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Sent: 10 December 2002 09:52
Subject: 92: Priorities for biotech research in developing countries
This is from E.M. Muralidharan in India.
Since the conference is approaching the end, I want to give some emphasis to specific areas of research that I believe should receive some priority in developing countries. One of the advantages that many developing countries will always have is the availability of cheaper labour, including technically-skilled manpower. In areas like micropropagation, this can mean a lot in terms of improving the agriculture inputs and, when exported, a means of generating income in foreign exchange. Some problems need to be sorted out before this can happen.
Micropropagation is mostly a capital-intensive endeavor that cannot reach the remote and poorer regions of developed countries unless specific efforts are taken to make it so. Some efforts definitely are being taken to simplify tissue culture procedures and equipment so that costs in energy and material are minimized and micropropagation becomes cost-effective as well as within the reach of farmers without a university degree or intensive training. Research has, however, never been focused on this aspect sufficiently.
When robotics and further sophistication are being considered in developing countries as a means of reducing the labour costs, the developing nations may do well to enjoy the benefit of the advantage they already have. As a colleague of mine stated, a "demystification" of biotechnology is necessary, to put it in the hands of the common masses rather than leave it to the corporations alone. Some of the "lower biotechnologies" (vermiculture, biofertilizers etc.) can also benefit from the cheaper labour. I hope funds will be made available to encourage research in these `strategic' areas. These are, I think, part of what Dr. Udeni Edirisinghe (Message 88, December 9) refers to as "areas where there are no arguments and which all can agree to work on".
Dr. E.M. Muralidharan
Kerala Forest Research Institute
Peechi 680 653 Thrissur,
Email: emmurali (at) kfri.org
Sent: 10 December 2002 10:46
Subject: 93: Re: Synthesis of e-conference
This is Alex Owusu-Biney, Research Scientist and National Project Coordinator for UNEP/GEF Project on "Development of Biosafety Frameworks".
I agree with Ralph Blanchfield (message 91, December 9). Biotechnology is not a panacea for all the problems that engulf us. As scientists we harness technology for its use and roles. For example, in West Africa we are grappling with Cassava Mosaic Virus issues, it seems all the prevailing technologies are not solving the problem. Could biotechnology, through transgenic cassava, be the answer? Such a tool if found to be helpful will be used.
Another area has been the use of bioleach plants and microorganisms to remove arsenates from our mining areas. In Ghana we have a bioleach plant which is using the power of microbes to trap arsenates. This has effectively helped to reclaim land which has been reforested again. At first no plant could grow near such areas because of the heavy metals. [Bioleaching is the recovery of metals from their ores, using the action of micro-organisms, rather than chemical or physical treatment. For example, Thiobacillus ferroxidans has been used to extract gold from refractory ores...Moderator].
Would it be possible to develop fast growing trees for afforestation programs and to address our furniture and building needs ? In our parts of the world, bamboo and rattan is being used by a lot of young people to develop furniture and other artifacts. This is a vital source of livelihood. The materials are being harvested from the wild. Could biotechnology through tissue culture and allied techniques be used to develop fast growing plants for this industry for its sustainable exploitation ?
There are many areas where we could adapt biotechnology but we should not lose sight of the importance of building capacity to handle issues of food safety, environmental impacts and ethical issues.
Biotechnology & Nuclear Agric. Research Institute
P. O. Box LG. 80
bineya (at) idngh.com
Sent: 10 December 2002 10:56
Subject: 94: A participatory research agenda
This is Miguel Altieri.
An estimated 1.4 billion people live and work in the vast, diverse and
risk-prone rainfed areas in the developing world, where their farming
operations will not benefit, in the foreseeable future, from mainstream
biotechnological technologies. Their systems are usually located in
heterogeneous environments too marginal for intensive agriculture and remote
from markets and institutions. In order to benefit the poor more directly, a
technological strategy must directly and simultaneously tackle the following
- Poverty alleviation
- Food security and self reliance
- Ecological management of productive resources
- Empowerment of rural communities
- Establishment of supportive policies
The strategy must be applicable under the highly heterogeneous and diverse conditions in which smallholders live, it must be environmentally sustainable and based on the use of local resources and indigenous knowledge. The emphasis should be on improving whole farming systems at the field or watershed level, rather than the yield of specific commodities. Technological generation should be a demand-driven process, meaning that research priorities should be based on the socio-economic needs and environmental circumstances of resource-poor farmers. Biotechnology does not meet any of the above requirements.
To be of benefit to the rural poor, agricultural research and development
should operate on the basis of a "bottom-up" approach using, and building
upon, the resources already available: local people, their knowledge and
their autochthonous natural resources. It must also seriously take into
consideration, through participatory approaches, the needs, aspirations and
circumstances of smallholders. In this conference, I have emphasized that
the voice of the poor and small farmers from the south must be heard, and so
far we keep talking among scientists, policy makers, etc. IF the research
agenda was defined jointly with farmers the following topics are likely to
- Improved understanding of marginal agroecosystems
- selection of local varieties that deliver stable yields in the face of environmental stress
- Technologies for water harvesting and drought management
- Small-scale, community-managed irrigation and water-conservation systems
- More diversified, less risky and productive farming systems
- Synergetic, diversified and less risky cropping and crop-livestock systems providing more stable yields
- Productive and sustainable agroforestry alternatives to shifting cultivation
- Sustainable income- and employment-generating exploitation of forest, fisheries and natural resources, as well as research on land reform, access to local markets, etc.
Implementation of such participatory research agenda should:
- Contribute to greater environmental preservation
- Enhance production and household food security
- Provide on- and off-farm employment
- Provision of local inputs and marketing opportunities
- Promotion of resource-conserving multifunctional technologies
- Participatory approaches for community involvement and empowerment
- Institutional partnerships
- Effective and supportive policies
Miguel A. Altieri, Ph.D.
Professor of Agroecology
Division of Insect Biology
201 Wellman Hall-3112
University of California
Berkeley CA 94720
tel 510 6429802
fax 510 6427428
agroeco3 (at) nature.berkeley.edu
Sent: 10 December 2002 11:04
Subject: 95: "Work group" research
This is Dr Aisha, A. Badr, Egypt.
During my visits to small tropical fruit farmers, I found their interest in traditional medicine. As an example, the use of papaya fruits for curing stomach disease, green papaya for worms in kids and so on for many fruits. On the other hand, the production of bananas with vaccines for children leads me to the thought of helping small farmers by "work group" research which will help them to use such fruits safely. By "work groups" I mean: horticulturists, medical, pharmacology and biotechnology researchers working together. This may help small farmers to grow safe fruits for multi-uses. At the same time, this will meet their needs to use such fruits in tradional medicines safely to avoid harmful substances in green fruits. The vaccinated fruits are a great development in biotechnology research but what are the limitations of using it ? This also needs comprehensive research to convince scientists before others that they can give such fruits to their children.
I would like to salute the honesty of messages 73 (Jagdish Nazareth, December 3), 86 (Julie Newman, December 9), 87 (Jorge Mayer, December 9) and others in explaining mistakes of biotechnology research which I mentioned (safety for poor farmers) who trust us. In my country, we also, as mentioned in some messages, suffer from wasting scientists' time in searching for and buying chemicals and facilities and time lost for repairing instruments. Scientist must work only in research and let others manage.
Dr Aisha, A. Badr,
Tropical fruit division,
Sabahia Horticultural Research Station,
momidic (at) hotmail.com
Sent: 10 December 2002 15:10
Subject: 96: The best technology
I am Diogenes Infante, from the Biotechnology Center at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Caracas, Venezuela.
When there is a discussion about technology like computers or cellular phones, nobody is against the utilization of such technologies in the world, even in the least developed countries (LDCs). But, in the case of modern biology some people thinks technology have to prove its force first, this is the point in message 90 (December 9) by Michel Ferry. I really do not see why.
In my opinion, people taking decisions about how to allocate funds for research should consider always the best technology they can afford in each case, and of course that applies for a particular situation. Modern biology is more expensive but paid for. Modern biology allows for the development of new products that can be used for domestic consumption and for export to the international market. It allows for the development of plants that are able to grow in stress conditions, or in metal-contaminated soils, with less water, or resistant to pests. If those products are not on the market today it is because they are not needed in the developed world. They are needed in the LDCs, so it is our duty to develop then. In the same way, we need to develop a vaccine against malaria or dengue fever. These are our problems.
There are several ways to improve the use of the resources, regional centers and schools, exchange between laboratories, projects in collaboration between laboratories in different countries. In all the cases the target has to be the best.
To finish with one example: When the oil industry was nationalized in Venezuela during the 1970's a world class research institute was created: Intevep. I want to emphasize that it is a world class research institution. Today, 25 year later, the Venezuelan oil industry is able to manage all their technical process, as well as the utilization and commercialization of very heavy oil from the Orinoco basin, only present in Venezuela, including the development of the first new product from petroleum in almost 100 years (Orimulsion - a mixture of heavy oil and water with a surfactant to stabilize the emulsion and can be used to generate electricity), which started as a basic research project at the Universidad de Los Andes in Mérida, and finished as a new product which is commercialized. So research pays, even in a LDC.
Dr. Diógenes Infante H.
Centro de Biotecnología
Instituto de Estudios Avanzados-IDEA
Apdo. 17606 Parque Central
Caracas 10151-A, Venezuela
Carretera Nacional Hoyo de la Puerta
Sartenejas, Caracas 1080, Venezuela
58-(0212)-906-4111 Ext. 6586
Sent: 10 December 2002 15:10
Subject: 97: Emerging economies need emergent biotechnologies
This is J.R. Murti from Hyderabad, India.
Emerging economies (also known as developing countries) need to factorize 3 strategic perspectives in deciding "What should be the role and focus of biotechnology in the agricultural research agendas ......?"."
(1) Governance and Education:
Sovereign policies of emerging economies must focus on the fact that agriculture would be the setting in which biotechnologies (the tools) would be adopted. The research agendas could be "big science, few projects, megabucks" or "small science, many projects, matching grants". I personally favor the latter, since this strategy would remove the stranglehold of bureaucratic decision-making, trigger local-needs entrepreneurial projects, encourage the university faculty into devising guerilla projects matched to students future plans, increase the intellectual property rights (IPR) strike rates and knowledge base (including failures and dead-ends).
The Industry could lend credence to the whole strategic exercise by lobbying, establishing matching corpus grants, providing clear signals to the next generation of biotech knowledge workers as to where the new jobs and services are.
Biotechnology is essentially an evolving community of organizations and fast-moving alliances that create new value-chains out of biological products and processes. In doing so, biotech commercial alliances defy the Standard Industry Classification codes. [The Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) is a system of 4-digit codes that attempts to classify all business establishments by the types of products or services they make available. Establishments engaged in the same economic activity, whatever their size or type of ownership, are assigned the same SIC code. Most business directories and directory databases use the SIC codes to classify companies or businesses. Definition from http://libweb.uoregon.edu/govdocs/business/industry.html ...Moderator]. This means that standard university curricula must focus on minimum norms of knowledge. And the industry must sponsor the "elective" part of the curricula through corporate scholarships and competitive apprenticeships. This approach will satisfy the industry's efforts to match talent with business agendas, while forcing the universities to keep pace with the ever-expanding domain of biotech knowledge.
(3) Value Constellations:
Because of the nature of biotechnology, the new generation of biotech generalists and specialists should have a firm grounding in allied fields such as market intelligence, awareness/activism, policies/legalities, media/public outreach, coalition/network/informal research alliances that span traditional institutional mechanisms and boundaries, and public-legal advisory services.
These thoughts are primarily in the strategic domain (as Robert Grant put it: "Strategy is to win, pure & simple".
To give a dash of reality, let me share one of my experiences: I always ask all agri-biotech stakeholders, particularly the farmers: "Are you dependent on the plants or are they dependent on you?". Surprisingly, almost all pitch for the former part of the question! In reality, the use of hybrids, chemical intensification of agriculture, integrated pest management (IPM) etc. are all approaches that have made the human-nurtured and domesticated plants dependant on us. Why not research the biotechnology of weeds, transfer those very traits to our hybrids, and liberate them from human nurture? Weren't the cash crops (of today) weeds before they were domesticated? Isn't the Bt-technology, drought/salt/heat tolerance etc. the fore-runner similar technologies in the research/technology pipelines of knowledge institutions (public/private)??
Please remember that science and scientists must only keep creating choices and opportunities. It is for the society/market to pronounce judgement on them. Perhaps the "biotechnology of weeds" could now be re-viewed from the above 3 strategic perspectives??
Dr. J.R. Murti
Federation of Farmers Associations (A.P.)
#209, Vijaya Towers, Shantinagar
Hyderabad - 500028,
(O) +91-40-23319643 // +91-40-6665191
Email: jrmurti (at) hotpop.com
Sent: 10 December 2002 15:30
Subject: 98: Biotechnology in developing countries
This is from Dr Gert Willemse. As a former academic and researcher, and more recently in the fields of policy and legislation, I have been involved with biotechnology in South Africa and elsewhere for some 30 years. During the last five years I was involved in the development of national legislation on GMOs, the negotiations of the Cartagena Protocol and also served on the interdepartmental Steering Committee responsible for our national biotechnology strategy.
I have followed the conference discussion on the role and focus of biotechnology in developing countries with interest and was once again struck by the phenomenon that any latter-day discussion on biotechnology almost immediately takes the form of a pro- versus anti-GMO debate, almost totally ignoring the role and importance of the first and second generation biotechnologies.
Most developing countries are net importers of technologies and the need is evident for (a) local adaptation and extension of imported technologies and (b) developing and enhancing new technologies/competencies. The dependence of most developing countries on the natural environment and the agriculture sector performance, places much emphasis on biotechnology as national growth priority, with potential sectoral focus in the fields of agriculture, health care and industrial application.
Valuable lessons can be learnt from the development of biotechnology in developing countries particularly successful in incorporating this sector into the macroeconomic national environment, such as Cuba, Brazil, Argentina, and China. Of note is the fact that, although attention is given to gene transfer biotechnology, much of the strategic focus have been on especially second generation biotechnologies yielding bioremedial products with medical and agricultural application, such as vaccines and diagnostic kits. The benefits of developing expertise and national competency in these areas are not only evident within the context of dealing with country-specific problems, but also provides opportunity for international trade.
This brings me back to the areas of national/regional policy, strategy and legislation. Successful development of the biotechnology sector, although sometimes haphazard in focus, has always only been effective and sustainable in an enabling environment. Role and focus of research (including biotechnology research) in any country, would need to include an equitable allocation of resources devoted to research and development of the enabling environment.
Deputy Director, Biodiversity Management
Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism
Ministry of Environmental Affairs and Tourism
Private Bag X447
315 Pretorius Street, Fedsure Forum Bldg
Tel +27 12 310 3836
Fax: +27 12 320 7026
E-Mail: gwillemse (at) ozone.pwv.gov.za
Sent: 10 December 2002 17:18
Subject: 99: Farm animal biotechnology research
I am Dr. Udo Herbert, a Senior Lecturer in Animal Physiology at the Federal University of Technology, Owerri, Nigeria.
I have carefully followed the comments by participants in this conference. It is not surprising that most of the discussion has centred on plant biotechnology. The reason is that over the years, stakeholders in poverty alleviation and food security have given the impression that the problem the world has is to increase calorie production and intake, paying less attention to animal protein production and intake in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and South-East Asia.
Nevertheless, inadequate production and intake of animal proteins in these regions necessitate efforts in farm animal biotechnology to enhance production and intake. Evidence abounds that in most rural African communities, livestock serve as stores of cash, suggesting that there is need to control the type of animals the farmers keep to ensure sustainable livestock production.
The thinking in certain quarters is that the rural poor are left out of the biotechnology discussions and that there is nothing in it for the small farmers. I have a different opinion. I wish to submit that the small farmers that accepted fertilizers, hybrid maize (which are essentially clones) would accept reproductive technologies in the livestock sector as long as they are carried along in the development of the technologies. Whether it is adaptation or outright development, the issue is that national governments in developing countries should begin to invest in farm animal biotechnology research. A situation where less than 1% of the GDP is applied to agricultural research in these countries does not mean well for the development of livestock research in the areas. In my country Nigeria, for example, less than 0.1% of the GDP is applied to agricultural research (crop and livestock together). Within this meagre provision, the livestock sector receives a much lower proportion than the crop sector. Not much can be achieved under this kind of funding situation.
The degree of seriousness applied to research is an important issue. Coordination between universities, research institutes and the private sector is another. Evidence suggests that certain donors and stakeholders in funding agricultural research prefer to fund different research-conducting bodies, implying low cooperation between the bodies. This leads to fragmented efforts in different areas. Pooling of resources to set-up well-equipped centres around the countries would yield better dividends than what is obtainable presently. This suggests that although certain research concerns may have regional or sub-regional applicability, it would be easier for scientists to benefit if they did not have to travel outside their countries or subregions to analyse materials.
With the diffusion of genes interfering with reproduction in plant species, occasioned by activities of commercial interests, it is not unlikely that the erosion of animal genetic resources in the developing world would soon start in a greater dimension than what we see today. I suggest that there is an urgent need to apply the techniques of germplasm collection, characterization and conservation using cryopreservation means to ensure the maintenance of the biodiversity in the regions.
To my mind the cooperation between scientists in the South and their colleagues in the North should continue as this has been yielding good fruits in encouraging more and more young scientists to seek ways of combining classical research tools with the modern ones developed in the North.
I feel strongly that better enlightenment is required to ensure that the needed support is given at all levels to the development of farm animal biotechnology in developing countries.
Dr. U. Herbert
Senior Lecturer in Animal Physiology
Department of Animal Science & Technology
Federal University of Technology
Email; udyherbert (at) yahoo.com
Phone: +234 803 327 3914