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Sent: 18 November 2002 16:25
Subject: 7: Re: Very little public funds should be devoted to biotechnology
I am a civil servant working in India and currently doing research on issues of international trade, especially in agricultural trade. I am participating in this conference in my personal capacity as a researcher.I have seen the message of Prof Altieri (message 1, November 14) which states that very little public funds should be devoted to biotechnology. His reasoning appears to be fallacious and supported by mythical arguments. He states that as biotechnology is developed by large corporations and it does not fit in participatory approach, public funds should not be devoted to this technology and rather they may be used for development of alternative methods. This sort of logic would do nothing but support the cause of multi-national corporations (MNCs) who are the current possessors of knowledge. There is no logic in stating that biotechnology and gene technology would not fit into participatory approach. Perhaps, the current mode of delivery of the technology appears to be out of reach of the poor. However, it is more so for these reasons that public funding should be focused on biotechnology. Professor Altieri may also appreciate the fact that when simple technology is readily available, no resource-poor farmer would try complicated alternative technologies. This is the root cause of propagation of the Green Revolution and this would be more so in case of gene revolution. This is supported by various surveys conducted by us in India. In essence, fallacy in methods of delivery shall not be used to blame a technology. Biotechnology may not be a panacea for the problems of resource-free farmers. However, it is today the most forceful medication readily available to the farmers. Just because traits like drought resistance involve multiple genes, one cannot ignore the technology. In fact, efforts should be doubled to develop strains suitable for tropical conditions and strains that would provide better yields. It is not necessary that productivity would have to be sacrificed for other benefits. The present technology with MNCs may not focus on yield because developed countries may not be worried about yield. There is no scientific support to state that yield loss is definite. Again, these issues prove that developing countries must devote more funds for public biotech research that is suitable to local needs. It is true that povery in poor countries may not decline with the onset of biotechnology. But this is not the fault of technology and one has to blame the support, delivery, marketing and distribution systems. Yet, one need not constrain onself in adopting to better technology because he is constrained on other fronts. The Green Revolution did not bypass anyone, at least in India, though there could be asymmetry in distribution of benefits. The fact is that everyone gains, whether big or small, in some way or other. Today, if India is a food surplus country, it is only because of the Green Revolution. At least in India, production levels have stagnated and, though there is lot of propaganda for alternative methods, there are practically no takers because the methods are several times unviable for poor farmers. Small and poor farmers are not bad economists and if there is economic sense then definitely they would try alternative methods. Everything has to be viewed from the angle of opportunity cost. Successful public research can only counter monopolistic tendencies of private corporations. Lastly, propagation of biotechnology does not mean neglect of alternative methods like organic farming. Governments, like those in India, are trying to propagate methods like Integrated Pest Management since long. Now, let us give at least one try to biotechnology. Y.V.S.T. Sai, IRS