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Sent: 11 December 2002 11:17
Subject: 100: Re: A participatory research agenda
[In the last 2 days, we have had the first messages dealing exclusively with biotechnology research in the livestock sector (Udo Herbert, Message 99, December 10) and foresty sector (E.M. Muralidharan, Message 85, December 9), while Udeni Edirisinghe (Message 88, December 9) has considered fish based integration systems. Because we would dearly like to get more inputs regarding these sectors and/or these particular messages, and because there have been some excellent, highly-relevant messages posted over the last fews days about the role and focus of biotechnology in the agricultural research agenda in developing countries, we have decided to extend the conference to the 16 December. The last day for receiving messages for the conference is therefore MONDAY 16 DECEMBER. The last messages will then be posted on Tuesday morning December 17, Rome time, and the conference closed. Remember to ensure that any messages directly address the theme of the conference, see Moderator's message of December 2 and the second part of Message 37...Moderator].
This is John Nishio, California State University, Chico, United States.
Unlike so many of you who have carefully followed the wonderful comments in the present conference, I have only been able to follow in a cursory fashion. I appreciate the comments that are now beginning to be listed. I refer to the local problems being posted.
Thus, I agree whole-heartedly with most of what Miguel Altieri (message 94, December 10) has recently posted. The operators of small rural farms in developing countries, but also developed countries, can provide local inputs to the "scientists" and policymakers who set the agendas. The problems must be well stated, or else the "solutions" may be woefully inadequate. Designing and producing the "ideal" crop(s) can only be good. It ought to be our goal to design and test the most efficient (I mean that thermodynamically) farming systems possible. Such a model system could be reverse engineered, if need be, for regions with fewer resources; or other models could be developed to promote transfer of the technology. "Large" and "small" farms should be considered. My limited knowledge of developing countries is that they also have "large" farms, and they ought to be operated with ecologically sound principles, as well. Applying biotechnology to all aspects of agriculture should be considered, if it might provide solutions to the problems that are recognized as "important".
We should not limit our approaches. We should embrace all that biotech has to offer (including GMOs) and look for the best solutions that provide long-term global productivity and stability. If one wishes to conserve water, then plants with high water-use efficiency ought to be utilized. They could be used for dryland or irrigation farming. In the United States (I don't have data for other countries), a small percentage of the water used for agriculture represents the amount of water presently used domestically. Therefore, conserving only a small percentage of water makes available double that which is presently used domestically in the United States. Efficient irrigation systems (if available) applied to the water-efficient crops conserve even more water. Improving the crops via "biotech" to yield heat (cold) tolerant, water efficient, pest resistant, allelopathic, high nutrient uptake efficient, and high nutrient use efficient plants can only help. [Allelopathy is the secretion of chemicals, such as phenolic and terpenoid compounds, by a plant's roots, which inhibit the growth or reproduction of competitor plants...Moderator]. Transferring and sharing the systems in an economically feasible fashion requires political will. While much of what Miguel Altieri and I have referred to may be construed as platitudes or simplistic, it is important that the notion as a whole be seriously considered.
John N. Nishio
Photosynthesis and Plant Productivity Research Cente
College of Natural Science
California State Universit
Chico, CA 95973055
JNishio (at) csuchico.edu
Sent: 11 December 2002 11:59
Subject: 101: Re: Emerging economies need emergent biotechnologies
This is from Hong, Lay Thong in Malaysia. I am a layman as far as biotechnology is concerned, but have great interest in biotechnology for development. There are many ways in which biotechnology could be used effectively in developing countries. I like Dr. J. Murthi's message (no. 97, December 10) which has, thus far, provided the best scenario and comments on "role and focus of biotechnology in agricultural research.......in developing countries". In addition I would like to add that:
It is difficult to prescribe a role and focus of biotechnology to encompass most of the developing countries. Each of the countries has to prioritise and evaluate areas of biotechnology that could be effectively and economically employed for its (agricultural) development. For example, in the case of Malaysia the government has earmarked that "Biotechnology" will be the next technology that would continue to propel the country's development after the successful implementation of the IT (information technology) policy. A research institute is researching on the rubber tree to produce insulin in the latex, and hopefully this process, if it succeeds, will be more cost-effective for treatment of diabetics. To focus the country's limited resources on biotechnology applications it has formed a National Biotechnology Secretariat to prioritise and coordinate suitable biotechnological applications for development of industries or processes, especially those using agricultural resources. This application of biotechnology encompasses not only agricultural biotechnology, but industrial processes of biotechnology that use agricultural and animal resources.
Hence, whether a country wants to use molecular marker technology or transgenic research in order to produce/select a better breed of animals and/or crops or to focus on industrial biotechnology to develop its agriculture-based industry, has to be strategically planned and GOVERNMENT SUPPORTED, plus with the ACTIVE participation of the private sector. There could be no generalisations for all. Dr. J. Murthi has elicited some of the considerations and it is up to national governments of developing countries to prioritise, taking into account its capabilities, human resources, economy, ability to develop strategic alliance with developed economies and fund generation ability.
Hong, Lay Thong
International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI)
Regional Office for Asia, the Pacific and Oceania
e-mail: l.hong (at) cgiar.org
Sent: 11 December 2002 12:49
Subject: 102: Pool regional resources and use independent research
This is Glenn Ashton, independent commentator and observer on genetic engineering (GE) and biotechnology, writing from Cape Town, South Africa.
Very little research has been undertaken into the needs of developing farmers that may be addressed using any of the many modalities of biotechnology. In one cited example of such research, the independent Biotechnology Trust of Zimbabwe (BTZ) investigated problems amongst smallholder farmers that could be addressed by the use of biotechnology. Interestingly, the research identified no problems that could be mitigated by the use of GE crops.
Just as the needs of Zimbabwe have been reviewed, so too should similar research be undertaken to assess small farmer needs around the world. I would suggest that similar findings to BTZ would be common. Most, if not all, GE crops are not aimed at solving small farmers needs but are instead directed toward intensive, industrial farming. Monsanto Southern Africa representatives have admitted as much. The main problem is that small farmers do not offer profitable markets to the agro-chemical approaches of the green revolution or the use of transgenic crops. Such approaches failed in Africa before and again threaten food security, rather than offer promise. This has been emphasised by many participants of this conference.
It would seem useful to move beyond national research and toward regional research based on areas of climatological similarity. Expertise could then be pooled and the influence of trans-national corporation (TNC) research and profit-driven criteria for solutions could be mitigated.
In South Africa we have seen a skewing of research priorities driven by public/private partnerships by the funding of research by TNCs. Both our Agricultural Research Centre and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research have based their main programmes on commercial rather than small farmers needs. This is a reality of structural adjustment programmes driven by the World Bank and other Bretton Woods institutions. So it is imperative to firstly develop programmes that are suited to respond to small farmers needs and these are often not responsive to profit-driven solutions. And then address these needs in programmes that are designed to meaningfully address the root causes of privations of small farmers.
Such interventions may include tissue culture, soil or root inoculation, Marker Assisted Breeding (MAB) and other non-genetically invasive responses offer far more promise and far less downside. If we wish to address the needs of small farmers we have to look at solutions that create independence from market inputs, not dependence on bought inputs.
The limited resources available for agricultural research should therefore be regionally pooled and examine the simplest, most practical and preferably previously proven and tested technologies used in similar climatological, infrastructurally-deficient regions. In most cases, solutions would seek to simultaneously deal with numerous problems and not focus on silver bullet solutions, such as GE technologies, that are more likely to create further problems. GE crops should be confined to developed nations capable of dealing with negative impacts by established biosafety systems.
These resources, when identified, should focus on as many aspects of food security as possible; holistic systems such as permaculture, the Kenyan push/pull systems and Central American chinimapas are each ways of solving many problems by integrated systems. It is clear, given the market distortion of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) subsidy systems that food security needs must be the primary aim of such interventions - with cash crops, especially those affected by OECD subsidies, being afforded less priority. We cannot honestly expect the market to solve problems that it has created, directly or indirectly.
I also suggest a visit to www.grain.org to peruse their excellent analyses of these issues.
ekogaia (at) iafrica.com
Sent: 11 December 2002 14:03
Subject: 103: Enabling environments
I am Gert Willemse from the Department of Environmental Affairs in South Africa, member of the national GMO Council and member of the national Biotechnology Strategy Steering Committee. Further to my previous message (no. 98, December 10) on the importance of enabling mechanisms, I would like to submit the following: [In his previous message, he concluded that "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"...Moderator]
The institutional hierarchy, and the harmonization and coordination of relationships, functions and powers of different national authorities involved in implementation and regulatory oversight of biotechnology development and application are crucial to the realization of national priorities. An additional and equally important factor is the internal division of authority and responsibilities at the sub-national level as determined by the domestic political and administrative structure of a country.
Given the complex set of common and unique features and interests characteristic of any given situation, there clearly exists a need to explore the sort of incremental changes within a) policy, b) institutional and c) regulatory frameworks that could help to provide the enabling environment for development and implementation tools to be refined and applied. It needs to be recognized that there are many areas where conventional approaches or solutions have simply not been effective and where there is a real need to consider alternatives, not only to create the requisite enabling environment and the building of capacity but also to make more effective and efficient use of existing resource capacity.
a) Policy frameworks:
Policy development and analyses are crucial first steps, in need of research and development funding, in establishing a suitable enabling environment for implementation. Initiating these processes, and the ultimate direction taken by them, are inextricably linked to the existing political climate. In more open societies decision-making tends to become decentralised thus impacting positively on the environment, whereas countries with political instability and civil strife suffer high environmental and developmental costs. Across the globe, democratic regimes that are committed to the protection of environmental and human rights, and development based on market-oriented economies are on the increase. This trend is also recognised and highlighted as a cornerstone of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), creating national and regional political climates conducive to development and harmonisation of integrated sectoral and national policy instruments appropriately aligned to achieve commonly shared goals.
Integrated and inter-sectorally aligned policy frameworks need to be translated into strategies and actions to achieve the stated policy goals. One of the primary outcomes of new policy is usually an identified objective to establish suitable regulatory instruments and the necessary administrative and institutional systems responsible for effective and efficient implementation of the policy and regulatory systems.
b) Administrative and institutional systems:
The biotechnology sector in individual countries and internationally faces a variety of development options requiring reconsideration of the structure and function of the natural resource base and the potential impacts of utilisation regimes. In this context, the optimal institutional arrangements and linkages to remove or minimise administrative constraints must also be addressed. Unquestionably, the ultimate goal has to be the creation of, and capitalising on, optimal development opportunities whilst ensuring adequate conservation and sustainability of the natural resource base.
In order to achieve optimal sustainability of the resource base and capitalise on expanding trade opportunities, governments are having to consider modifying their existing administrative and institutional systems, most of them sectorally-based and not always comparable between countries or even within regions. Sectoral division of responsibility for implementation of environmental and sustainable development programmes is often a hindrance to effective, integrated implementation of such programmes at local, national and regional levels. It is of vital importance that implementation initiatives and efforts are supported by strong, flexible institutional arrangements that are able to respond to political change and evolving scientific understanding.
Convergence or harmonisation within and between countries is becoming an increasingly important factor to achieve effective implementation of national or regional priorities. The complexities of regulatory frameworks necessitate high investment and recurrent costs. The challenge is therefore to rationalise and harmonise, to distribute responsibilities and authority between various institutions and to establish cooperative inter-institutional communication and coordination in order to ensure that functions are performed effectively and efficiently. Nevertheless, there are very definite limits to rationalisation and harmonisation, beyond which the benefits gained tend to decline and the results become counterproductive to the objectives of increased effectiveness and efficiency.
c) Regulatory frameworks:
In many instances, domestic and regional decisionmaking systems and regulatory control have tended to separate economic, trade and investment issues from environmental factors. Trade and investment policy and law have generally not taken environmental considerations into account. Conversely, environmental policies and legislative frameworks tend to embody strict protectionist objectives rather than coupling conservation with sustainable use. The resultant disparity between policy and legislation of the environmental sector and that of trade and development invariably leads to potential and real conflict in the process of national decision-making where, more often than not, the environment and natural resource capital suffer the detriment.
Clearly, there is not only a need for comprehensive and effective legal instruments to give effect to strategic policy objectives, but an equal need for cross-sectoral harmonization and alignment of legislative instruments. This alignment and harmonization should ideally be at both national and regional levels, to ensure and facilitate effective implementation of established policy objectives. Achieving such complex but intersectorally empowering legal frameworks completes the triad of enabling systems essential for an optimal administrative environment. At the same time, the dual character of an integrated legal framework, as enabling instrument and implementation tool, can be fully exploited, enhancing and facilitating the implementation of policy objectives.
Dr. Gert Willemse
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: 11 December 2002 15:44
Subject: 104: Fish farming and biotechnology in developing countries
This is Prof. Bill Muir again.
In my last posting (message 72, December 3), I discussed the contributions of classical breeding to the green revolution in developing countries. In a recent article by The Wall Street Journal entitled "Issue Sets Affluent Donor Countries Against Man Who Sowed Green in Asia" by S. Kilerman and R. Thurow (December 3, 2002 - can be seen at AgBioView: December 5, 2002), they discuss the success of implementing classical breeding technology by Norman E. Borlaug, who was the father of the green revolution and in 1970 won the Nobel Peace Prize for having helped stave off mass starvation in India and Pakistan by introducing high-yielding wheat plants to farmers there. More importantly, they point out that part of the solution in India was due to changing policy to adopting farmer-friendly policies and export markets. Now Dr. Borlaug has changed his focus to helping Africa. He notes that again, the greater problem is with policy. His experience is similar to a colleague of mine who tried to introduce tilapia farming as a new commodity for family income in Africa. Tilapia are particularly well suited to farming because they are very efficient in converting all types of plant feed into high quality meat. They also survive well in poor quality warm water, grow to sexual maturity in 4-6 months, and are prolific breeders. Classic breeding has improved growth to even higher rates. Seems like the perfect solution for Africa. When these were introduced into villages, several farmers quickly adopted the "new technology", dug shallow ponds, and soon had a cash crop. Unfortunately there was no one to purchase the fish, or no way to transport to markets, so they ended up selling them dirt cheap, eating a few, and finally giving up. It was just another way to make a subsistence living. The point is, where would biotechnology or any technology help if the basics of infrastructure and agriculture policy are missing? There is no silver bullet such as biotechnology that is going to stop poverty - that requires a consistent and focused political structure to provide the infrastructure necessary to succeed. Once such infrastructure and policy are in place and the region is up to basic production and transportation levels, export markets need to open to allow sales of goods. Being a biologist, it pains me to say that the near term solution is not in the biology (or biotechnology), but in the economics and politics of the region.
William M. Muir, Ph.D.
1151 Lilly Hall
W. Lafayette, IN 47906
bmuir (at) purdue.edu
Sent: 11 December 2002 16:45
Subject: 105: Human capacity and stakeholder participation in biotechnology research
I am Zephaniah Dhlamini, working for FAO as an associate professional officer (biotechnology) in Rome. Prior to joining FAO, I worked for 6 years as a plant biotechnology researcher and lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe.
I would like to reiterate the point raised by many contributors that it is not practical for us to come up with a list of biotechnologies suitable for developing countries. Each country has its unique set of problems and needs. It is important for any developing country to have the right human resource base to identify these problems and to have the knowledge and wisdom to carefully select and utilise the most appropriate technologies available in addressing the needs of the poor rural farmer as well as the commercial farmer.
Capacity building and the ability to retain trained personnel is central to the adoption and utilisation of biotechnology in developing countries. My home country Zimbabwe, has been lucky in that it has had close to 70 MSc and PhD biotechnologists trained since 1991. Most of the training funds came from the DGIS (the Directorate General for International Cooperation in the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs) of the Netherlands and SIDA/SAREC (Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (capacity building and research)). Unfortunately, due to the lack of adequate research funds and relevant job opportunties within the country most of these graduates have since left the local lab bench and sought better-paid jobs in developed countries and, worse still, some have even joined the local financial services sector where they get paid up to four times more than they would make working as biotechnologists. Thus, there is need for our countries to come up with incentives to attract and retain both local and foreign scientists who will be able to objectively identify and address the country biotechnology research needs.
Any country that intends to benefit from biotechnology should come up with a solid research and development policy framework to encourage and support the utilisation of the many tools offered by biotechnology in their agricultural research and development activities. Furthermore, there is need for an increase in public sector participation in the financing of applied biotechnology activities. The over-dependency on the donor community and the private sector should be discouraged. Different donors have different objectives and priorities and, in most cases, these are not in line with the critical needs of the recipient countries. In most cases, these projects are not coordinated - they always lack continuity and impact.
I would also like to agree with Chittranjan Bhatia (message 53, November 27) and Glenn Ashton (message 102, December 11) on the need to promote the "bottom up approach" in prioritising our biotech research agendas. I used to be one of those scientists opposed to the adoption of this approach, until I got involved in the Dutch-funded biotechnology projects in Zimbabwe (the Biotechnology Trust of Zimbabwe (BTZ), referred to by Glenn Ashton) that Bhatia mentioned. In this approach, one gets to know what the real needs are and, if well trained, one can objectively opt for the best technology intervention path. For example, during one of these consultative exercises where we were trying to do a needs assessment for a sorghum molecular biology project, the Zimbabwean sorghum farmers clearly stated their need for a white seeded, early maturing variety that is drought tolerant, resistant to bird attack and fungal diseases as well as agronomic management strategies to deal with these problems. The farmers were not concerned about the method of intervention the scientist is going to use, nor do they want to see the fancy equipment and the glossy gel pictures we produce in the lab. All they need is a solution to their problems, be it GMO or not. Now, when operating in environments where governments are silent in terms of policy and funding and you have donors running the show, you cannot get anywhere as you will spend all the time keeping the donors happy, despite the knowledge of the actual needs on the ground.
Lastly, I think it is not fair for De Lange (message 75, December 3) to label the Dutch biotechnology programme, referred to by Bhatia, as being used as a conduit for GMOs in these countries, at least I never saw the possibility of that happening in the Zimbabwean program. That programme has since immensely contributed towards human and infrastructure capacity building and public awareness issues associated with biotechnology in the country. Furthermore, following detailed needs assessments they have successfully implemented mushroom cultivation and increased soybean production and yields in the rural areas by promoting the use of rhizobium inoculants. They also have another promising project that seeks to produce a drought tolerant and insect resistant maize variety. In this project, classical breeding methods are being aided by marker-assisted selection. Some trials are being conducted on the rural farmer's fields and, at that level, their contribution is great. [This subject thread is now closed...Moderator].
Associate Professional Officer (Biotechnology)
Research and Technology Development Service (SDRR)
Food and Agriculture Organisation of The United Nations
Viale Terme di Caracalla
Telephone: 0039 06 5705 4426
Fax: 0039 06 5705 5731
Zephaniah.Dhlamini (at) fao.org
Sent: 11 December 2002 17:02
Subject: 106: Genetic modification and public good research
This is Denis Murphy from the UK (see previous message #48).
Firstly, many thanks to the organisers of this conference for allowing us this opportunity to learn from the valuable experiences of so many colleagues, especially in developing countries. The discussions have overwhelmingly been positive and constructive both in substance and tone and I have learned a lot from people with whom I would rarely have the chance to communicate. I hope we can expand this kind of dialogue in the future - maybe via a more permanent forum?
Two days ago, I spoke in one of the first of a series of public debates that are being held as part of the UK government consultation on the future commercialisation of GM crops. Much of our public remains sceptical about these crops. It is evident that the current first generation of input trait modified GM crops (soy, maize, canola & cotton) generally have some modest profitability for growers and lower pesticide requirements (in the case of Bt), but it is also clear that they have relatively small yield advantages and low consumer appeal. We still face a formidable challenge to persuade UK consumers of the need for and the benefits (to them) of GM crops.
The next generation of output trait crops with better consumer appeal is realistically 5-10 years away from full commercialisation. In the meantime, we are still encumbered with a set of relatively prototypical technologies for gene transfer that relies on random gene insertion and the use of non-optimal accessories like viral promoters and antibiotic resistance markers.
However, the technology is advancing rapidly. The current prototype GM plants are continually being refined by the development of methods for site-specific gene insertion, plastid transformation (to exclude gene escape via pollen) and the excision of unwanted marker genes and other DNA regions. Moreover, in the UK we are hoping to facilitate the emergence of public-domain facilities for crop transformation in order to encourage the development of a broader range of crop improvements than is possible in narrowly focused commercial organisations.
What is the message from this for developing countries and this conference in particular? I think it might be as follows:
1. GM is an infant technology with great future potential (it is a little like semiconductor and computer R&D 30 years ago, where an initial rather clunky, expensive and not very useful set of prototypes were eventually improved & developed to create the flourishing new industry that we see today).
2. The actual technology is getting cheaper and simpler all the time, but:
3. Many of the current applications will be superseded in the next 5-10 years.
4. It may be better to wait a few years rather than investing in semi-obsolescent technology.
5. However, it is important to train and sustain a cadre of good biotech-literate scientists so that, in future, informed decisions on the allocation of scarce R&D resources can be made. Glenn Ashton hit the nail on the head (message 102, December 11) when he suggested the establishment of regional centres for R&D into appropriate GM technology in developing countries. In many respects we already do this in the European Union and the United States via virtual centres and pooled resources like the Arabidopsis Resource Centres, DNA banks, mutant libraries and so on. [Glenn's Ashton's suggestion was broader: He wrote "The limited resources available for agricultural research should therefore be regionally pooled and examine the simplest, most practical and preferably previously proven and tested technologies used in similar climatological, infrastructurally-deficient regions. In most cases, solutions would seek to simultaneously deal with numerous problems and not focus on silver bullet solutions, such as GE technologies, that are more likely to create further problems."...Moderator].
6. International organisations like FAO should support such international regional centres for public good science. The centres should also be encouraged to collaborate with publicly funded centres in developed countries. The objective should be to re-create a strong publicly funded, non-commercial research effort into crop improvement that is focused on real human needs rather than mere income generation.
7. We all should also endeavour to raise the awareness of the general population by incorporating biotech issues into school & college curricula. In parallel, the scientists should be enabled to interact more effectively with other stakeholder groups, including farmers, food manufacturers/retailers, social scientists, politicians, environmentalists etc.
Professor Denis J Murphy
School of Applied Sciences
University of Glamorgan
Cardiff CF37 1DL
email: dmurphy2 (at) glam.ac.uk
phone: +44 1443 483 747
fax: +44 1443 483 554
mobile/cellphone 07714 105 381
Sent: 11 December 2002 17:07
Subject: 107: Re: Fish farming and biotechnology in developing countries
I am Dr. Diogenes Infante, from IDEA in Caracas, Venezuela.
I agree with the comments from Bill Muir (message 104, December 11) about the way to solve poverty. In my first message (nr. 17, November 20), I stated that the problem with poverty is not technological, it is social. I only want to point out that the problem (social or political) has to be addressed trough education. If a country wants to fight poverty it has to create school for the poorest. Biotechnology has to be the way to create more wealth in the society: food, commodities to export, and this wealth will benefit the lower-income people, making available to them good schools. Under-development is a mentality.
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
dinfante (at) idea.org.ve