Genetic diversity has enormous value for agroecosystems, both as a resource that can contribute to productivity change and as a source of "diversity services" that aid farmers and consumers alike. Increasingly, economists have made advances in understanding key issues involving genetic diversity for agroecosystems. These include
Understanding the motivations and incentives that lead farmers to use diverse arrays of species and varieties in their agroecosystems;
Recognizing the "services" that diversity offers within agroecosystems and the contributions of diversity to increased productivity;
Accounting for the positive social benefits that farmers create through maintaining diverse agroecosystems and through the conservation of landraces and traditional varieties;
Understanding and estimating the prospective future value of genetic resources as a source of desirable characteristics for varietal improvement;
Estimating the value of gene banks and germplasm collections; and
Identifying the key obstacles and policy issues relating to in situ conservation efforts.
In spite of these advances, many issues of importance remain unanswered. What forms of diversity are most valuable? What are the priorities for research and for conservation? How will changes in biological technology affect the importance of diversity (both at the farm level and for researchers)? How best can individual incentives be altered to reinforce individual incentives for conserving diversity?
31 See Wright, B. D., Intellectual property and farmers' rights, paper presented at the symposium The Economics of Valuation and Conservation of Genetic Resources for Agriculture, May 13-15, University of Rome Tor Vergata, 1996; and Gollin, D., Conserving genetic resources for agriculture: local farmers, international organizations, and intellectual property rights, paper presented to Globalization and Sustainable Livelihood Systems Workshop, Institute for Social, Economic and Ecological Sustainability, University of Minnesota, April 11-12, 1997.
Questions such as these will undoubtedly remain on the agenda for policy makers in the years and decades ahead. Increasingly, however, economists are discovering the methodologies and data needed to address these questions, and the prospects are bright for future advances in understanding.
Was this article helpful?