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Bioscience Issues

Dr Alan Bennett, Dr Cecilia Chi-Ham

Case Study: Honduras, a Developing Country Model for Adoption of GM Crops for Animal Feed & Human Food Security

Project Leader: Alan Bennett and Cecilia Chi-Ham PIPRA, University of California, Davis

Project Collaborators:
Jose Falck-Zepeda, IFPRI
Patricia Zambrano, IFPRI
Arie Sanders, Zamorano
Maria Roca, Zamorano
Denisse McLean, PIPRA

The main challenges in deploying GM crops in developing countries are often not scientific, since GM crops go through rigorous trait performance and biosafety analyses. Rather, the bottlenecks tend to be related to political, regulatory, economic and social issues. In our proposed case study, Honduras, a Central American country classified as a developing economy, serves as a example of a country currently employing GM crops –specifically corn– as part of a national strategy to achieve food self-sufficiency.

Honduras stands out as the only country in Central America and one of the few countries in Latin America to allow a food-intended GM crop for field evaluation and commercial production. Thus, Honduras will serve as a reference to understand the role GM crops can play in addressing food security within developing countries and, in particular, within Latin America and the Caribbean.

Five complimentary objectives in our project help us understand the potential of GM crops to contribute to food security based on the Honduran experience:
1. Understand the key political issues, drivers and bottlenecks that determined the approval and regulation of GM crops in Honduras.
2. Review the social and economic factors related to the adoption of GM corn and the outcomes obtained by Honduran farmers.
3. Identify crops and traits of significant potential for Honduras and the Central American region, along with the bottlenecks that could be associated to their adoption.
4. Draw strategies on biotechnology’s potential for the region based on the Honduran case discussion
5. Increase awareness and understanding of biotechnology applications among local farmers, industry and government authorities.

Our methodology combines quantitative and qualitative approaches including the compilation of secondary information, interviews to members of the National Biosecurity Council and other high level decision makers, on-site surveys to GM and conventional commercial corn farmers, a net mapping exercise with key stakeholders from the GM corn chain, and focus groups on producer and consumer preferences with smallholder farmers.

Expected deliverables include a written report that summarizes the history of GM crops adoption in Honduras; the farm-level socioeconomic impact of GM corn adoption; a compilation of inputs on the strategic potential for using GM crops in Central America and the Caribbean; and a roadmap description for future regional technology access, trait development, commercialization and stewardship. We will publish the findings of this research in peer-reviewed journals of agricultural economics, biotechnology and food policy. Findings will also be included in a series of short video clips, which will provide an assertive and engaging mean to deliver the message to a broader audience.

Progress to date
To this point, we have compiled information on the establishment of the Honduran biosafety regulatory framework. A net-mapping event was hosted in the city of Tegucigalpa to map the relative influence of stakeholders linked to GM corn, framed around the question of ‘who could influence the expansion of GM corn to reach other farmers in Honduras.’ Meanwhile, two workshops on the role of biotechnology in food security for the country were offered, one directed to farmers and the general public, and the second directed to industry and government representatives.

The socioeconomic study was conducted during the main corn-plating season of 2012. Research took place in the state of Olancho, where approximately 40% of the national corn production and 60% of the GM corn production was concentrated. 126 GM and 83 conventional commercial farmers from 35 municipalities within the state were interviewed. The objective was to evaluate the differences in yield, cost, profit margins, input and labor use between conventional and GM corn production.

Conventional and GM farmers systematically differed in several social and economic characteristics, including their resource allocation decisions. Since these characteristics may be related to farmers’ decision to adopt GM corn, and at the same time may be related to any observed differences in outcomes, it followed that the sample was affected by selection bias. A set of econometric instruments has been used to diagnose the extent of this bias and to correct its effect in the sample. Since the econometric methods employed will distinguish the effect of other observed variables influencing the outcomes, the statistics will be able to confirm whether the technology in fact demonstrates damage abatement or labor saving results.