• Was the technical problem solved?
valued by society. By using the divisions presented by Antle, the introduction of novel sources of genetic diversity would occur in the agricultural production. Coupling the introduction of biotechnology with the management of biodiversity and agroecosystem quality would influence a range of perspectives regarding overall quality of the agroecosystem component (2) and, often, values of human health and welfare (3 and 4).
Determining practices to enhance the sustainability of a given agricultural system, as presented by Tait (personal communication), and the components used by Antle (1994) in his pollution study are also useful for this discussion. Here, these two concepts (dependence on human values and four components depicting introductions to agricultural systems) are used in the context of managing agroecosystems in developing countries. They provide a foundation for understanding the interrelations between quality indicators, inputs derived from biotechnology, and agroeco-system biodiversity. Examples of inputs are given, using cultivars as technical solutions to specific environmental and productivity problems, but which can also be valued in the context of the ecosystem.
QUALITY INDICATORS — LINKING BIODIVERSITY WITH NEW TECHNOLOGIES
Relevant agroecosystem quality indicators, which could be applied to products derived from new technologies, now need to be selected. Examples of products, like virus resistance and applications of B.t. (see section on Examples from IBS Seminars, later), illustrate both technical and adaptive challenges when considered in relation to agroecosystem quality. With such examples in mind, two indicators were selected which would relate them to agroecosystems: (1) biodiversity and (2) diminishing use of chemical inputs.
Conserving, Maintaining, and Using Biodiversity
Many traditional agroecosystems are undergoing some process of modernization (Altieri and Merrick, 1988). This process of modernization and its relation to the use of high-yielding varieties can threaten indigenous diversity or other repositories of crop germplasm. Pressures to modernize can have a drastic effect on the conservation of diversity, and indicators of quality will depend on our knowledge of natural populations in each ecosystem. In many agroecosystems, premiums are placed on maintaining and conserving sources of biodiversity. Different and often competing values exist for what constitutes an ecologically correct mix or use of diversity within a given agroecosystem. Whether this diversity can be increased or decreased reflects values attributed to ecosystem quality. Placing premiums on maintaining diversity recognizes the importance of multiple-crop agroecosystems which make use of indigenous as well as introduced sources of diversity (Gliessman, 1993). Complex crop mixtures, rotations, and practices developed by local farmers can protect the environment under tropical conditions and provide an array of products for harvest.
Several case study examples illustrate the importance of using and conserving extant biodiversity within managed agricultural and forest ecosystems (Potter et al., 1993). An important, if not essential, element of these systems is the involvement of native peoples in these managed areas, and their application of the knowledge gained over time for the care and management of such areas (Padoch and Peters, 1993). In addition, it has been argued that maintaining traditional agroecosystems is an important strategy for preserving in situ repositories of crop germplasm (Altieri and Merrick, 1988). For example, Latin American farming systems studied demonstrate a high degree of plant diversity (Altieri and Montecinos, 1993). The authors also recognize the importance of small farmer holdings in these ecologically diverse systems.
Biotechnology and sustainable agricultural systems are often portrayed as antagonistic ends of a continuum. However, this portrayal lacks evidence, especially given that the use of biotechnology-derived agricultural products within either production systems or agroecosystems is still largely an unknown factor. In fact, there are many applications of biotechnology which seek to minimize the use of chemical inputs as pest, weed, or disease control strategies in developing country agriculture. The relation between these applications and broader concerns of sustainability have been recognized (Hauptli et al., 1990). In this regard, technical solutions to pressing pest or weed management problems are becoming available from biotechnology. For this reason, minimizing chemical inputs to agroecosystems was selected as the second potential quality factor to be presented.
Both of these indicators will rely on mobilizing, understanding, and taking into account stakeholder values and perceptions. Management of agricultural systems will be complicated by the fact that indicators of quality are difficult to measure, highly location specific, and reflect "value judgments." Such indicators will by necessity incorporate values held or determined by the stakeholders of each system, and will reflect values that are not part of the biological system being considered (J. Tait, personal communication). Solutions to stakeholder problems, such as the need to combat pests or minimize chemical applications, can take the form of technical solutions by using new inputs. However, adaptive problems may also occur after interventions are identified and new technical solutions are employed. Here, stakeholder opinions may differ with the claims made by or for technical solutions, such as can occur with new products from agricultural biotechnology, or when levels of extant diversity are threatened.
It is necessary to identify the real stakeholders, to learn their expectations regarding the issue, and to gain an understanding of their opinions regarding these options to the problem at hand. Mobilizing stakeholder response is a key facet of adaptive problems, and a major task for those managing such situations (Heifetz, 1996). Constituents of specific agroecosystems will help determine quality indicators and work with those advocating new inputs, or cultural options which may affect levels of diversity. Introducing new sources of diversity raises further complications in agreeing whether such additions reflect an improvement in overall quality. These complications are expected, based on the increases in stakeholder involvement regarding the question of genetically engineered crops and introductions to areas rich in extant or indigenous biodiversity.
Was this article helpful?