Here I introduce a set of basic principles for the potential inclusion of socioeconomics in the context of technology decision making and biosafety. This list assumes that a country has already made the decision to include socioeconomics in their decision making and has even gone to a more advanced step of including such process in a Law, Act, or Regulation governing the approval of such technology. This would make the process of inclusion of socioeconomic considerations mandatory for all intents and purposes.
I would strongly encourage those countries that have not made a decision about the inclusion of socioeconomics in decision making to first undergo an evaluation of the reasons why such policy should be implemented in the first place. It is recommended that this process includes consideration of the costs, benefits and risks and the tradeoffs involved with this policy decision.
The latter is a prudent step even for those countries that have made such decision, as it allows intellectual justification for the policy and thus allow better communication with all stakeholders about the process, and even in some cases, a revocation of the policy if proven that it does not contribute to society’s welfare.
- It is prudent to have a well-defined process
All stakeholders need to know the what, when, how and the time lengths of each step in the process. Stakeholders need to know what are the triggers for conducting a socioeconomic assessment and what are the decision making standards by which to judge the assessment and/or a study if submitted by the proponent or commissioned by the competent authority.
- Include standard of proof / evidence for claim validation and review
Competent authorities will likely face evidence which may be conflicting in terms of approach and conclusions. The latter may be influenced by the method or the assumptions used by socioeconomic expert in its assessment. Competent authorities need to be aware that a well-trained expert can even manipulate an assessment to show one conclusion or a competing one. Thus, competent authorities need to define standards by which to judge an assessment. In the case of socioeconomic assessments these usually refer to those elements of best practice categorizing a study as robust.
- Preference on having biosafety risk assessment completed (environmental and food/feed safety)
Experience in different countries such as Brazil or Argentina, has shown that it is preferable to have a system where the biosafety risk assessment is completed before conducting a socioeconomic assessment. This ensures that only those technologies that are deemed as “safe” by the competent authority are assessed for their socioeconomic considerations. This ensures that precious and limited resources are not spent in conducting a socioeconomic study, when the technology is not going to be released to farmers.
- SEC can be most useful for commercialization
Related to the previous statement, most technologies that are in the laboratory, greenhouse, confined field trial or even multi-locational trials may not make it to commercialization due to different reasons. The more advanced a technology is in the regulatory pipeline, the more likely it is that the developer will indeed submit the technology to commercialization considerations. From the standpoint of private and even public sector developers, investing resources in further development of a specific product makes sense if the product indeed has potential for release.
- Well defined and focused approach
The experience in Argentina where the inclusion of socioeconomic considerations is mandatory but focused on a very specific set of issues has shown that a well-defined and focused approach is preferred over other alternatives as it identifies the issue(s) relevant to the country and its stakeholders. This implies defining the set of issues sufficiently so that these can be transformed into research questions and hypotheses and thus allowing proper selection of methods and approaches for an assessment.
Potential candidates for a well focused approach include:
- Cost/benefit analysis of adoption on farmers
- Economic impact on smallholder farmers
- Downside (financial/production) risk
- Impact on trade
- If process is mandatory, minimum requirement should be an economic impact study
If the country decides that a significant interest lies on broader socio-cultural considerations, it is prudent to have a basic/standard economic impact or cost/benefit analysis by which to allow proper analysis of the different trade-offs involved with the technology decision making. A prudent policy would require then that the minimum information portfolio would include economic impact assessment. Broader socio-cultural considerations would not be assessed in isolation, requiring a companion (robust) economic study.