Technological Lock-in in Action: Appraisal and Policy Commitment in Argentina's Seed Sector
van Zwanenberg, Patrick
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This paper uses novel empirical evidence to analyse critically the widely held view that genetic engineering technology played a pivotal role in explaining the rapid expansion and increase in productivity of soy production in Argentina over the period from 1995 to 2015. We estimate the relative contribution of different approaches to seed innovation on soy performance over that period. We show how previous analyses have ignored the performance gains from plant breeding or misattributed them to genetic engineering. In our disaggregated assessment, seed innovations based on breeding techniques provide just as plausible an explanation for the expansion and performance gains of soy production. We illustrate how policy support to the seed industry is consistent with and is justified by mainstream narratives about the central role played by plant genetic engineering technology, and how the asymmetries created by these policy responses are contributing to the crowding out of plant breeding. This evidence, in our view, illustrates an important cognitive mechanism of lock-in to what may be a sub-optimal technology.