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Biological Limits on Agricultural Intensification: An Example from Resistance Management


  • Simpson, R. David
  • Laxminarayan, Ramanan

    () (Resources for the Future)


When the application of pesticides places selective evolutionary pressure on pest populations, it can be useful to plant refuge areas—crop areas intended to encourage the breeding of pests that are susceptible to the pesticide. Renewed interest in refuge areas has arisen with recent advances in biotechnology and genetically modified (GM) crops. In this paper, we use a simple model of the evolution of pest resistance to characterize the socially optimal refuge strategy for managing pest resistance. We demonstrate some interesting analogies with other models of renewable resource management, such as those of fisheries. Among the analogous results are findings that maintaining what we might call "maximal sustainable susceptibility" is typically not economically optimal and that the stock of pesticide effectiveness maintained is a declining function of the discount rate. The former result is in contrast to some existing studies based solely on biological considerations. We also examine the land use consequences of the enhanced agricultural productivity that results from the use of GM crops. Arguments are frequently encountered to the effect that GM crops could reduce the total area required for agriculture and thereby increase the quantity of land conserved for natural habitat. We show that the situation may not be as simple as standard arguments portray it. If refuge areas are used to manage resistance, then more land will be devoted to agriculture than would be the case were it simply a matter of adopting a technology that offered the same yield per hectare without requiring the management of a biological stock such as pest susceptibility.

Suggested Citation

  • Simpson, R. David & Laxminarayan, Ramanan, 2000. "Biological Limits on Agricultural Intensification: An Example from Resistance Management," Discussion Papers dp-00-43, Resources For the Future.
  • Handle: RePEc:rff:dpaper:dp-00-43

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Livingston, Michael J. & Carlson, Gerald A. & Fackler, Paul L., 2000. "Bt Cotton Refuge Policy," 2000 Annual meeting, July 30-August 2, Tampa, FL 21850, American Agricultural Economics Association (New Name 2008: Agricultural and Applied Economics Association).
    2. Regev, Uri & Shalit, Haim & Gutierrez, A. P., 1983. "On the optimal allocation of pesticides with increasing resistance: The case of alfalfa weevil," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 10(1), pages 86-100, March.
    3. Barrett, Scott, 1991. "Optimal soil conservation and the reform of agricultural pricing policies," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 36(2), pages 167-187, October.
    4. Clark, Colin W, 1973. "Profit Maximization and the Extinction of Animal Species," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 81(4), pages 950-961, July-Aug..
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    6. Gardner Brown & Ramanan Laxminarayan, 1998. "Economics of Antibiotic Resistance," Discussion Papers in Economics at the University of Washington 0060, Department of Economics at the University of Washington.
    7. Albers, H. J. & Goldbach, M. J., 2000. "Irreversible ecosystem change, species competition, and shifting cultivation," Resource and Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 22(3), pages 261-280, July.
    8. Terrance M. Hurley & Bruce A. Babcock & Richard L. Hellmich, 1997. "Biotechnology and Pest Resistance: An Economic Assessment of Refuges," Center for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD) Publications 97-wp183, Center for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD) at Iowa State University.
    9. Southgate, Douglas, 1997. "Alternatives to the regulatory approach to biodiverse habitat conservation," Environment and Development Economics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 2(01), pages 39-110, February.
    10. Hyde, Jeffrey & Martin, Marshall A. & Preckel, Paul V. & Dobbins, Craig L. & Edwards, C. Richard, 1999. "The Economics Of Refuge Design For Bt Corn," 1999 Annual meeting, August 8-11, Nashville, TN 21519, American Agricultural Economics Association (New Name 2008: Agricultural and Applied Economics Association).
    11. Pagiola, S. & Kellenberg, J. & Vidaeus, L. & Srivastava, J., 1997. "Mainstreaming Biodiversity in Agricultural Development. Toward Good Practice," Papers 15, World Bank - The World Bank Environment Paper.
    12. Hartman, Richard, 1976. "The Harvesting Decision When a Standing Forest Has Value," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 14(1), pages 52-58, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. Linacre, Nicholas A. & Thompson, Colin J., 2005. "The emergence of insect resistance in Bt-corn: implication of resistance management information under uncertainty," EPTD discussion papers 136, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

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