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The Lighthouse and the Potato



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University of Massachusetts Amherst The Lighthouse and the Potato Internalizing the Value of Crop Genetic Diversity POLITICAL ECONOMY RESEARCH INSTITUTE POLITICAL ECONOMY RESEARCH INSTITUTE Stephen B Brush 2002 10th floor Thompson Hall University of Massachusetts Amherst MA 01003 7510 Telephone 413 545 6355 Facsimile 413 545 2921 Email peri econs umass edu Website http www umass edu peri WORKINGPAPER SERIES Number 37 Working Paper No 37 The Lighthouse and the Potato Internalizing the Value of Crop Genetic Diversity Stephen B Brush March 2002 A Paper for the Natural Assets Project Funded by the Ford Foundation Program on Development Peacebuilding and the Environment Political Economy Research Institute PERI University of Massachusetts Amherst Introduction The incongruous juxtaposition of my title The Lighthouse and the Potato refers to two public goods of incalculable value safe navigation and crop genetic resources Neither lighthouse keepers nor the farmers who cultivate genetic diversity in potatoes and other crops provide their respective benefits to humankind without cost The costs of lighthouses are relatively easy to measure construction of the tower fuel for the light wages for the keeper The costs of sustaining crop genetic resources are less evident but can be viewed as the income foregone by not switching to new varieties new crops or other economic pursuits This foregone income is the functional equivalent of the costs of building and operating a lighthouse to provide the public good of safe navigation The increasing availability of more profitable alternatives to growing traditional crops means that society must find ways to sustain diverse crop genetic resources and the environments where they are created and maintained the small farms of poor farmers We have long recognized that we cannot simply depend on the goodwill of coastal dwellers to maintain lighthouses for ships at sea Coase 1974 van Zandt 1993 Gradually we are becoming aware that we cannot



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