To Bt or not to Bt? risk and uncertainty considerations in technology assessment

The acreage under the transgenic Bt cotton seeds in India has risen significantly since its legalization in the year 2002. Discussions on the advantages from the technology have focused on increments in productivity and income, without much analysis on risk. Point out that claims on productivity gains seem to be misplaced, as appropriate counterfactuals do not exist for the same hybrids. In this article analyse production costs and crop incomes in drought years to test a simplistic theory of risk based on first principles. Employ a mixed-methods framework to draw inferences by combining data from two cross-sectional surveys in Gujarat (Saurashtra and Southern-Plains) and Maharashtra (Western Vidarbha) for the period 2009-10 and compare it with unit-level data for the corresponding regions from a nationally representative sample for the period 2002-03. Empirical evidence, though limited, brings out the problem of how a high cost technology could be associated with higher risks and may be dominated by traditional alternatives under certain conditions. Ethnographic accounts from the field provide qualitative support to our understanding of potential risks and uncertainties associated with the new technology.

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