[For further information on the Electronic Forum on Biotechnology in Food and
Agriculture see Forum website.
Note, participants are assumed to be speaking on their own behalf, unless they state otherwise.]
Sent: 17 December 2002 15:17
Subject: 123: Policy research on gene business
This is a small message from Sami Samanta, West Bengal, India.
The role of biotechnology and its application in agriculture, particularly in a country like India, is immense. Many of us consider it as pro-corporate in the present context of mass propaganda by the so-called environmentalists. Politicians demand it to be pro-poor farmers. Unfortunately, very few people not belonging to this science but admiring as well as aware about the benefits arising out of its application, consider biotechnology as pro-human science.
In India, we need this science of biotechnology in every sphere of agricultural, horticultural, forestry, fishery, food and related entrepreneurship development. Many messages posted in this conference considered it only as development of transgenic crops and harvesting benefits out of this development.
In my mind, the application of biotechnology in the field of transgenic crops should be really based on the past achievements, not on the desire of corporate giants. And if so, then policy behind this should be like the policy universally adopted in the case of "golden rice". It would create no problem for the poor farmers of developing countries. For this, we must have an International Forum of Policy Research on Gene Business. Hopefully if this develops, a real harvest can be made from the utilization of present day scope of agricultural biotechnology and it would go a long way in determining our future in developing countries. Our days of running behind the aid from developed countries would go away.
S.K. Samanta, PhD
Deputy Director of Research,
B.C.Agril. University, West Bengal,
e-mail:drsamanta (at) vsnl.net
Sent: 17 December 2002 15:17
Subject: 124: Re: Corporate biotech research
This is Prof J Ralph Blanchfield, responding to Roberto Verzola (Message 116, December 16):
Mr Verzola starts by stating "One of the issues raised in this conference is the role of corporate research in the development of biotechnology, specifically genetic engineering." This was not part of the subject matter set by the Moderator, but was inappropriately introduced into the discussion by Mr Verzola himself (message 51, November 26). As previously stated, I have no connection with, and no axe to grind for, GM companies, but as a fair-minded person I regard as distasteful and unsavoury, Mr Verzola's last-minute attempt to blacken them all and all their researchers with unsubstantiated allegations about unnamed ones as though they were established fact.
Prof J Ralph Blanchfield, MBE
Food Science, Food Technology and Food Law Consultant
Chair, External Affairs, Institute of Food Science and Technology
Webmaster / Web Editor, Institute of Food Science and Technology
Vice President, European Food Law Association of the UK
Immediate Past Chair, IFT Committee for Global Interests
Adjunct Professor, Michigan State University
IFST Web address www.ifst.org
Personal Web address www.jralphb.co.uk
Sent: 17 December 2002 15:18
Subject: 125: Biotechnological research technologies are context-dependent
I am Bert van Asselt, a Ph.D. candidate at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, analyzing the role of so-called model systems research (e.g. model organisms like Arabidopsis and their related technologies) in molecular plant pathology from a historical and sociological perspective.
Being interested in how the different biotechnologies are developed and applied in different agrarian contexts, I started to read some contributions to this conference. Although I did not read all contributions, I recognized the point made by Michel Ferry (message 90, December 9) that the main debate has been on discussing whether or not biotechnology, and particularly GMOs, should be or not be a research priority for developing countries; instead of discussing priorities in agenda setting. I think it is important to see why this has been the case.
In my view, this is not so much because "this debate has not been concluded" as Ferry suggests, but more because of a wrong conception of what biotechnology is about. There is a tendency to view biotechnology as simply a tool, like physical tools as hammers and screw drivers. Such an analogy tends to give us the wrong impression that biotechnology is singular and can easily be applied in all areas of biological life. However, the history of biological science teaches us otherwise. Biotechnological research technologies have been developed in close interaction with research organisms of choice and are therefore largely context-dependent. Although there are examples of biotechnology research technologies which can be relatively straightforwardly applied, in various contexts (e.g. different type of plants and organisms), some specific procedures are still limited to specific plants and organisms. Transformation technology is an important example, variants exist, each having their own context of application. Initially, in the early 1980s, many biological scientists thought that they could easily apply recombinant DNA technologies in all kinds of circumstances - it turned out to be a bit more difficult. Biology is different from physics in this respect.
Because of the "intimate" relation between biotechnology research tools and their objects of research, it might be more important for developing countries to have a "biotech development train" (Javier Franco, message 120, December 16) themselves than is usually admitted. Plants and organisms of choice are different from the ones involved in biotechnology research in developed countries. In my view, it is questionable whether adoption and necessary adaptation of research procedures from developed countries will work in all cases and is the best way to go.
In genomics the same story holds. It is still quite uncertain whether results from model crops are applicable to other crops although genomic similarity is there (see Sirkka Immonen, message 30, November 21).
Bert van Asselt,
Bert.vanAsselt (at) wur.nl
Sent: 17 December 2002 15:18
Subject: 126: Training biotechnology researchers in developing countries
I am Myriam Sanchez. I work for Corporacion Biotec, a Technology Development Center in Cali, Colombia.
I want to raise the issue of training biotechnology researchers in developing countries. Many interests, actors and circumstances influence and define the role and focus of biotechnology in the agricultural research agenda. Our researchers should be real actors in these definitions. How much is their training complemented to develop a strategic thinking? Other than biology techniques, do they develop a holistic view of the rural and agricultural situation of their countries? Do they have an inter-disciplinary approach and a social responsability orientation? On the other hand, policy makers related to biotechnology issues, are they well trained for their task in developing countries?
The dynamics of change for the techniques of biotechnology, ask for a flexible and rapid change in the educational system to prepare decision-makers, and not only operational persons, in developing countries.
Myriam Sanchez M
myriams (at) cgiar.org
Sent: 17 December 2002 15:19
Subject: 127: Farmers expertise and biotechnology research
First of all, on this last day, thanks very much for this great effort and thanks to all in this unique science family of this conference.
I would like to give attention to the fact that when we talk about biotechnology research to meet the needs of small farmers, we must consider that these small farmers have their own expertise. In fact, keeping close to the farmers may direct our attention to new research programs to help them.
For example, small rice farmers grow fish inside rice fields to increase income, while larger projects grow ducks with fish and both of them have expertise to tell us how to solve problems. On field visits, I noticed one of the problems that needs the help of biotechnology research in developing countries. The problem appeared when the health ministry spread water animals in irrigation channels to eat bilharzias snails. [Bilharzia (schistosomiasis) is a worm infection acquired through contact with fresh water in some tropical and subtropical regions...Moderator]. These creatures propagated quickly and the great numbers eat fish, and even fishing nets when they tried to catch them. This could be solved by biotechnology research in the new agenda and needs work groups (see my message 95, December 12). On the other hand, many years ago, scientists discovered that a plant grows on the edges of channels that kills bilharzias and snails. Recently, there is native project to encourage growing this plant. This proves that the national needs force any country to plan its own research agenda. At the same time, this needs great funds and needs new biotechnology research to assist national research. For example, new biotechnology research to transfer the effective gene of the previously mentioned plant to other plants adapted in different locations or countries, which suffer from bilharzias. Therefore, the national research agenda and FAO new agenda and cooperation of different specialists are all needed.
About collaboration and funds: It is important for universities to collaborate with research institutes because researchers of research institute are asked to devote time to guiding farmers. At the same time, they contact farmers to solve their problems by new research. Thus, what universities or academic work need to complete the process. So, collaboration by work and funds is needed. The same is needed for foreign collaboration because researchers in native research centers are the only people who can tell others (inside or outside collaborators) about the needs of small farmers, and others can help by funds or facilities.
Please give more attention to put old and new research of developing countries on the World Wide Web because, as I mentioned in conference 7 of this Forum [See archives of Conference 7...Moderator], we are one of the first countries which began carrying out research work long ago and there is a lot of beneficial research that needs to be applied that is hidden inside libraries. I found on the web that they are repeated now. All of us can help to create the largest scientific library.
Dr Aisha, A. Badr,
Tropical fruit division,
Sabahia Horticultural Research Station,
momidic (at) hotmail.com
Sent: 17 December 2002 15:19
Subject: 128: Demand-driven research to benefit small farmers
This is Chela Vazquez, writing from Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States.
This conference has touched (maybe not intentionally) on the social and political nature of research. The conference's topic (agricultural research in biotechnology for developing countries) was intended to shed light on solutions (or approaches) to social problems.
I have appreciated interventions that have dealt with a core question: What is the target of research, and/or technologies used? Identification of the target group might be crucial in order to determine what technologies to use.
Miguel Altieri (message 94, December 10) has pointed out that about 1.4 billion people living in marginal lands would not benefit from mainstream biotechnological tools. Glenn Ashton (message 102, December 11 mentioned research in Zimbabwe that showed that problems of smallholder farmers would not be solved by the new biotech tool (i.e. genetic engineering). Michel Ferry and Roberto Verzola made comments on the suitability of biotech tools for small farmers' needs. E.M. Muralidharan (message 112, December 13) also mentioned the absence of the "poor farmers" voice in this conference. It is worth asking: Who are our stakeholders?
It deserves attention the "bottom-up" approach aimed at identifying demand-driven research that would benefit small and marginal farmers, using resources available to local people.
On the question of knowledge, coming from a developing country, I can relate to concerns expressed in this conference on "knowledge" concentrating in rich countries (usually the North). Some participants have mentioned that since most technological advances originate in rich countries, it is a problem for poor countries to learn and master new technologies that may be useful for development. Making sure that researchers and scientists learn the know-how of scientific developments is a fair and legitimate aspiration. However, it is another matter to tailor research in developing countries following the lead of industrialized nations that ultimately benefit mostly a few biotech giants.
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP)
Tel: (612) 870-3441
cvazquez (at) iatp.org