Innovation and the commons: lessons from the governance of genetic resources in potato breeding

Agriculture and Human Values 38 (2):525-539 (2021)

Abstract

This article explores the relation between innovation and resources that are governed as commons by looking at the governance of potato genetic resources, especially in the context of the emergence of hybrid diploid potato breeding that will enable potato propagation through true seeds. As a new breeding tool, hybrid diploid potato breeding may not only revolutionize traditional potato breeding practices, it may also strongly affect current governance modes of potato genetic resources as a commons. Contrary to conventional accounts of the commons that treat technological innovation mainly as an exogenous factor, we argue that technological innovation can better be understood as an endogenous factor. In particular, we develop a co-production framework of innovation and the commons that draws attention to the different ways in which innovation, commons and its governance interact. Using this framework, we demonstrate that the constitution of potato genetic resources as a commons cannot be understood without considering the various ways in which technological innovation affects resources and mediate how these are governed. While reversely, technological innovations themselves are also enabled and constrained by users who govern potato genetic resources as a shared resource. We argue that changes in the governance of genetic resources can be understood as a change from one socio-technical constellation to another, whereby innovations, resources, and institutions are continuously co-produced.

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