Innogen · Research · Current projects
Genetic Technologies and the Development of Chinese Agriculture Chinese Rice

Xiaobai Shen

Funding: ESRC Innogen Centre

Started: January 1 2002


GM crops unlike other industrial technologies are specifically appealing to developing countries.

Many developing countries have been adopting GM technology to develop their own varieties and, at the same time, they become the battle ground for international / trans-national organisations, which either develop and promote GM agricultural technologies, or oppose them.

The debate over GM technologies has been politicised, polarised and globalised, and has led to the current impasse in regulatory process in developing countries.

From the tradition of science and technology studies (STS), we see that the above mentioned polarised positions and regulatory impasse are derived from two problems:

  • Seeing GM crops an abstract detached from diverse practices and the social-technical contexts
  • Treating them as fixed properties, which will not change after their creation

The introduction of GM crops, which were developed elsewhere into a specific 'land' involves a process of 'adaptation' socially as well as physically.

As plants are living things, this adds even further complication of interaction to already multilayered mutual- adaptations between the new plant variety and the environment.

Research methods

Ethnographic and historical study of a number of cases including GM rice and cotton varieties encompassing innoovation communities and regulators.

Aims and objectives

The aim of the research is to use socio-technical analysis to examine the adaptation process as GM crop technologies are adoped into a developing country like China and to explore the encounters between two sets of social technical systems and rationales and values, between the sites where GM was developed and initially applied and their subsequent take up in China.

Because of these differences, ‘misconceptions’, ‘misalignments’ and ‘blind spots’ are likely occur.

The characteristics of China's agricultural system are also analysed - including the success over many millenia is creating a wide range of rice varieties through artifical selection that are well-matched to China's diverse gepographical and climatic conditions.

Analysis of crop technologies needs to address not just the development of new crop technologies but also on subsequent local inputs in the production process, including human, material and knowledge in particular local knowledge and traditions.

The research will analyse the dynamics of development and uptake of crop technologies and the associated challenges faced by government policies and regulatory systems on GM crops.

Key findings

Whereas the GM controversy in the West has resulted in a sharp division being drawn between GM and conventional plant breeding in policy discourse and regulation, this dichotomy is less established in China.

GM potentially offers greater biodiversity than 'green revolution' and could be used to support, rather than displace China's traditional skill intensive rice cultivation system.

Wider implications for policy

Policies and perspectives originating in the West cannot simply be transported across to developing countries like China with their different history and economic and political traditions.