Corporate social responsibility and hybrid potato breeding

balancing economic, environmental and social challenges

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Hybrid potato breeding is an emerging technology that can have a strong impact on the potato sector by replacing seed potatoes with true seeds. The Netherlands is a world leader in certified seed potatoes and a number of Dutch companies play a pivotal role in the development of this technology. This implies a certain responsibility for the consequences and conditions of its implementation and we therefore explored how Dutch potato breeding companies see their role and responsibility especially in low- and middle-income countries in the context of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). From interviews, it appears that most potato breeding companies emphasise the promising role of hybrid potato breeding in achieving SDGs. They also stress that their core business is at the heart of corporate social responsibility as it contributes to the SDGs. We also observed that for the introduction of new varieties they often rely on trickle-down mechanisms, where local farmers are rather passive recipients, rather than being actively involved in strategic choices of innovation. It may explain why the concept of responsible research and innovation (RRI), which emphasises the active involvement of society and affected stakeholders, is relatively unknown in the sector. The main approach in the sector may be labelled as a ‘solution strategy’ where dominant actors rely on their expertise to solve problems. However, the attainment of SDGs should rather be considered as a wicked problem, characterised by complexity, uncertainty and multiple actor’s perspectives. A ‘negotiation strategy’, which is more inclusive and stresses the need of negotiation between different perspectives and interests, may fit better. From the perspective of RRI it is argued that insights from participatory breeding and farmer variety selection traditions and the concept of benefit sharing may be considered as promising negotiation strategies that can contribute to potato breeding practices for the attainment of SDGs.