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Sent: 16 December 2002 09:55
Subject: 115: Convincing farmers of research results
This is from Prof. Atef Ouf, Egypt.
High productive varieties, tolerant to different environmental stresses, are the most needed by small farmers. High advanced research could approach this target. But the small farmers can only use the new varieties if those are confirmed by good results. Therefore, it is very necessary to apply advanced research in small zones supported by governmental or private establishments (or through projects) to convince the farmers. In this way, we can also avoid the differences between results obtained in the laboratories and those in the field.
Prof. Atef Ouf,
Biotechnology Laboratory of Sugar Crops
Institute of Sugar Crops Research
Agricultural Research Center
Ministry of Agriculture
drtropic (at) yahoo.com
Sent: 16 December 2002 11:36
Subject: 116: Corporate biotech research
One of the issues raised in this conference is the role of corporate research in the development of biotechnology, specifically genetic engineering.
As far as I know, the scientific community has very high ethical standards and will not tolerate cheats. Honest mistakes may be forgiven, but if a researcher is caught manufacturing, doctoring, or fudging data, his/her career is, for all intents and purposes, considered finished.
Several biotech companies have been repeatedly exposed as research cheats in the past. Yet, their data today continues to be taken at face value by many governments and scientists, and their funds set the research agenda of many researchers, particularly Third World researchers who could not enough research funds from their government.
In this conference, we have been asked to consider what kind of role corporate research should play in biotech development and genetic engineering research. If we were to adopt the high ethical standards of the scientific community, the answer should be obvious.
We are also asked what kind of role international research bodies like those in the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) can play in biotech research. In so far as they can keep themselves independent of corporations tainted with dishonest research in the past, their research role might be welcomed. But when they embrace corporate funds and open themselves up to greater corporate influence, they will also be judged accordingly.
rverzola (at) gn.apc.org
[The two questions referred to by Roberto Verzola at the end of the message come from Section 4 of the Background Document i.e. "For agricultural biotechnology research in developing countries, how important should collaboration with the IARCs (International Agricultural Research Centres be? For agricultural biotechnology research in developing countries, how important should collaboration with the private sector or universities in developed countries be?"...Moderator].
Sent: 16 December 2002 11:41
Subject: 117: Priorities for agricultural research in biotechnology for developing countries
I am Rajaratnam Muhunthan, from Sri Lanka and hold a Permanent Residency status in Australia. I have a MSc degree with specialization in biotechnology, obtained from the Postgraduate Institute of Agriculture, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka and am currently awaiting for the conformation of PhD candidature in the Australian Universities. Also, I have come from a traditional farmer's family background and, with my experience in the field of agricultural biotechnology that I have gained over the past 6-7 years from India and Sri Lanka, I think I can contribute to this conference in some way.
I am keenly following this conference and read all the messages posted by the people from diversified fields. One could see often the participants deviate from the theme of the conference and the Moderator is doing a wonderful job in putting the discussion back on the track with the theme.
All the developing countries share common characteristics, such as low income, low growth rate, unequal distribution of income, malnutrition, low life expectancy, high infant mortality, low levels of productivity, population growth and substantial dependence on agricultural production. Being developing countries, this means there are always limitations in resources, such as human and finance, for every field, including agricultural research. Development and poverty alleviation in these countries cannot be achieved at the cost of irrevocable damage to the environment. So to achieve, a new technology has become essential for "sustainable" development.
Biotechnology has been identified globally as the new technology for the new millennium, especially to solve the problems of food production caused by the ever-decreasing availability of arable land, increasing population (expected to increase from around 6 billion to about 8.5 billion by 2030) and dwindling aquatic resources. FAO predicts an increase in demand for agricultural production by 60%, of which more than 85% will be in the developing countries. Studies have shown that for every 10% increase in agricultural yields, there is a reduction of about 10% in the number of poor people and a decrease in childhood malnutrition.
In these predominantly agricultural countries, the major concern is to improve agricultural production through the introduction of new and appropriate technologies, of which biotechnology has been identified as a major thrust area for development and integration. It is necessary that both conventional and modern biotechnology have to be employed in combination with the traditional knowledge prevailing in those countries in order to achieve future food security. Therefore, it is necessary that the majority of the financial and human resources should be devoted to biotechnology in the agricultural sector.
The food habits of a country are tightly bound to the religion, cultural tradition of the community and the geological origin, and thus their crop priorities and livestock production. For example, rice is the staple food in many developing counties in Asia while cassava is an important crop in Africa.
1) Crop Sector
But whatever variation exists among the developing world, crop products such as cereals, legumes, vegetables and tubers are the main daily menu for the poor. Therefore, first priority should be given to the crop sector in the biotechnology developmental program. Of the different biotechnologies, DNA marker and fingerprinting and micropropagation and other in-vitro technologies should be prioritized in the breeding programs, with the aim of increasing productivity and development of disease/pest resistant varieties.
Apart, these technologies should be employed in the area of plantation sector and ornamental and horticultural industry for early selection and for mass propagation, that will enhance foreign exchange earning.
2) Forest Sector
Second priority should be given to the forest sector. Developing country forest reserves contain the sink of rich biodiversity and many species of plants and animals which are endemic for them are under threat of rapidly become extinct. These valuable genetic resources also include many medicinal plant species. These valuable genetic resources have to be preserved by employing molecular markers, DNA fingerprinting and in-vitro techniques, along with reproductive biological studies. It is also a way for preventing biopiracy.
3) Livestock and Fishery Sectors
Next, priority has to be given to these two sectors although among them, one may get priority over the other, depending on the availability of resources. Milk production of local breeds could be increased significantly by just employing conventional biotechnology, such as regulated and balanced feeding methods with fodder, silage and green. In the mean time, introduction of reproductive biotechnology and DNA technologies in genetics and breeding, to produce hybrids (e.g. crosses between local breeds and European breeds) with higher productivity has to be in focus.
Biotechnology for aquaculture to be in focus includes selective breeding and hybridization with the maximum utilization of sea and inland water resources. These two techniques can also be used in the ornamental fish industry, which can earn foreign exchange for the developing world.
The focus on agro-industry is very important and most of them involve conventional biotechnology, such as biofertilizers, biopesticides, bioenergy, vermiculture, fodder, mushroom culture and micropropagation. This is the area where the village community could be directly involved in the research and such involvement will pay their livelihood. The direct interaction between the poor farmers and the technology will lead to the sustainability. Therefore, substantial amount of financial resource should be devoted in this area.
2/48, Luxford Road
muhunthan_r (at) yahoo.com
Sent: 16 December 2002 12:01
Subject: 118: Role and focus of biotechnology research
First, I would like to thank FAO for organising this interesting conference.
Concerning the role and focus of biotechnology research, I would like to remark again that it is up to each country to decide, but that a real societal deliberation process should take place first. At this point, I don't think this process is taking place in any country, or it might be Zambia. It does not happen in the "most democratic" countries like my own, the Netherlands. Here, 50 million euros may be put into research into late blight resistance in potato and tomato. Certainly, the focus will be on transgenic plants. This is public money but there is absolutely no real societal input in the direction of the research. All attempts so far to make transgenic late blight resistant plants have failed. OK, research takes time and costs money but even a rich country like this one cannot really afford this kind of expenditure, and moreover this all goes at the expense of research into other ways of solving the problem like, for example, breeding local varieties with better resistance. Much biotech research here is more aimed at how to obtain patents than on how to solve a certain agronomic or nutritional problem in the best way. For this reason alone it is not a good idea to give all biological material for free to the trans-national corporations (TNCs) as is happening in the public-private partnerships happening here.
As far as livestock is concerned, most modern biotech research and approaches have proved rather disastrous. Cloning is not a good idea, producing medicinal proteins in animals has failed so far etc. On the other hand, the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) research institute in Kenya has developed push-pull methods for cattle to fight off infectious insects that looks very promising and effective.
I agree that we should focus on biotechnologies that are acceptable for everybody. [Udeni Edirisinghe, message 88, December 9, wrote that "Thus there are many areas where there are no arguments and which all can agree to work on. If this conference can at least identify areas where there is common agreement, that would be an invaluable exercise"...Moderator]. It is also obviously advisable to work as cost effectively as possible. The low-tech solutions from the agro-ecological approach are, in that sense, also by far preferrable in my view.
As far as genomics is concerned [See e.g. message 30, November 21, by Sirkka Immonen..Moderator], and this would be my advice for the focus of research in that area, it is of the utmost importance to get a good view of what is the right understanding of it at this point. We had the Central Dogma and it has proven as good as completely false. The view of a fluid genome has proven compeletly right and there is a tremendous amount still to be learned about genomes. Seeing that all research has been going along false premises and wrong understandings, which led from genomics to proteomics to metabolomics etc., this has cost us immensely in terms of failed research projects and has not really delivered much useful. It is therefore imminent, not only for the "developing" world but certainly also for the rich countries, to really re-think priorities and approaches of the field of genomics. For this, the input from critical scientists and societal representatives needs to be taken much more seriously since their views have proven more correct, but this is not reflected in the decision process in almost every country.
Wytze de Lange
De Witenstraat 43-45
1052 AL Amsterdam
wdl (at) xminy.nl
Sent: 16 December 2002 13:18
Subject: 119: Making breeding improvements succeed
This is Glenn Ashton again.
We can have all the tricks in the modern breeders arsenal thrown at the farmers of the world but unless there is a support network to take the needs of farmers to breeders and for the two to meaningfully interface, no breeding improvements, biotech or conventional, can succeed.
Study after study has shown the failure of extension systems and the short termism of agricultural improvement programmes - most of which last only the three years needed for a researcher to attain his/her degree - to be major constraints in improving the lot of farmers in developing nations around the world.
The mistakes of the green revolution, where crop improvement inputs were viewed in isolation, negatively impacting other aspects of smallholder sustainability, are threatened to be repeated if we continue our top-down approach proposed by corporate/research clusters. The concentration of seed, agrochemical, fertiliser, research budget, lobbying power and influence in this sector is possibly the greatest constraint on progress toward self sufficiency in food production. Until farmers around the world are free to pursue best practice, which includes independence from the above-mentioned input traits, and that practice is developed in concert with these farmers in need (recognising their traditional systems of knowledge and agricultural practice), all chance of improvement in livelihood will be stillborn.
Success cannot only be measured in commercial terms; it has to be measured in human terms. Until it is, humans will be the primary victims of short term or illusory progress trumpeted by commercial interests.
ekogaia (at) iafrica.com
Sent: 16 December 2002 13:32
Subject: 120: A contribution from Bolivia
This is Javier Franco, a consultant working in integrated crop management for several years in developing Andean countries of South America.
First of all, I congratulate all the participants although from so diverse points of view on biotechnology research and its application. However, I feel most of the differences in opinion reflect a poor knowledge of local real needs of developing countries. For this reason, I would like to suggest the following points on the "role and focus of biotechnology in agricultural research.......in developing countries":
- Certainly, we do need biotechnological research as a whole set of tools for a strong up-date development of our local agriculture and, therefore, we require the support of national and international institutions for the development of local capabilities.
- We should prioritise our real demands on the basis of a local "case by case" analysis: Type of biotechnology research (GMOs, tissue culture, molecular markers etc.); the user (poor farmer for food subsistance, or large farmer for export of products); short or long term impact.
- Rules on the application of biotech "tools" quite well established, honest and known.
- A real balance between "pros" and "con" biotech developments, based on scientific results by strengthening international cooperation.
- We have to be on the "biotech development train" because this is the only way to compete and solve some of the large number of different problems we suffer as developing countries.
Javier Franco, PhD
E-mail: jfranco (at) supernet.com.bo
Sent: 16 December 2002 14:32
Subject: 121: Biotechnology esearch objectives // Country collaborations
The objectives of biotechnology research should be first prioritized at short term as well as at long term interest at primarily national level within national agricultural research systems (NARS). The biotechnology research conducted within a country should be monitored by an apex body to avoid duplicating the same research by different groups/universities, otherwise it will be waste of resources. But sub-regional and regional collaboration is also very important. Particularly for countries like Sri Lanka, where there are lots of constraints in doing the biotechnology research alone, but these problems could be sorted out by linked programs with regional biotechnology giants like India. For example, producing hybrid rice or doing GM crops research in Sri Lanka would not be economical, but these problems could be sorted out by doing them in collaboration with India. Most of the biotech giant companies, which are from the west, are much more interested in big business markets like India and China, therefore small countries like Sri Lanka cannot expect much from them.
Participation of the local private sector in biotechnology research could be encouraged in developing countries. Linking and affiliating the research institutes and universities in the developing countries with similar institutions in developed counties would be beneficial in biotechnology research, in particular with recombinant DNA technology, genomics and proteomics. Also, it is important to affiliate the universities from a developing country with a lesser capacity to do biotechnology research with universities from a country that has better capabilities to do the research. For example, affiliation of universities from Sri Lanka with universities in India or China will help Sri Lanka immensely to improve its biotechnology research and similarly African neighbors could do the same with South Africa.
2/48, Luxford Road
muhunthan_r (at) yahoo.com
Sent: 16 December 2002 15:41
Subject: 122: Re: Meeting the research needs of small farmers in developing countries
About Message 114, December 13, by Dr. Aisha Badr:
Much of the problems of small farmers are economical rather than technology-oriented. To solve their problems, land reform, i.e. redistribution of lands, should take place, which in order to happen requires that political reform should take place. Which is beyond the scope of this conference.
So what biotechnology could do? The answer could be the "Biovillage Concept", that applies much of the conventional biotechnology with small farmers being the part of the project.
The term biovillage is used to denote the integration of biotechnology with the best in traditional techniques, in a manner that the livelihood security of rural people can be upgraded ecologically and economically. The aims of the biovillage project are to promote the efficient and sustainable use of natural resources and to achieve a continuous and steady growth of agricultural production while protecting and improving the environmental capital stocks of the village. The various crops, livestock and human beings are treated as major components of the biovillage.
As the livelihood security program is one of the major planks of the development initiatives of the project, the local people are being trained in aquaculture, growing of edible mushrooms, micropropagation, horticulture, floriculture, use of backyard space in the growing of vegetables, manufacturing of eco-friendly vermicompost, biofertilizers, biopesticides, goat rearing and poultry. These enterprises will not only help the rural population in using all their available resources but also improve the rural economy substantially. All the activities should have the support of the government. Government agencies could undertake to facilitate in marketing the vegetables received from the villages. This will give encouragement to other villagers also who have started participating in this endeavour to improve their earning and their status.
First identify biotechnologies that are environment-friendly, economically viable and socially equitable. The second step is adaptation of this technology to the specific socio-economic conditions of the resource-poor. There is a third dimension and that is to understand the kinds of issues involved in introducing new ideas. For instance, if you suddenly introduce dairy cattle into a local economic system, it may not work because management of dairy cattle is something very different from livestock-rearing by extensive grazing. The fourth point is accessing the resource-poor people to capital so that they will be in a position to make use of the technology for income-generating activities. The next step is to provide the support services in terms of infrastructure, input supply etc. The last and most important step is group action. In fact, in many technologies, the problem of organization and group action is the fundamental issue.
To raise the small farmers from poverty, substantial amounts of human and financial resources should be diverted into these type of projects from agricultural research. Then only true development of a country will become reality.
2/48, Luxford Road
muhunthan_r (at) yahoo.com