Chapter 6. Innovation success and the need for modernisation

During the last three decades, Argentina’s agriculture went through a process of notable production and structural change and innovation. Outside the Pampas region, agriculture showed little dynamism during the last decades, but within it a remarkable increase in arable land area and productivity was associated with the widespread adoption of new technologies such as no-tillage and biological improvements, and the expansion of soybean production. With new roles and new actors such as large service contractors, sowing pools and farmers’ innovation associations, the private sector has led the innovation process responding to economic incentives. The role of policy has been important in creating basic and applied knowledge and facilitating its diffusion and adoption, in particular through the National Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA). Argentina benefited from access to genetic innovations in advantageous conditions that are unlikely to recur. However, the Agricultural Innovation System needs to improve its capacity to respond to new environments and growing sustainability challenges, focusing also on “regional economies” (agricultural production chains outside of the Pampas region), improving the enforcement of seed intellectual property rights, and enhancing INTA capacities to respond to new demands to create and transfer knowledge.


6.1. Introduction

Far-reaching innovation in Argentinian agriculture occurred during the 1990s and 2000s – a difficult period in terms of macroeconomic instability1. The national innovation system has changed its focus away from scientific objectives towards the whole innovation process, with a significant investment in institutional capacity. The performance of the Agricultural Innovation System (AIS) reflects the heterogeneous nature of Argentinian agriculture in terms of activities, actors and performance across the country. The production system developed in the Pampas region differs significantly from subsystems in other areas of the country, which are referred to as “regional economies”.

6.2. Impressive productivity performance, but innovation duality

Total factor productivity (TFP) of agriculture in Argentina has grown at an average annual rate of 1.4% since 1995, less than half of that of Brazil and below the performance of Chile and the United States (Fuglie, 2012[1]). TFP increased strongly in crops but stagnated in livestock, reflecting the duality of innovation in Argentina’s agriculture. While crop production was boosted by the adoption of new technologies, livestock as well as other regional production have been losing dynamism. Aggregate performance of TFP hides the difference between livestock and crops, but also and more importantly, between the Pampas and other regions.

Argentina has heterogeneous regions in terms of resource endowments, farming systems, and overall quality of life. While the Pampas region is very fertile and productive, the productive systems in other regions (Economias Regionales, henceforth “regional economies”) lag behind. Although these regions have a high potential to grow a variety of products, they suffer from less favourable natural conditions, coupled with deficits in infrastructure and public-private investment, low access to services, low innovation-adoption rates, and poor social and economic conditions. In contrast with the impressive growth of the agricultural sector in the Pampas since the 1990s, most of the regional economies lacked innovation dynamics and followed erratic growth patterns with low productivity and an overall unsuccessful performance, with the exception of specific products such as the lemons in Tucumán and olives and wines in the Cuyo region.

Higher yields and a significant increase in planted area translated into an impressive growth in total production of oilseeds and cereals since the early 1990s (Figure 6.1). Area under crop cultivation in Argentina continuously increased until around 1930, when a complete expansion of the agricultural frontier was reached (around 20 million hectares that belong to the Pampas region), with fluctuations guided by differences in prices of crops and livestock because the Pampas is suitable for both in a mixed production system (Barsky and Gelman, 2001[2]). Between 1930 and 1960, the area under cultivation fell in favor of cattle and, conversely, it increased in the period 1960-90 in a process of abandoning the traditional crop-livestock rotation. Intensification of crop production flourished in the Pampas region while livestock activities moved outside it. By the end of the 1980s, this system had created severe soil degradation problems, affecting about 36% of the total area of the Pampas region to a greater or lesser extent by 1995 (Consejo General Agropecuario, 1995[3]). A response to this problem was provided by an innovative partnership scheme involving farmers, researchers, extension workers, and private companies, who came together in the 1990s to promote no-tillage as a resource-conserving cultivation practice (Trigo, Cap and Malach, 2009[4]).

Figure 6.1. Evolution of total production (in tonnes) and cultivated land (in hectares) of total oilseeds and cereals, 1900-2016

Source: (Anlló, Bisang and Campi, 2013[5]) and (Ministerio de Agroindustria, 2018[6]).


The trade liberalisation of the 1990s improved the relative input-output prices, boosting investment and innovation in crop production, processing, and distribution. Total cereal and oilseed production almost tripled from 38.2 million tonnes in 1990/91 to 112.2 million tonnes in 2015/16, while cultivated area almost doubled from 19.9 to 39 million hectares. This expansion was possible with the development and adoption of innovations that allowed crop production in land that was previously not suitable for it and the expansion of double-cropping: in the Pampas region, for example, wheat followed by soybean (Regúnaga, 2010[7]; Bisang, Anlló and Campi, 2015[8]; Rocha and Villalobos, 2013[9]).

Argentinian productivity growth is associated with the expansion of the production of soybean, which was practically an unknown crop in Argentina in the 1960s with little relevance in the population’s diet, animal feed, or Argentina’s agriculture. Its massive diffusion started in the 1970s, when new varieties of seeds were mainly developed locally by the long-standing plant breeding industry and several public institutions, particularly the National Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA). A significant growth of soybean production during the 1980s was boosted from the mid-1990s by the diffusion of genetically modified soybean varieties.

The lack of a substantive local demand for soybean made its expansion dependent on export markets. Consequently, Argentina’s presence in certain markets gained worldwide significance: the share of Argentinian exports in total world exports increased between 1995 and 2015 from 6.7% to 11.1% in maize, 7.4% to 23.6% in soybeans, 23.6% to 41.7% in soybean oil, and 18% to 36.3% in soybean oil-cakes.2 Also, in 2015 the share of Argentinian exports in total world trade of biodiesel was over 50%. Currently, the soybean subsystem in Argentina is one of the most efficient in the world in terms of productivity and technological development, but its rapid and remarkable expansion has real and relevant vulnerabilities derived from the occupation of areas previously dedicated to other crops, the tendency to monoculture, and concentration of production. It has generated several controversies related to its environmental, social, and economic sustainability (Anlló, Bisang and Campi, 2013[5]).

6.3. The rapid adoption of a new technological package for crops

Evidence suggests that technological and organisational innovations explain a significant part of the productivity gains in Argentinian agriculture (Bisang, Anlló and Campi, 2008[10]; Anlló, Bisang and Campi, 2013[5]; Reca, Lema and Flood, 2010[11]; Trigo, 2016[12]). Starting at the beginning of the 1990s with the diffusion of no-tillage, a set of other innovations was adopted and a new technological package was rapidly diffused: improved seeds (including genetically modified varieties), new agricultural machinery, agro-chemicals, improved production techniques, and the development of new organisational processes. The diffusion of the technological package involved the adoption of each of the new technologies and the diffusion of knowledge and co-ordination mechanisms.

The new technological package started with the development, adjustment, and quick diffusion of no-tillage practices at the beginning of the 1990s (Figure 6.2). In response to the increasing degradation of soils, crop management practices changed with an increasing reliance on technical assistance to adapt imported technologies (Alapin, 2008[13]). Public-sector agricultural researchers, innovative farmers and extension workers in association with manufacturing industries became the core of an innovation network to establish a new agricultural production strategy focused on soil management and conservation: no-till farming (Ekboir, 2002[14]).

Figure 6.2. Adoption rate of no-tillage and soybean GMO
% of cultivated land

Source: (Trigo and Ciampi, 2018[56]) based on (Noceli Pac, 2016[57]). (Campi, 2016[58]) and (USDA ERS, 2018[59]).


In 1986 a broad public policy effort, the Conservationist Agriculture Project (PAC), was initiated by INTA, to develop a response to the land degradation problems. New agricultural practices included a maize-wheat-soybeans rotation, reduced and vertical tilling, nutrient replacement through fertilisation and integrated pest and weed management. PAC also facilitated the integration and exchange of information among researchers, extension staff, private technical assistance providers, farmers, input suppliers, farm equipment manufacturers, and other related institutions (Senigagliesi and Massoni, 2002[15]).

Although most specialists recommended no-till only for soybeans as the second crop in a double-cropping scheme, a group of farmers and extension workers started trials with other crops, generating the information needed for an even higher adoption of the practice (Ekboir, 2002[14]). The adoption accelerated when glyphosate became commercially available in Argentina, greatly facilitating weed control and the launching a new no-till innovation cycle (Trigo, Cap and Malach, 2009[4]). The Argentinean Association of No-till Agriculture (AAPRESID) was created in 1989 by medium and small-scale farmers and technical assistance providers (see Annex A for further details). The Association, whose main focus was the diffusion and exchange of information regarding no-till practices among its members, grew very rapidly, becoming the pivot around which the development and expansion of no-till has continued to evolve (Trigo and Ciampi, 2018[16]).

The definitive increase in agricultural production in Argentina derived from the diffusion of genetically modified (GM) soybean, which deepened the adoption of technologies to reduce costs and maintain profitability (Bisang, 2003[17]). In the 1990s soybean was already a main crop in Argentina, but the introduction of the first GM soybean variety in 1996 dramatically increased its production. In 1991 Argentina’s National Advisory Commission on Agricultural Biotechnology (CONABIA) was created as the regulatory body governing the testing and commercial release of GM events, which facilitated the process of diffusion of the new GM crops (Trigo, 2016[12]) (see Annex A for more details). The National Institute of Seeds (INASE) was also created in 1991 to protect the intellectual property (IP) in seeds, only to be dismantled in 2000 and recreated in 2003 (See Chapter 3 for more details). Between 1996 and 2017, forty-three GM events were approved for release in Argentina (Ministerio de Agroindustria, 2018[18]). As of October 2018, the Secretariat of Food and Bioeconomy had approved the commercialisation in Argentina of GM crop events for six commodities: afalfa, cotton, maize, potato, safflower and soybean (

The first transgenic variety, named RR (Roundup Ready) soybean, was developed by Monsanto and contained a gene that provides resistance to glyphosate. This critical asset in the new technological package was patented in the United States and Europe in 1995, but it was introduced in Argentina without patent protection. The gene was licensed to Asgrow by Monsanto, and the Argentinean Company Nidera that acquired Asgrow Argentina had access to the gene. After obtaining approval in 1996, it released the RR soybean with Monsanto’s agreement. Simultaneously, Monsanto applied for a patent for the gene, but patent authorities of the National Institute of Industrial Property (INPI) considered that the right had expired (Trigo et al., 2004[19]; Lopez, 2010[20]; Qaim and Traxler, 2005[21]).

The herbicide-tolerant soybean was authorised almost simultaneously in Argentina and the United States, and in both countries was rapidly adopted by farmers, but diffusion was faster in Argentina (Figure 6.2). Several factors considerably reduced the cost of GM seeds for Argentinian farmers. First, farmers did not have to pay royalties for their use; second, farmers had the legal possibility of saving seeds; and finally, there was a large illegal market of seeds (Trigo and Ciampi, 2018[16]). Nonetheless, even in the absence of a patent in Argentina, multinational companies and breeders started licensing agreements and, except for Nidera, companies releasing RR soybeans paid license fees to Monsanto (Traxler, 2006[22]). Additionally, some seed companies sell seeds through contracts in which farmers commit to pay royalties every time they plant. Monitoring these contracts is difficult and they are not as widespread as in the United States, where different legal provisions support their use. Despite this context increasing seed prices in Argentina, GM soybean seed prices were still below those in both the United States and Brazil. The case of RR soybean contrasts with that of Bt cotton which was introduced by Monsanto with a patent and a price too high for producers to adopt (Qaim and de Janvry, 2003[23]).

The success of the RR soybean in the main producing areas of Argentina is also associated with the development of improved varieties adapted to the different agro-ecological conditions of the country by the Argentine-based seed industry, which is not limited to multinational firms (Regúnaga, 2010[7]). The Argentinian seed industry has a long-standing tradition, and improved seeds have been historically the most important tool to increase productivity and competitiveness in the country (Barsky and Gelman, 2001[2]). Since the beginning of the twentieth century, private breeders achieved new hybrids by building on the freely available developments from public institutions (Anlló, Bisang and Campi, 2013[5]).

Currently the Argentine seed industry includes several domestic small- and medium-size firms, a few public research institutions, as well as the main international seed companies, which have increased their market shares during the last three decades. The global market for agricultural inputs has tended to concentrate in a few companies, and the actions of domestic companies depend on multinational companies that dominate in scientific knowledge and biotechnological techniques. While multinational companies control the most modern biotechnological techniques, domestic companies have most of the best locally adapted plant varieties. Domestic firms are still primarily responsible for the improvement of seeds, even of the most important crops such as soybean, maize and wheat (Marin and Stubrin, 2017[24]).

Despite changes in the seed industry, a large share of new cultivars was registered by Argentinian companies: an average of 64% in 1996-2005 and 91% in the most recent decade. The number of registered plant varieties grew, with an increasing share of genetically modified cultivars in total new cultivars (Figure 6.3). The seed industry has also an important role in technology transfer and in the financing of seeds. The private sector has been increasingly providing extension services, which were previously provided almost exclusively by the public sector, in particular by INTA.

Boosted by the adoption of improved seeds and no-tillage, other inputs for crop protection were also rapidly adopted – basically, fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides. According to CASAFE, herbicides represent 70% of total phytosanitary industry since 1994. Different herbicides were progressively replaced by glyphosate, produced locally and imported from different countries (mainly from China). The domestic agro-chemical market has been very dynamic since the early 1990s, with leading multinational companies like Monsanto, Syngenta, Basf, Dow Agrosciences, Advanta, Atanor, Bayer Cropscience, Nidera, Dupont, Nufarm, Merk, or Repsol-YPF, operating together with medium-size local and international firms that produce or import and distribute agro-chemicals (Regúnaga, 2010[7]).

Figure 6.3. Number of new conventional and genetically modified cultivars registered at the National Register of Cultivars (RNC), 1996-2017
Soybean and maize

Source: (INASE, 2018[25]).


In the 1970s and 1980s, the consumption of fertilisers was limited to a small part of wheat production. To some extent, the existence of the traditional crop-livestock rotation reduced the need for chemical fertilisation and the price of fertiliser was high due to restrictive import measures (Regúnaga, 2010[7]). This situation changed from the early 1990s and the use of fertilisers increased significantly between 1991 and 2006, reducing the gap with respect to other countries (Figure 6.4). Fertiliser use is concentrated, to a great extent, in the most dynamic crops: wheat, soybean, and corn. In addition, the increase in the consumption of fertilisers is related to the local development of massive fertiliser production based on the use of gas during the 1990s, giving rise to a competitive domestic market (Mercado, 1999[26]). However, a significant share of the growth of fertiliser consumption is explained by the increase in cultivated land. Empirical evidence suggests that the balance of nutrients in the soil for crops (particularly phosphorous) is negative, that is, agricultural soils lose more nutrients than they gain with fertilisation (Trigo, Cap and Malach, 2009[4]; Lavado and Taboada, 2009[27]; Cruzate and Casas, 2012[28]).

Another relevant innovation adopted in the agricultural sector is the silo-bag3. The increase in agricultural production since the 1990s accentuated the deficits in logistics and infrastructure for storage and transport of grains. The diffusion of silo-bags started at the beginning of the 1990s to gather fodder in the dairy activity and, some years later, to store cereals and oilseeds. Silo-bags became massively used after the devaluation registered in 2001 (Rocha and Villalobos, 2013[9]). The silo-bag increases the storage capacity in the place of the harvest, allowing farmers to decide when to sell depending on the market situation and financial needs. Macroeconomic instability and credit shortages after the devaluation made silo-bags more attractive, and their use increased from 1 to 41 million tonnes between 2001 and 2010 (Bragachini, 2011[29]).

Figure 6.4. Fertiliser consumption in Argentina
In thousands of tonnes. 1990-2016

Source: CIAFA – Fertilizar AC,


Argentine agriculture has been mechanised since the beginning of the 20th century and there is a tradition of machinery and equipment industry. Since the 1990s, the use of specific machinery related to the diffusion of no-tillage – often domestically designed – steadily grew and, more recently, machinery changed, driven by the development of computerised controlling systems to implement precision agriculture. The open trade policies of the 1990s facilitated imports of innovative machinery. Despite external openness, some domestic manufacturers retain advantages over international competitors to adapt machinery to local conditions to provide technical support close to the users (Lódola, 2008[30]) (Bisang, 2003[17]). After the devaluation of 2001, sales of machinery increased again, expanding the installed capacity of the industry, and some companies became internationally competitive, offering local innovations as an integral part of the technological no-tillage package (Bragachini, 2011[29]).

The outsourcing of activities that involve the use of agricultural machinery increased significantly. The new technological package was adopted together with the development and diffusion of a new organisational model, which was driven by more interrelated actors – service contractors, sowing pools, new agricultural producers, input, service and knowledge suppliers – that together shaped and fueled the innovation process. In addition, this process took place in a new institutional and political context for the development of science, technology and innovation (SC&I) activities.

6.4. The changing role of different actors in the national innovation system

Argentina has a wide set of public and private institutions promoting science, technology and innovation (ST&I) activities throughout the economy. Agricultural innovation appears throughout this complex structure, reflecting the importance of the sector in the Argentinian economy. The ST&I system has a highly decentralised structure and many institutions have their own funding mechanism, contributing to weak linkages among the different components and, often, to the image of overlapping and disjointed efforts (Dahlman et al., 2003[31]).

The main system components are: the Ministry of Science, Technology and Productive Innovation (MINCYT), which is responsible for broader policy design and priority settings (reflected since the 1990s in the national science, technology and innovation plans); the National Agency for the Promotion of Science and Technology (ANPCYT), mainly responsible for the system’s non-institutional funding instruments; the National Council for Scientific and Technological Research (CONICET), which together with the universities (public, private, national, and provincial) constitute the main R&D implementing capacities (human resources and infrastructure); and a whole host of specialised public research centres and institutions concentrating on specific sectors (such as agriculture, industry, defense, aerospace, and health) and private organisations of different types, in most cases focusing on the applied end of the R&D spectrum.

This structure is relatively recent and results from a system-wide review that took place in the early 1990s and the subsequent change in roles and actors refocusing existing science and technology activities to the development of technological solutions that have transformed production systems. This process started with the implementation of the Program for Technological Modernization (PTM) financed by the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), which introduced project funding through the establishment of two specific funds under the ANPCYT, the National Fund for Scientific and Technological Research (FONCYT) to support scientific research, and the Argentinean Technological Fund (FONTAR) to facilitate public-private innovation in specific productive systems, following the model of FINEP in Brazil and FONDEF in Chile. This was complemented with the creation of policy co-ordination and stakeholders’ participation mechanisms, which are responsible for the design of the national ST&I plans (Albornoz and Gordon, 2010[32]).

Two elements are at the core of this emerging system. One is the clear-cut separation of the funding and the implementation of R&D projects, with implementation staying within institutions such as the National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET), the universities, INTA and the National Institute of Industrial Technology (INTI), which have high-quality human resources and infrastructure for successful implementation, and the funding deriving from ANPCYT. The second is the national strategic plans providing the priorities for public participation within the innovation system (Albornoz and Gordon, 2010[32]). Over time there have been three plans: 1998-2000 to consolidate the new institutions; the plan “Bicentenario” 2006-10 that made ST&I an active instrument of public policy to improve public-private partnerships; and the ongoing “Argentina Innovadora 2020” plan for 2012-20. These elements contributed to the deep transformation from a collection or organisations working independently with their own priorities and rules, to an interconnected system reflecting the recognition that science, technology and innovation are essential for economic and social development.

According to (Trigo and Ciampi, 2018[16]) the different guidance and co-ordination mechanisms and project funding instruments are widely known and perceived as effective and the new administration since 2015 has kept the same governance structure. However, there are a number of weaknesses: firstly, the system is still supply-driven, as the “demand” presence is weak and restricted to “advisory” functions and the private sector presence in FONTAR projects; and secondly, there is no formal monitoring and follow-up mechanisms except for the specific projects funded by the ANPCYT. The new administration has set up sectorial public-private platforms to discuss public policy and investment co-ordination, including ST&I issues.

Within the general system, the Agricultural Innovation System (AIS) is a relatively complex system in which technological and organisational innovation interact. Figure 6.5 presents a stylised version of the main actors of the system, highlighting how they come together for innovation to happen, with the agricultural producer at the centre of the process.

INTA is the cornerstone of the Argentinian agricultural innovation system. The INTA model is based on two key ideas: first, bringing under one roof all agricultural R&D activities; second, providing a “non-political” source of funding, initially with an ad valorem tax on agricultural exports, then changed to a percentage of the value of imports and exports; finally, incorporating the private and academic sectors into institutional decision-making through a board of trustees. INTA grew rapidly and, until the late 1990s, provided the bulk of agriculture R&D capacities. With the creation of the MINCYT, the strengthening of CONICET’s centres, the consolidation of the project mechanisms administrated by ANPCYT, and the growth of the private sector, the relative weight of INTA has tended to diminish (Trigo and Ciampi, 2018[16]). However, it still represents the national structure dominating public sector contributions to the agricultural innovation processes.

Today’s system (Figure 6.5) is quite different to that of 1990. At that time, the majority of farmers owned their land, and service suppliers had a minor role since farmers had capital and technical and tacit knowledge for the organisation of production. However, there were some public extension services, mainly INTA, and producer organisations, such as AACREA. Activities beyond the farm gate were looked after by marketing and other agroindustry complexes. Since then, the private sector role has grown significantly to become the main supplier of inputs, labour and extension services connected through different type of contracts and network.

Figure 6.5. The Argentinian agricultural innovation system

Source: (Trigo and Ciampi, 2018[16]) based on (Anlló, Bisang and Campi, 2013[5]).

The agricultural producer is at the centre of today’s innovation system. The new farmer in the Pampas region manages a modern agricultural production company that accesses land in different ways; it can be a large vertically integrated company or a small producer, but it can also be a service contractor. The agricultural company does not necessarily own the land: around two thirds of the companies access this production factor through leasing (Chapter 8). Agricultural producers lease land in different locations to manage and reduce climatic risks. In addition, agricultural production companies outsource a relevant part of farming activities to service contractors.

Contractors own the latest machinery and provide skilled labour. Seeds are more commonly bought than reproduced at the farm. Part of the decisions related to the productive process – and innovations – are now taken by the inputs and services suppliers. Financial resources are obtained from extra-agrarian funders, as investors are attracted by the high profitability of the sector. The modern “farmer” is more connected and interdependent on different actors in the system that compete to provide high-quality inputs and services, and this competition is an essential component of the innovation process (Bisang and Gutman, 2005[33]).

Agricultural services contractors offer a wide range of services such as no-tillage, seed drills, planting, fumigation, monitoring, harvesting, storage, classification of grains, levelling or preparation of soil and pruning. They provide many innovations such as self-propelled spraying machines, displaced monitors and online yield information often linked to the application of ICTs to agricultural machinery and specialised operational management. The contractors move along the territory, offering their services and helping to homogenise the technological level in different farms; they implement innovations and are part of the learning process (Lódola, 2008[30]; Anlló, Bisang and Campi, 2013[5]). They harvest 90% of total grains cultivated in Argentina, and they are in charge of 70% of both sowing and the application of agro-chemicals (Ministerio de Agroindustria, 2018[34]). Agricultural services contractors also account for more than 60% of the purchases of agricultural machinery, regularly renewing their equipment.

During the 1990s, new forms of financing arose, such as mutual funds, direct investment funds, societies, temporary contracts for harvest, and financial trusts, most of them known today as sowing pools or pools de siembra. These pools responded to the weaknesses in the Argentine financial systems and funded producers with strong technical levels, allowing them to consolidate land area to an optimum scale for the use of the highest level of technology (Posada and Martínez de Ibarreta, 1998[35]). Land leasing allows producers to concentrate their investment in inputs of the highest technological level. These new forms of production are partly an expression of the process of concentration of the production that has been taking place since the 1990s. Many small or medium traditional producers became service providers or land leasers.

The emerging system has a high degree of decentralisation in decision-making and is, essentially, privately led in response to economic market incentives. The Argentinian AIS has no formal monitoring and performance evaluation mechanisms other than those implicit in the market mechanisms. However, the system has been able to respond to sustainability issues with the development of no-till agriculture and, more recently, the good practices network and other public or private initiatives promoting the adoption and certification of good agricultural practices.

6.5. The National Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA)

The National Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA) is the most relevant public-sector component of Argentina’s agricultural innovation system (AIS). It was created “…to promote and co-ordinate agricultural research and extension and through the benefits of these activities, the technological improvement of the agricultural enterprise and rural life” through four main activities: (i) R&D on natural resources and production; (ii) R&D on the conservation and primary transformation of agricultural commodities; (iii) agricultural extension and training of farmers; and (iv) promotion needed for the implementation and diffusion of R&D results. INTA’s main strengths are its presence in all the national territorial and the quality of its human resources.

INTA’s territorial reach covers the whole of the country’s geography and agricultural economy. It has over 50 Experimental Research Stations scattered around the country, a large Research Centre located in the outskirts of the city of Buenos Aires, focusing on basic and advanced applied research, and about 300 extension agencies. No region or natural resources/production sector escapes its attention and, in many cases, INTA represents the only territorial presence of the federal government. This is a clear source of institutional strength, but it is also a source of conflicts as it implies political pressures for the institution in the implementation of programmes and projects that are outside of its original R&D mandate.

Overall, total human resources at INTA have systematically increased during the last decade to reach a total of 7 562 agents in 2016, of which 2 966 were researchers (Figure 6.6). The rest of staff is technical and field support for research and extension, and “other staff” for rural development and other promotion activities. This latter residual group is the most significant in terms of increments during the period, having grown from about 1 200 in 2009 to over 2 175 in 2016. In terms of the education level of researchers, INTA has a relatively low number of PhDs – under 15% of total researchers – compared to 75% in EMBRAPA of Brazil and 50% in INIFAP of Mexico (Stads et al., 2016[36]) and an average of 30% in other Argentinian AIS R&D institutions (MINCYT, 2015[37]).

INTA’s budgetary resources have significantly increased in nominal terms. It accounts for the highest expenditure among Argentinian budgetary programmes included in the PSE calculations as part of the General Service Support Estimate (GSSE). However, expenditure in real terms in 2017 was around 25% below than in 2012 (Trigo and Ciampi, 2018[16]). About 95% of INTA funding comes from the federal budget, currently set at 0.45% of the value of imports (exports before 2002). The rest of the budget comes from a variety of other public sources such as provincial and local governments, MINCYT and ANPCYT, and international organisations, with less than 1% coming from private entities. In the past the system redistributed in favour of the less developed regions outside the Pampas that hardly export. Currently the bulk of financial resources fully depend on central government decisions.

Up to the 1970s the role of INTA was clear: acquire and adapt agricultural technologies through R&D, and transfer know-how to farmers through extension services. During this time INTA played a central role as an “organiser” of innovation processes. This scenario changed in the following decades, as innovation processes shifted from the public to the private domains. INTA evolved, decentralising its activities into regional bodies and then leading the system by the sheer magnitude of its presence. Even today, INTA has probably the largest collection of data in the country; its potential to use these data to deal with issues related to the environment and climatic change is very large. However, since the 1990s INTA’s leading role has been gradually substituted by the private sector and other public research institutions (universities, CONICET). Meanwhile, INTA has specialised in facilitating interactions with other public and private actors, particularly in the closer-to-market stages of the innovation process.

Figure 6.6. Human resources of INTA
Staff numbers by professional profile

Source: (Trigo and Ciampi, 2018[55]) based on data from INTA.


Despite these changes INTA’s role may not be effectively fulfilled. The research planning structure goes directly from a list of general goals to hundreds of small projects in a bureaucratic process with little interaction with the different stakeholders. There is no effective priority-setting process and the research portfolio is basically led by supply. Additionally, ex-ante impact assessment is not required to submit a project for approval and funding. INTA’s portfolio of projects is not the result of strategic decisions, but rather of the historical accumulation of lines of activities, with researchers’ interests playing a determinant role in the decision (Trigo and Ciampi, 2018[16]).

INTA’s portfolio of activities has also diversified to include the implementation of rural development support projects. During the last 10 to 15 years, INTA’s extension component evolved from its initial focus on technology transfer to medium-size farmers to one increasingly including small farms and aiming more at social inclusion than at technological objectives. At the beginning, the new programmes were special projects, fully funded by the Ministries of Agriculture and Social Development and administered by the ArgenINTA Foundation. The justification for INTA implementing them was the institution’s wide territorial coverage. However, after the 2001 crisis, these initiatives became a full component of the institution’s programmatic structure, establishing strong competition for both its managerial and budgetary resources. This evolution represents a major change, moving the institution into segments of the agricultural sector where technology is not the main constraint.

There is no formal INTA-wide impact assessment. A list of the main achievements identified by INTA was recently published (INTA, 2017[38]). An internal document was commissioned to assess the impact of INTA for the 2002-11 period (Cap, 2012[39]). Only two technologies were the focus of the study: no-till practices and GM soybeans. There is consensus that these specific technological innovations would not have been possible without the long-standing work of the institution in generating the public good data. In the study, INTA’s share of the credit for the reported economic benefits of adoption ranged from 10% (the lowest level of credit scenario) to 40% (the highest). The analysis shows that the technologies in question produced massive benefits for producers and consumers. The estimated benefits were much larger than the costs, with ratios above 4:1 even in the less favorable scenarios.

INTA has a history of leadership in agricultural innovation in Argentina. However, in order to keep its capacity to contribute to the innovation process, it needs a more strategic direction and a prioritisation of its objectives based on impact assessment and new demands of public goods in areas such as the sustainable use of natural resources. The new set of activities related to rural and social development need to be properly framed and managed to ensure that INTA maintains its capacity to produce first-class innovation and to contribute to its adoption.

6.6. Public and private investment in innovation

Characteristics of the general innovation system

Up to the early 1990s, ST&I activities were essentially funded through direct allocations to the institutions implementing R&D, and through public funds for specific projects. The private sector only participated to a minor extent. The funds managed by the decentralised agency ANPCYT (FONCYT, FONTAR and others) have become the backbone of the system and its main source of funding. These funds are managed through open and mostly competitive project-based mechanisms. FONTAR is particularly focused on innovation at firm level with the participation of the private sector. In 2015 Argentina dedicated 0.65% of its GDP to R&D activities, compared to an average of 2.36% for the OECD (OECD, 2018[40]; MINCYT, 2015[37]).

The bulk of funds come from public sources, 96% of the total in 2011-15, compared to 3.5% from the private sector and 0.5% from international sources. In terms of implementation, decentralised public institutions (such as CONICET, INTA, and INTI) represent almost 50% of the total, while public universities represent around 30% (MINCYT, 2015[37]). The group of decentralised public institutions brings together a very diverse set of data, but disaggregated data is not available. Expenditure on personnel represented 70% of all the expenditure on R&D activities. Almost half of all resources were destined to applied research, compared to 40% for basic research.

Figure 6.7 highlights the importance of agriculture and agriculture-related issues within the Argentinian innovation system. “Agricultural production and technology” alone represents the largest reported focus area for R&D investments in 2015. Furthermore, agriculture-related R&D objectives are included in a number of the other reported socieconomic objectives, such as “non-oriented research” (basic research), “structure and social relations”, “control and protection of the environment”, “land exploration and exploitation” and “production, distribution and rational use of energy”. The share of total investments going into agricultural issues is difficult to estimate, but there is no doubt that it represents the largest area of focus.

Figure 6.7. Public R&D investments by socio-economic objective, 2015

Source: (MINCYT, 2015[80])


Public expenditure on agricultural research

Argentina’s significant policy effort on its agricultural knowledge and information system is represented in the support indicators calculated by the OECD, in particular the General Service Support Estimate (GSSE). Most of agriculture policy expenditure focuses on general services, and even if the total amount is not large, more than half is spent on knowledge and innovation, including R&D, and extension services (Figure 6.8).

Figure 6.9 reports international comparisons for Argentina’s agricultural R&D expenditure. Agricultural research intensity (measured as the percentage of public expenditure on value added) is higher than the economy-wide research intensity (measured as percentage of total R&D on GDP). The research intensity of agriculture is similar to that of Chile, but significantly lower than in the United States or Brazil (Figure 6.9). Furthermore, the research intensity of agriculture has fallen in the last two decades to 0.5% of the agricultural value added.

Figure 6.8. GSSE expenditures on agricultural knowledge and innovation system

Source: OECD (2018), “Producer and Consumer Estimates”, OECD Agriculture Statistics Database.


Figure 6.9. Agriculture and economy-wide R&D intensity in selected countries
Government budget appropriations or outlays for research and development (GBAORD)

Note: 2015 and 1996 or closest available year.

Source: OECD estimates based on OECD (2018), “Research and Development Statistics” and “National Accounts”, OECD Statistics (databases),; For Brazil: ASTI (2018), Agricultural Science and Technology Indicators (database),

6.7. Knowledge flows: Extension and entrepreneurship

The Argentinian agricultural innovation system has a complex knowledge and technology flow mechanism which covers a wide range of activities and institutions, with strong national and international connections and public-private participation. INTA’s agricultural extension system is the main technology transfer mechanism in the country. Very significant private initiatives also exist, such as AACREA and AAPRESID, which over the last three decades have pooled the efforts of farmers and industry to boost the adoption of innovations, in particular in the crop sector.

Agricultural extension is an integral component of INTA’s institutional mandate, and its complex institutional framework recognises extension as an organisational objective on the same level as “research”. This is reflected in the existence of a directorate for the co-ordination of technology transfer and a heavy training component with more than 330 extension agencies that hold operational responsibilities for field activities.

Since the 1990s, the orientation of extension activities started to evolve to include a broader rural development approach alongside the traditional extension methodologies. The emphasis has moved from education and technology transfer to an approach targeting agricultural development and social inclusion (Trigo and Ciampi, 2018[16]).The expanded focus aims to support the development of innovation capacities beyond the initial technology transfer and training focus, towards rural development, social inclusion, food security, and the sustainable management of natural resources. The main operational instrument is the “Federal Programme for the Support of Sustainable Rural Development” (PROFEDER), which supports the strengthening of producers’ organisations, the most vulnerable groups and participatory consensus innovation-sharing networks. PROFEDER has currently 233 projects4, with the participation of more than 9 500 producers.

INTA also executes related projects with the support of other public-sector institutions. The most prominent is ProHuerta, a large initiative working in peri-urban agriculture with the objective of improving self-consumption of fresh products from family gardens in targeted social groups’. This project has been implemented with support from the Ministry of Social Development for more than twenty years and is widely recognised as a successful high-impact social programme. The traditional extension activities also continue through the network of extension agencies located across the country.

One characteristic of the Argentinian AIS is the important role played by private associative initiatives to promote entrepreneurship and innovation, in particular AACREA and AAPRESID.

The Argentinean Association of Regional Consortia for Agricultural Experimentation (AACREA) is a farmer’s organisation initiated in 1960 following the model of the French Consortia for Agricultural Technology Experimentation (CETA). It is a private organisation of agricultural entrepreneurs aiming at sharing experiences and knowledge to increase the profitability and sustainability of their farms. Comprising 226 groups, it includes more than 2 000 producers covering most agricultural activities and around 4 million hectares of land distributed across 18 regions. Each group has 10 to 12 members that meet monthly, led by a co-ordinator and advised by hired technicians. AACREA undertakes research and experimentation to find effective technologies to solve specific problems; it provides technical and business training, often also open to non-members; it transfers members’ experience through the value chain; and it integrates results into the broader local community. In more recent years, its R&D activities have evolved from a heavy emphasis on experimentation towards a more formal programme of research.

The Argentinean Association of No-till Agriculture (AAPRESID) is a Non-Government Organization (NGO) that brings together agricultural producers and technicians in pursuit of sustainable agricultural principles and practices. Founded in 1989, it initially focused on the diffusion of no-till agriculture. Its mission is to promote the sustainable production of food, fibres, and energy through innovation, science, and knowledge networks. AAPRESID also strives to facilitate the development of sustainable production technologies. Its Certified Agriculture programme is an integral system of sustainable agriculture based on good agricultural practices and principles. Its Chacras System pursues experimentation and adaption of available knowledge to the production needs of specific territories. AAPRESID works with a wide range of public and private organisations, including INTA.

The co-operative system has a long history in Argentina and offers a diversified line of services to its members. Co-operatives are present in the grain and livestock sectors, where they supply agricultural inputs and services, most notably grain elevators, and technical advice including on animal nutrition. The centre of its activities in the grain sector are as grain elevators and suppliers of agricultural inputs and technical advice, both in agriculture and animal nutrition. Co-operatives are also present in the dairy sector and in some regional economies. In more recent times their presence has diminished.

Since the 1990s, policy instruments and public-private partnerships have been used to promote greater interactions between R&D institutions and the private sector. INTA, CONICET, and most public and private universities started institutional policies for researchers to become part of new start-ups created to benefit from their research results. In the 2000s, ANPCYT opened up competitions for funding the creation of new technology-based start-ups. This instrument complemented FONTAR, which has been quite effective in promoting interactions between already established firms to take advantage of R&D capacities. Within this context, during the last two decades, INTA has implemented hundreds of R&D, technical assistance and technology transfer agreements. This partnership approach is more recent but already growing in CONICET.

The national registry of business incubators lists more than 350 of these entities distributed throughout the country ( Business accelerators, a more recent development, share the objective of helping new ideas and projects survive the first stages and accelerating their consolidation. These accelerators take in projects that need a push to become profitable, offering services ranging from infrastructure (co-working spaces) to training, mentoring and networking opportunities. Incubators and accelerators are part of a continuum but, in general, the former are part of public institutions while the latter are private undertakings which take a management or capital stake (or both) in the new project in return for providing their services. A handful of incubators and accelerators have become quite visible over the last decade, with 200 projects in different stages of development. Several innovation competitions and prizes sponsored by large firms or institutions promote the process of innovation and its value to society, helping identify good investment opportunities for banks or large firms.

The Ministry of Production has recently set up a family of public-private co-investment funds aimed at supporting new firms throughout their development and consolidation process. These instruments fill gaps arising from weaknesses in the Argentine capital markets and target accelerators and funds for entrepreneurial development, and the creation of new high-impact firms ( and The Acceleration Fund provides funds for already consolidated accelerators, while the Expansion Fund is a risk capital fund open to local and international investors. Their short history and lack of experience suggests that their success may depend on the success of the broader macroeconomic stabilisation programme.

6.8. Intellectual Property Rights and international co-operation

A secure system of Intellectual Property (IP) Rights is a primary asset for any Agricultural Information System. It creates incentives for research and development and should establish a secure balance between these incentives and the accessibility and adoption of innovations.

Argentina started discussing IP protection for plant varieties before the signing of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). The Law on Seeds and Phytogenetic (Act 20.247), approved in 1973, allows protection of plant varieties conferring plant breeders’ rights (PBRs) for up to 20 years. Adherence to the TRIPS agreement since 1995 implied passing a new patent law, the ratification of the 1978 International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) agreement and the adoption of a new confidentiality law (Law 24.766). The current legislation provides limitations to the monopoly power provided by the PBRs: first, the so-called farmers’ exemption, allowing farmers to save part of the harvested grain to use it in their own land; second, the breeders’ exemption, which enables a breeder to use any protected plant variety, without the owner’s authorisation, to conduct research that could lead to the creation of a new plant variety.

Regarding patents, Argentinian legislation is rigorous with respect to patentability requirements, adopting wide exclusions to patentability and exceptions to the rights conferred by patents, with “balanced” precautionary measures (Trigo and Ciampi, 2018[16]).

The law adopts the UPOV 78 model to plant breeders’ rights (rather than the 1991 one), without double protection and with wide exceptions. The existing framework has not supported many local developments in the agri-food sector, mainly because of the amplitude of the exceptions to the plant breeders’ rights and the difficulties to obtain patent use exception in favor of plant breeders. These difficulties are also directly related to the large level of violation of seed regulations, which results in a weaker level of intellectual property protection than the Latin America average. Several projects to reform the legal framework of seeds have been presented, but an agreement acceptable to the different stakeholders has not been achieved.

Since the early 1990s there has been a significant evolution in the way R&D organisations handle IPRs. IP protection has become a legitimate strategy to protect results and researchers’ right to participate in the benefits, independently from the origin of the resources. In the case of CONICET, intellectual property protection approved in 2007 establishes that up to 50% of the benefits could go to researchers and up to 60% to the research centre. This policy has been quite effective as from 2010 to 2015 there was a significant increase in the number of patents. In the case of INTA, the share received by researchers is 30%, another 30% for the research group, 20% for the research unit, and 20% for a technology valorisation fund that finances close-to-market developments.

Argentina has always had a significant presence in international co-operation on science and technology, which was enhanced and formalised with the creation of MINCYT in 2008. The objective is to promote scientific and technological regional integration within the MERCOSUR, to impel co-operation and exchange with science and technology excellence centres and to strengthen financial aid for basic research and its applications.

The number of specific initiatives is large: the Network of Argentine Researchers and Scientists Abroad (RAICES) programme facilitates engagement with Argentinian researchers living abroad; Argentina’s most developed and complex partnership, the 1999 Cooperation Agreement in Science and Technology with the European Union, encourages and promotes Argentinian participation in the EU Framework Programmes; the Twinning Programme allows collaboration and sharing of results between Argentinian and European projects working in the same area of food, agriculture and fisheries, and biotechnology; the Biotecsur is a key joint effort implemented by the European Union, the MERCOSUR countries, and MINCYT for the development and use of biotechnology.

Argentina runs 34 binational research centres, nine of which are operated in co-operation with Brazil : the Argentinean–Brazilian Biotechnology Centre founded in 1987 promotes joint work on human resources training, support to scientific and technological research groups and intellectual property; the Argentinean Brazilian Nanotechnology Centre was created in 2005; other bilateral centres include the Binational Centre with Max Planck Society and the Spanish-Argentinian Binational Centre of Plant Genomics (CEBIGEVE).

6.9. Overall policy assessment and recommendations

Argentinian agriculture innovation was and is primarily privately driven by domestic and international economic incentives. However, the public sector has provided very valuable strategic support on specific knowledge inputs and their transmission to human resources for development and implementation, mainly from INTA and the entire ST&I system (Bisang, Anlló and Campi, 2015[8]). On the whole, the Argentinian AIS has been quite successful, as proved by aggregate cereal and oilseed production and productivity performance.

However, in regions outside the Pampas the dynamics of innovation has often been absent, with some specific exceptions. Export policies affecting Argentinians’ principal food consumption products (such as beef, wheat and maize), including differentiated exports taxes and export permits for some crops, created relative incentives in favor of processed soybean that interacted with the innovation process on this crop.

The R&D system in Argentina has a very strong specialisation in agri-food research. As a result, 14% of all patents, 21% of scientific publications and 17% of citations refer to the agri-food sector. These shares are higher than in Brazil and in most OECD countries (Table 6.1). The share of these outputs that are co-authored is also high. However, the contribution of Argentina to worldwide R&D agri-food outcomes is modest.

The percentage of the national product going into ST&I activities in all sectors is modest but growing. Despite the organisational innovations that have provided new roles for new private actors, R&D expenditure is mainly public and more needs to be done to make the system more responsive to demand and less supply-driven. Investment levels on agricultural innovation policies are high relative to all agricultural support measures, with a high share in the General Support Estimate (GSSE) dedicated to agriculture knowledge and innovation system (mainly through INTA). These policies are and have been the core of the agricultural policy package in Argentina. However, the research intensity of the sector has fallen in the last two decades.

Table 6.1. R&D outcomes, 2006-11






United States

OECD average

OECD total

Agri-food specialisation: agri-food as a share of country’s total (%)

Patents 1








Publications 2








Citations 2








Country’s contribution to world agri-food output (%)

Patents 1








Publications 2








Citations 2








Agri-food outputs with co-authors as a share of total agri-food outputs (%)

Patents 1








Publications 2








1. Patents filed under the Patent Co-operation Treaty (PCT). Data refer to agri-food outputs for 2006-11.

2. Publications in scientific journals. For Collaboration, OECD average excludes Lithuania.

Source: OECD Patent Database, January 2014; SCImago. (2007). SJR – SCImago Journal & Country Rank. Retrieved March 19, 2014, from

The measurement of the Argentinian ST&I investment effort on agriculture and the monitoring of its results needs to be strengthened. No good measurement of the overall investment on AIS exists. The system needs to develop and institutionalise ways of measuring the innovation effort and of monitoring the performance of different initiatives and projects, in line with international initiatives. The overall evidence from sector performance is that support to innovation pays; however, the system should improve the monitoring and evaluation of the performance of different investments, in order to develop an information-based decision-making process.

A first important challenge for the Argentinean innovation system is the definition of a broader policy strategy focusing the use of public funds on sustainable development and environmental concerns that are not adequately tackled by the private innovation system. This should include the sustainable use of natural resources, the protection of the environment (covering soils, water, forest, and biodiversity), and the mitigation of and adaptation to climate change. In order to increase productivity and global agricultural production sustainably, it is essential to avoid the depletion of soils developing and adopting innovations that increase the rate of nutrient replenishment. The setting of AIS priorities needs to evolve towards the provision of public goods and long-term investments in sustainability.

The Argentinian AIS needs to better balance the innovation performance of agriculture in the Pampas with that outside it, where indicators on education, infrastructure, and investment lag alongside those for agriculture. The large differences in the structure of regional economies’ agriculture systems and their insertion into the national and global markets affect innovation behavior and performance. A federal approach to innovation policy and capacities is needed, but the specific pathways go beyond agricultural innovation policies alone.

Argentina obtained significant economic benefits from exploiting genetic innovations – particularly glyphosate-tolerant soybeans – in very advantageous circumstances, but it is very unlikely that such situations will recur (Trigo, 2011[41]). IPRs, particularly with respect to seeds, is a key area for improvement by means of a secure and respected legal framework. Efforts are already underway to renew the legal framework and strengthen the operational capacities of the National Institute of Seeds (INASE) , but in order to reach consensus to provide both incentives to innovation and access to biological innovations in Argentina, a complex and diverse set of interests – such as those of small-scale farmers, medium and large agricultural producers, domestic breeding firms, multinational firms, and public institutions – need to be involved, and the economic, social and environmental impacts need to be evaluated.

The role of INTA as the most important component of the AIS needs to be better defined in the current context of its decreasing contribution to the main technologies and the diversification of its portfolio into rural and social development rather than R&D and innovation. A technical co-operation with IADB is being carried out during 2018 and 2019 to assess several aspects of INTA's activities: a quantitative assessment of the impact of R&D on agricultural technology on TFP, and a comparative study of the extension activities and scientific networks. Building on these and other existing assessment of INTA, it is recommended to undertake an open external analysis to evaluate and discuss the available alternatives for INTA and other institutional frames to tackle different policy areas more efficiently: innovation, R&D and extension activities; and broader social and community development objectives. The issue is beyond the political allocation of the budget to different policies. It is about an institutional design with the right management and operational structures for good priority setting, resource allocation, and human resources development, in both policy areas.

Such concerns were less pressing when the rural and social development programmes and projects were funded from external resources. However, they have become more pressing as these programmes and projects now compete for INTA’s and other institutions’ budgetary and managerial resources. The organisational needs, and the skills and incentives required for science and research activities significantly differ from those for implementation of rural development programmes. Today’s system is more diverse and the public goods for the next innovation cycle will also come from other actors such as universities and CONICET. The demand for public goods will grow as climate change and environmental sustainability increasingly become the focus for public investments in R&D.


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← 1. This chapter is based on the consultant background paper (Trigo and Ciampi, 2018[16]) which follows the OECD framework for analysing sustainable agricultural productivity growth (OECD, 2013[42]).

← 2. (Trigo and Ciampi, 2018[16]) estimations based on data from COMTRADE:

← 3. The silo-bag consists of a relatively thick polyethylene sleeve of a diameter of between 1.4 and 2.2 metres, in which grains can be stored for a limited time – between 1 and 3 years. A specially designed machine – produced by a domestic firm – deposits the grain in the sleeves, closing them hermetically. The extraction can be done either manually or with extraction equipment.

← 4. PROFEDER projects include: Minifundio, aiming to facilitate subsistence farmers’ access to land and water, habitat and infrastructure, self-consumption production, and aggregating value; PROFAM, supporting family farms and their associations, management capacities and access to credit; Local Development Support Projects, working at local level with other public and private organisations; Cambio Rural II, assisting small and medium enterprises (SMEs) of the agro-industrial sector, the co-operative sector and family farmers on associative capacities.

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