Providing a meaningful contribution to the topic of agroecosystems, new technology, and diversity poses many challenges. First, it is difficult to obtain agreed-on definitions or standards for "agroecosystem quality." The second difficulty occurs when considering how new technologies affect agroecosystem quality, including issues related to biodiversity. These difficulties, and the management and policy issues which they raise, are illustrated by examples of technical and adaptive challenges facing agricultural policy makers, managers, and end users concerned with maintaining levels of biodiversity or enhancing agroecosystem quality.

The objectives of this chapter are to first consider the differences between these technical and adaptive problems, the nature of the situations they each address, and the learning required when facing an adaptive challenge. Second, agroecosystem complexities and the difficulties in determining quality indicators are presented. Applications of biotechnology are presented as derived from international collaborative research using examples compiled by the Intermediary Biotechnology Service (IBS), executed by the International Service for National Agricultural Research (ISNAR). Some of these examples, as used in IBS policy seminars, highlight emerging policy and management needs which were identified and discussed. It is hoped that this chapter clarifies adaptive challenges regarding agroecosystem diversity and quality, and prepares stakeholders for the challenges and opportunities of new technologies.


When confronting "technical problems," difficulties are faced which can be clearly defined and understood, and for which solutions are readily available. They have become problems of a technical nature by virtue of lessons learned through experiences confronted over time. The benefits derived from these accumulated experiences let us know both what to do, through the use of knowledge (organizational procedures for guiding our actions), and who should do it, by identifying whoever is authorized to perform such work (Heifetz, 1996).

When facing an "adaptive problem," however, ready organizational responses are absent, the problem is difficult to define, and expertise and/or established procedures are lacking. Technical responses to the problem are at best only part of the solution. When facing such difficulties, time is required for learning, as this is a central task of the adaptive process. Learning occurs before solutions and implementation modalities become apparent. Those holding competing values with regard to the problem are identified, questions are posed to define the issues, and stakeholders are given time to adjust values to accommodate the nature of the problem. The learning phase of adaptive work diminishes the gap between the original stakeholder values, the realities they now face, and the adjustments that may be necessary to adapt their values to the new realities (Heifetz, 1996).

Differences between technical and adaptive problems are used to diagnose issues presented in this chapter as related to agricultural productivity (see Table 1). Agricultural problems of a technical nature are often remedied by choosing among appropriate technologies, whether they are from conventional or nonconventional sources. One chooses between or combines various cultural, crop, or livestock options to address problems, needs, or deficiencies in productivity of agricultural ecosystems. However, when technologies are considered beyond their technical dimensions, in the broader sense of affecting agroecosystem quality, then adaptive problems may be encountered for the following reasons. First, no universal definition of quality exists, especially for the variable nature of agricultural ecosystems in the tropical climates of developing countries. Second, stakeholder opinions may vary as to utility vs. risk of new inputs or technologies. Third, values (whether cultural, economic, or health) create perceptions which must be addressed in relation to the realities of the proposed inputs and the changes they may cause. It is in this context that new technologies can raise adaptive challenges to farmers, system managers, and policy makers.

Consequently, questions regarding agroecosystem quality are "adaptive challenges." In this paper, two indicators of agroecosystem quality are proposed, one based on biodiversity and the second on the use of chemical inputs. These indicators can be affected by the introduction of new technologies, using biotechnology products as examples. Biological differences among agroecosystems and stakeholder values and perceptions will be critical to defining specific quality indicators. Policy and management challenges posed by new technologies and considerations of biodiversity and use of chemical inputs are then analyzed in relation to agroec-osystem quality.

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