The Barriers to Innovation Diffusion: The Case of GM Food in Sri Lanka

The Barriers to Innovation Diffusion: The Case of GM Food in Sri Lanka

Dilupa Nakandala (Western Sydney University, Australia) and Tim Turpin (Western Sydney University, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0135-0.ch008
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Genetically Modified (GM) food has been positioned as a significant innovation with a huge potential for alleviating malnutrition in developing economies. Some potential beneficiaries, however, have been reluctant to accept GM food. Many countries have GM food regulations and some have banned GM organisms. This chapter focuses on barriers to diffusion of innovation and analyses the case of GM food diffusion in Sri Lanka using the Rogers's classical model of innovation diffusion. A complete ban on GM products in 2001 was later relaxed to demand only GM labelling regulations, but GM food has not gained a prominent position in the Sri Lankan market. The attributes of GM food perceived by consumers, the communication system, government responses and broader social expectations have been unfavorable to GM food diffusion. The case of GM food innovation in Sri Lanka demonstrates the very social nature of the process, involving far more than seed producers, growers and related commercial enterprises.
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Innovation diffusion is considered as a complex process of introducing change in a social system. The classical model introduced by Rogers (2003) identifies innovation diffusion as a type of communication and a process where innovation is communicated among members of a social system through certain channels. Traditional models identify four dominant elements in this process: an innovation; users; communication channels; and a social system. Importantly, many aspects of the social system including the social structure specifically the effects of norms, the roles of opinion leaders and change agents, decision types and consequences interact with the diffusion process in a complex manner. External influences such as opinion leaders as change agents and surrogate users with the delegated authority to make decisions (Aggarwal & Cha, 1997), government policies and regulations (Feldstein & Glasgow, 2008) and social networks and linkages (Mendel et al. 2008) can positively or negatively affect the diffusion process.

This chapter focuses on the process of diffusion of genetically modified (GM) food into the Sri Lankan market. GM food carries the potential to contribute to a process of social innovation for ameliorating hunger in developing countries through the potential benefits of the possible introduction of new plant varieties, increased productivity, and reduced costs for pesticides and herbicides. However, social resistance to GM food has made its wide diffusion difficult (Gaskell et al. 2004). For example, the Sri Lankan government completely banned GM foods in 2001 but the external pressure from foreign governments, multinational GM food corporations and local chambers of commerce delayed the administrative introduction of the ban. Subsequently, the regulation for food Importation & Labelling of GM was enacted in Sri Lanka in 2006. In addition, the National Biotechnology Policy 2009 explicitly required that safety test data manipulations and applications should be fully disclosed and made available for public scrutiny. At present there is apparently no official data on GM organisms neither produced in Sri Lanka nor imported to Sri Lanka; there have not been any food items with a GM label in the Sri Lankan market. It has been reported that some imported food items have been tested for GMOs, but no official results have been released (Hirimuthugodage, 2013).

In this chapter the introduction of GM food in Sri Lanka and the social process surrounding it are analyzed according to Rogers’s classical model of innovation diffusion. A key observation is that the barriers for GM food adoption have been of multiple dimensions. Consumers have not been convinced of the relative advantage of GM food due to the scientific uncertainty associated with GM food products. Moreover, the technological complexity of GM technologies is not easily understood by consumers. The general appreciation of natural forms of production, based on traditional agricultural and health systems, stands in contrast to negative perceptions of ‘artificial’ products. In Sri Lanka there is a strong presence of knowledge stocks in traditional agriculture and health practices that tend to generate skepticism about genetically modified organisms. There is a very real concern that buyer resistance in developed economies will eventually undermine its potential export markets. Government action, partly driven by similar concerns, sought to introduce the ban on GM food types as a protective step (Brankov & Lovre 2013). Not surprisingly the Sri Lankan government action increased uncertainty drawing out media reports emphasizing negative aspects of GM food and GM technologies. As discussed below, it is the breadth and depth of societal input to the process of introducing and accepting (or otherwise) this agricultural process and product innovation that generates an innovation ‘bottleneck’. Moreover, as the Sri Lankan case demonstrates, it is not just local social input that is pertinent. Rather, it is an international process that engages with science, global food production chains, governments, the media, producers and consumers.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Genetically Modified Organisms: Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can be defined as organisms (i.e. plants, animals or microorganisms) in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination ( World Health Organization, 2015 ).

Observability of Innovation: The degree to which the results of an innovation are visible to the potential adopters of innovation.

Innovation: Innovation is a change in products, processes, marketing methods or organizational methods.

Innovation Diffusion: An innovation is adopted by people as a part of a social system is called as diffusion.

Genetically Modified Food: Genetically modified (GM) foods are foods derived from organisms whose genetic material has been modified in a way that does not occur naturally, e.g. through the introduction of a gene from a different organism ( World Health Organization, 2015 ).

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