A paper by Enoch Kikulwe and colleagues estimated that if a GM banana resistant to black sigatoka -such as the event under development by the University of Leuven, ABSPII and NARO-Uganda- is not approved now rather than later, Uganda losses an average of 200 million US$ per year due to the damage caused by the fungal disease. The comparative exercise examining the tradeoff between approving a technology now, rather than waiting for more information after further testing, lends itself to the real options model.
Black sigatoka is a quite important fungal disease in Uganda which attacks bananas, a staple crop of resource poor farmers in the country. By incorporating irreversibility, uncertainty and flexibility, through the Real Options Model; Enoch’s estimate becomes much more robust as it follows a much more stringent decision estimation rule than a conventional cost/benefit analysis.
Note: The specific event being developed by UL/ABSPII/NARO has undergone confined field trials but these tests were not done in the specific banana varieties used in Uganda and thus can be considered early development efforts. More work in terms of assessments will be needed before this technology can be released -if at all- to farmers. Please note that these results are not necessarily specific to a specific GM event, but may be applicable to any GM product that controls black sigatoka. Furthermore, this analysis did not consider the possibility of other alternative control methods beyond GM, which may have equal value in terms of addressing this productivity constraint.
The interesting part of this paper is that it did consider the tradeoffs involved with approving a GM technology now versus waiting for more ( additional) information that can be generated via a biosafety risk assessment by the decision maker postponing her decision for a period of time. Even when considering the trade-off between approving now or later, the technology is of such a great value to Uganda, that it is wise to consider approving the technology now rather than later.
A not so obvious issue in this analysis is the fact that any technology -especially those being developed by the public sector- with an explicit target of contributing to poverty alleviation efforts, may not be released to its intended users, if decision makers only consider the potential (in some cases hypothetical) risks involved with the potential release of this technology.
Overall lesson learned: delays in releasing technologies, especially if due to unduly restrictive or unnecessarily precautionary regulations, translate into opportunities lost which can be costly. Such delays can deny valuable technologies to developing countries that may help its farmers address specific livelihood and/or productivity constraints. It is prudent to judge technologies individually. Delays in terms of additional testing or assessment procedures generate additional information that may help avoid future problems. Both have to be considered in the evaluation of the technology and the assessment and decision making process. This is one example where socio-economic assessments can contribute to the discussion in a meaningful way.
- Kilkuwe, Enoch; Wesseler, Justus, Falck-Zepeda, José. “Introducing a genetically modified banana in Uganda : Social benefits, costs, and consumer perceptions.” 2008. IFPRI Discussion Paper 767. Washington, D.C. International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).http://www.ifpri.org/pubs/dp/ifpridp00767.asp