adaptation to uncertainty such as climate change requires assembling a diverse portfolio of technologies and keeping the flexibility to transfer and adopt needed technology. However, small farms and related businesses are risk-averse and transfer of technology is also discouraged through lack of information; financial and human capital, transportation; temporary tenure; and unreliable equipment and supplies. These hindrances can rarely be surmounted unless it is evident that the transferred technology profitably solves a clearly identified problem.

Even though adaptation and mitigation options are clear, integrated options need consideration in technology transfer. These will meet the following criteria: based on development needs: operating at a desired capacity and adapting the technologies to local conditions. For example, technology transfer of fertiliser use, as a main source of GHG, is focused upon and must therefore be balanced by productivity needs and by abatement of GHG emissions.

The effectiveness of technology transfer in the agricultural sector in the context of climate change response strategies would depend to a great extent on the suitability of transferred technologies to the socio-economic and cultural context of the recipients, and on considering development, equity, and sustainability issues. This is particularly relevant when applied to North-South technology transfers in this sector.

Governments can create incentives for technology transfer through regulation and improving institutions, in particular if those incentives are directly influencing farmers. The following actions would make sense in this context:

  • Reducing and eliminating subsidies and market distortions that mask climate variability and climate change signals
  • Improving or developing national agricultural information systems to produce to disseminate information on available state-of-the-art technologies and assist users in identifying their needs;
  • Expansion of credit and savings schemes, to assist rural people to manage the increased variability in their environment;
  • Encouraging free movement of knowledge and trained workers in order to expose farmers to innovative practices and taking action to make new patented technologies available to small farmers.

The worry about the absence of protection for intellectual property might be the key barrier to more private sector involvement in Technology Transfer. So it is important to adopt stricter IPRs to encourage greater private investment in agricultural R&D, and greater involvement in technology transfer to increase agricultural research funding. Many (particularly developed) countries have adopted stricter intellectual property rights (IPR) regimes for agrochemicals, agricultural machinery and biological innovations. A rationale for adopting stricter IPRs is to increase private appropriability of research benefits and to encourage greater private sector investment in agricultural R&D and greater involvement in technology transfer. Although evidence from the United States suggests that increased plant variety protection has stimulated private R&D and adoption of improved crop varieties, the issue of IPRs for genetic resources remains controversial. Particular areas of controversy are farmer and research exemptions to IPR protection, and whether and to what extent IPRs should be extended to developing countries. Recent theoretical literature suggests that there may be limits to how far IPRs should be extended internationally.

The success of a response to an actual climate demonstrates that necessary technology can be developed, transferred and adopted. A new rice variety was developed in Sierra Leone to exploit seasonal rain and require less pesticide. Once success of the variety became apparent, farmers themselves transferred it to others. This transfer demonstrates the success of a policy that responds to present needs, concentrates researchers, devises cheap technology, and promptly benefits farmers.

Some technologies will not be so easily transferred. Irrigation, a pre-eminent adaptation to climate, costs millions and requires communities to adopt unfamiliar crops and methods. Nations must deal with scarce water and environmental impacts, marshal capital to construct the dams and canals and assist in the marketing of new crops. Banks must extend credit to farmers. Research and training must be turned to irrigation design, new crops, water use efficiency and prevention of salinity. Only an integrated national effort that extends to the farm level succeeds.

Centuries of experience, much of it governmental, have demonstrated the value of new plants and useful genes of established ones. Breeding, testing and demonstrating in the diverse locales and climates where farmers must cope with drought, pests, and different lengths of season have had high payoff and are essential for adaptation to climate change.

Education lies at the heart of technological transfer. The public role is pre-eminent and must be supported. Policies and programmes that rely on practical demonstration have proven the most effective. Private business can inform about technology in advertisements or demonstrate it at fairs. Governments have a role in monitoring claims and educating broadly. For example the "training and visit" transfer requires both training technicians and getting them into the field to educate farmers.

Although the transfer of new varieties proceeds quickly and easily, transferring systems of management requires persistence. For example, the United States established the Conservation Technology Information Center in 1982 to encourage conservation tillage. Great progress has been made, but after 17 years, adoption is still ongoing.

Uncertainties cloud the outlook for the transfer of agricultural technology. Because people transfer technology most readily to solve evident problems, the uncertainty of climate change hinders transfer. When, for example, climatologists assessing the climate for the next few years cannot agree whether it will be wetter or drier, no farmer is likely to invest in irrigation or drainage.

The main flow of technology transfer is from developed to developing countries dealing with climate change, which was emphasised by UNFCCC and The Kyoto Protocol. Some cases of existing agricultural technology transfer among developing countries, such as the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and other multilateral systems, can be most helpful in assisting countries meet climate change if they are strengthened. International organisations and relevant developed countries can make great contributions by encouraging and supporting the technology transfer among developing countries.

Efforts to transfer technologies that address the following needs are important in addressing climate change:

  • Increase crop output per litre of irrigation water drawn;
  • Increase demand for appropriate technology with incentives and awareness raising and insures the provision of reliable supplies and equipment that meet local situations and needs;
  • Provide crops suited to warmer temperatures

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