Transferring Technology: who Benefits?
The transfer of technology, or technology transfer (TT), is seen by some as the benevolent transfer of so called modern technology by richer nations and their corporations, to poorer countries. The aim is to modernize economies and transform the way products are produced so countries become more efficient and productive within the global market system. The technology to be transferred is said to not only benefit large scale production, but also to assist small producers and manufacturers of goods, be they in the agricultural sector or otherwise.
But the reality of technology transfer is that it often poses a larger threat to the welfare of their recipients rather than a solution to their problems. New tools don't always deserve the name of being technology, because a technology is only useful if it is suitable to communities as whole and not only parts of it. The technologies that are transferred in the name of sustainability are often more destructive than beneficial, and what is actually needed, is ecosystem enhancing technology. Moreover, the technology that is transferred must also mean the transfer of knowledge to the recipients, rather than making people dependent on continued outside inputs and help. Lastly, a new technology must be socially acceptable and beneficial on many levels, adding to the overall capacity of communities to maintain healthy and sustainable livelihoods.
Yet within the CBD text on TT, governments should promote technology absorption, as if people are sponges and ready to suck it up regardless of its effects. Technology comes with social conditioning, which can threaten societies and ecosystems that otherwise live in harmony. In this sense, technology can be seen as a serious threat from the outside, and whatever promises of increased and efficient production, it could change communities for ever.
The most dominant model of technology transfer today is biotechnology. Pushed in the name of sustainability, corporations proudly announce that one third of the 68 million ha. of genetically modified crops is grown in the developing world in 11 different countries. Yet these crops are the most inappropriate technology for the development and sustainability of communities. It is a technology, which is highly protective, controlled by a handful of corporations, threatens local agricultural biodiversity and ecosystems, destroys farmers knowledge and traditions, and makes seed saving a crime because of the conditions attached to the purchase of genetically modified seeds. Moreover, corporations monitor farmers, and as witnessed in North America have begun to take people to court for alleged misuse of their seeds.
Monsanto, along with other corporations, have developed terminator technology, which strips seeds of their traits to reproduce, rendering them sterile, something which would massively favour the seed sales of the corporations while leaving farmers completely dependent on them. Monsanto has recently pulled out of one of the biggest growers of genetically engineered foods, Argentina, because of a loss in sales due to 'illegally' sold and planted seeds and is therefore pushing very hard for the commercialization of this dangerous technology. The biotechnology corporations are now calling this technology bio-containment, arguing that it stops the gene flow from one variety to another, thereby hindering contamination. Yet while this is only an excuse to protect their business, farmers are loosing the right to develop their crop diversity and being able maintain a sound relationship with the land.
At the CBD, many voices say that the development of the biotechnology industry is but only an extension of the green revolution. This introduction of a highly mechanized agriculture into the developed world during the 1960s and 1970s, not only brought with it rural dislocation and the destruction of local markets and products, but an increase in diseases due to toxic chemical use of pesticides as well as soil degradation and erosion. Many examples exist of what different kinds of 'modern' and 'developed' agriculture have done to societies and ecosystems in the Global South. More than often, these 'wonder' technologies drive people into poverty rather than the opposite. Furthermore, women have been the most effect have been the main conservationists of seeds, the agriculturalists who breathe in the toxic pesticides, and yet are left the most marginalized. Corporate sales pitches of modernized technologies take no note of the position of the woman in upholding not only agricultural biodiversity and production, but the bonds between the land and the culture of their people's.
'Modernity' and 'development' is in the eye of the beholder, and it seems that governments need to be educated about what technology is. In the Philippines, most of the rainforests have disappeared, and of the little that is left, 81% is in the hands of Indigenous People. The technology that cut down the forests was no match for the technologies of the islands original inhabitants.
With the threat of terminator seeds more imminent than ever before, the governments of our planet need to make wise choices. Yet beyond genetically engineered seeds more technologies have yet to be invented. Therefore, there is a need for a way to foresee, assess and evaluate the impact of new technologies as they appear. But more importantly, we need to build capacity around the proven sustainable technologies that already exist. New partnerships have emerged between communities, scientists, NGOs and other institutions that have pooled together knowledge from different knowledge systems from around the world. These genuine partnerships seek to create enabling environments for communities to improve their livelihoods through sound technological advances, which have social and ecological concerns as their main concerns. Such partnerships are far away from the fake Monsanto, Syngenta and United Nations partnerships that have been the recent fashion in the corporate multilateral institution world. These are certainly not in the interests of people and planet, as impotence and sterility have nothing to do with the conservation of biological diversity.
17 february 2004