Monday, 22 June 2009

Changing food production techniques

For the food production techniques in a country to change, its food producers must know about the possibility of changing, have access to the alternative techniques, and decide that the benefits of changing are greater than the costs. The costs of changing are often discussed in the literature on technology transfer. Features that are relevant to costs include:

- whether the new techniques are suitable for the company's available productive resources (for example access to water),
- how much finance and capital is required (techniques requiring very large-scale production may be unsuitable for instance),
- how much knowledge is required and its learning costs,
- how geographically distant the company is from expertise about the technique,
- how much support and advice it can get,
- whether the techniques are associated with the use of commercialised or free products (for example in using genetically modified seeds),
- and whether the techniques are socially suited to the area (for example meat rearing in a certain way may have social meaning).

For a private company, the benefits can be measured as income, which depends on end product market demand. When technology transfer research examines the product market, it is often by assuming a simple form of substitution between the new technology's product and the old technology's product. For particular forms of food, more sophisticated modelling of the end market is possible. The demand for the end product is influenced by factors including:

- price,
- the exact type of the product (for example the type of coffee),
- preparation given to the product (for example by cutting into chunks before selling).
- nutritional content,
- safety (some foods being associated with more health risks than others),
- public information about the product's benefits or risks,
- appearance,
- perceptions of naturalness and wholesomeness,
- advertising and branding,
- place of consumption (for example in a restaurant or at home),
- social context (some foods may be considered suitable in certain circumstances, for example holidays),
- familiarity,
- habit,
- and population demographics.

The chances of a technique being successful in a country depends on the cost and benefit factors being favourable for profit. Other things being equal, shifting a single factor in favour of the technique will make it more likely that it is successful in the country. So a technique where the knowledge requirements are not excessive in the country is more likely to be successful than one where great knowledge advances are required. A technique which does not create health concerns in the public is more likely to be successful than one that does. Countries have different circumstances, and no single technique can be successful in every country. It matters to choose techniques well.

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