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Sent: 21 November 2002 08:39
Subject: 27: Re: Necessity of the participation of the poor to define the right research priority
I am Diógenes Infante, from the Institute for Advances Studies in Caracas, Venezuela.
About the commentaries from Michel Ferry (message 25, November 20), my vision about poverty unfortunately is not so common, but in any case it is not mine it is from the United Nation University (UNU 2000, Strategic Plans), which can be found at the UNU web site (www.unu.edu ) and from the World Bank "World Development Report 1998/99: Knowledge for Development", available at (http://publications.worldbank.org/ecommerce/catalog/product?item_id=217020). [The first reference is to the UNU Strategic Plan 2000 "Advancing Knowledge for Human Security and Develpoment" publication, at http://www.unu.edu/stplan2000.pdf ...Moderator].
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
Sent: 21 November 2002 08:40
Subject: 28: GE crops and IPRs
This is Chela Vazquez from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.
I would like to support the views expressed in this conference on the risks of advancing genetically engineered (GE) crops, particularly in less industrialized nations. In addition to health and environmental concerns regarding GE crops, intellectual property rights (IPRs) is an important issue.
GE organisms (and crops) are closely associated with IPRs. The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS, one of the agreements of the World Trade Organization (WTO)) requires intellectual property (IP) protection on microorganisms, plants, and microbiological processes. TRIPS let countries choose a sui generis system of protection for plant varieties. However, industrialized nations are advancing patent-like protection and/or plant breeder's rights for plant varieties. Also, TRIPS requires Members of the WTO to adjust their IP legal systems to those of industrialized nations (i.e. the USA); this facilitates patent filing procedures (in several countries) by corporations. Furthermore, ongoing negotiations on regional trade agreements, such as the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) in the American continent, contain more stringent proposals on IPRs than TRIPS. Additionally, hundreds of bilateral agreements (negotiated in secret) between industrialized nations and non-industrialized nations have emerged in the past few years with provision on IPRs that go further than TRIPS. Bilateral agreements oblige countries to allow patents on living organisms or to join the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV). Also, it should be remembered that TRIPS was developed under the influence (and supervision) of giant multinationals, including biotech companies. It was the patenting of a living organism in the early 1980s that initiated the rush to GE research by corporations. The introduction of GMOs as well as enforcement of IPR regimes globally can be seen as market expansion by corporations. Also, most patent holders are not in the developing world.
The aggressive drive on GE crops and products around the world is not surprising. The push on GMOs runs parallel to the push on IPR regimes. The difference is that GMO production and marketing is done more in the public eye whereas IPR agreements are signed secretly between governments. In the past months, the tremendous pressure on southern African countries to accept GM corn as food aid from the United States illustrated that food aid also is being used to introduce GMOs.
How will developing countries benefit from GMOs? Probably, after GMOs are introduced worldwide, developing countries will be buying GM food, because poor farmers most likely will not be able to compete with corporations (especially on GM crops). Dumping practices probably will continue, and small farmers may not be able to sell their products even within national borders because of cheaper incoming products. Once GMOs are accepted everywhere and IPR regimes fully enforced, international food traders and biotech companies will be happy to complete their move into these new markets.
Other alternatives for farmers in developing countries need to be explored. There are abundant sustainable agricultural practices in the world today that need to be maintained, promoted, and further developed. The fields of agroecology, population ecology, community ecology offer sound scientific research that can aid in advancing sustainable agricultural technologies. Also, national and international policies that support poor farmers should be part of the discussion.
In industrialized nations, consumers pay premium prices for food that has less technological inputs (i.e., less chemicals, non-GMOs) because it is associated with a healthy environment and therefore presumed to be safer. In less industrialized countries those conditions already exist and need a further boost.
Tel: (612) 870-3441
cvazquez (at) iatp.org
[For those especially interested in the theme of IPRs and agricultural biotechnology, note that Conference 6 of this Forum, which ran from 20 March to 14 May 2001, was dedicated to "The impact of intellectual property rights (IPR) on food and agriculture in developing countries". The background document, summary document and archived messages are all available Here...Moderator].
Sent: 21 November 2002 09:42
Subject: 29: Re: GE crops and IPRs
My name is Martin Mieschendahl. I am trained in genetics, biochemistry and molecular biology and work at the German Federal Environment Agency.
I would like to comment on the message by Chela Vasquez (message 28, November 21).
To my knowledge, nobody is obliged to buy genetically engineered (GE) seeds from multinationals. Every farmer can use his own seeds if he prefers to do so. If GE plants do better than the non-GE counterpart, farmers have the choice and have to make their decision. GE seeds from multinationals are an offer and no duty. To circumvent intellectual property rights (IPR) problems, public agricultural research should be extended so that there will be no basis for patents.
I see no reason why GE plants should not be part of sustainable farming practices also in the developing world. We should stop making genetic engineering responsible for the problems of the world and let biotechnology play the role it has: to be an additional tool for improving farming practices all over the world.
martin.mieschendahl (at) uba.de
Sent: 21 November 2002 11:46
Subject: 30: Publically funded genomics research
This is from Sirkka Immonen. I am working at FAO in the Secretariat of the CGIAR's interim Science Council.
The topic of this e-mail conference: what should be the role and focus of biotechnology in the agricultural research agendas of developing countries, is extremely important and timely. Regarding genetic improvement, there is a lot of strategic research to be done to reveal the function of genes that control important crop traits that have been mentioned in several messages, for instance tolerance of different abiotic stresses. This knowledge is particularly important for crops that are important for developing regions, many of them under-researched, and for traits that are most needed in constrained production conditions and for income generation. Knowledge of gene functions would then allow development of marker systems, and other biotechnology applications that would in turn make breeding more effective.
In my view, there is a call for publically funded genomics research, which single institutions cannot and should not pursue alone. The public sector, including developing country NARS (national agricultural research systems), international agricultural research centres and universities, has several advantages in engaging in such research: knowledge and understanding of production conditions and location-specific needs, knowledge of stress conditions, including abiotic and biotic factors, ample phenotypes and data on their performance in those conditions, access to genetic stocks and germplasm collections with necessary allelic variability, and adequate to high level of biotechnology expertise. Efficient use of the large crop genetic reserves in genebanks for breeding purposes requires much more knowledge of the genetic make-up than is possible to obtain through conventional characterisation techniques. Investment in biotechnology research can make a big difference. The outputs are shared knowledge and enabling technologies in the public domain. There is critical knowledge of the genomic structure of model crops for many crop groups, which is applicable to other crops due to genomic similarity. Much of this knowledge is in the public domain (like the rice genome sequence).
These assets (genetic resources, reasonable facilities and expertise and local knowledge) and conditions (accumulated genomics information and information technology solutions) make public investment worthwhile right now. In a few years time, the private sector may have acquired a lot more of the so-called platform information which is needed for developing important breeding tools. Intellectual property questions shouldn't be shyed away from and there are many more solutions than single country legislation or corporations rule. Besides, patents are far better for information sharing and negotiation than trade secrets.
Agricultural biotechnology may compete with many other research needs in agriculture and in other areas of research for benefit of the developing countries. The decisions of proportionate allocation are political and are needed at different levels, including international donors. The overall pot of money may increase if donors see particular promise in some areas of research for producing public goods. Biotechnology can be applied to many areas in agriculture, particularly to breeding (crops and animals). Plant breeding has been an effective way for improving livelihoods (lower food prices, income generation) and is likely to continue being so, but of course it is only one component of the overall agricultural development scheme, which again is only one component of the scheme towards poverty alleviation.
Senior Officer (Agricultural Research)
FAO, TAC Secretariat, C-626
Viale delle Terme di Caracalla
00100 Rome, Italy
tel: (39) 06 570 54861
fax (39) 06 570 53298
E-mail: Sirkka.Immonen (at) fao.org
Sent: 21 November 2002 13:25
Subject: 31: Developing countries stand to gain from agricultural biotechnology
My name is Marcel Nwalozie, the Scientific Co-ordinator of the West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development, with headquaters in Dakar, Senegal. I trained as a crop physiologist.
I believe agricultural biotechnology has been playing important roles in agriculture in the developing countries. This includes its role in tissue culture, and more recently in molecular marking. And genetic engineering? Tissue culture has been very useful in the rapid production of 'clean' planting materials in several plantations in developing countries. Marker assisted plant breeding is rapidly becoming a tool in developing countries to shorten the long period of time encountered in variety selection. Here now is the gene revolution with genetic engineering (GE), and I do not see why the developing countries should not be involved.
My questions are as follows: How may GE research integrate the perspectives of poor farmers in remote rural communities? Will national governments of developing countries, especially in Africa, provide funding for this expensive technology? What regulatory mechanisms may be created to manage the private interprise involvement in GE in developing countries especially in respect of intellectual property rights? If GE is playing a significant role in food production in industrialised countries, why should we in developing countries ignore such innovation? Or should Africa and the rest of the developing world just stand by and wait for GE technologies from industrialised countries to be delivered in form of paid services, or dumped in Africa as food aid?
Africa is tired of aid! We need to move on like others. We cannot beat them; we must join them! I think we should be discussing the strategy of biotechnological intervention in sustainable food production in developing countries, rather than a focus on why this technology should be exclusive from developing countries.
Marcel Nwalozie, Ph.D.
Scientific Co-ordinator, CORAF/WECARD,
7, Avenue Bourguiba,
BP 8237 Dakar-Yoff, Senegal.
email: marcel.nwalozie (at) coraf.org
Sent: 21 November 2002 15:50
Subject: 32: Re: Publically funded genomics research
Sirkka Immonen (message 30, November 21) has said: "Plant breeding has been an effective way for improving livelihoods (lower food prices, income generation) and is likely to continue being so, but of course it is only one component of the overall agricultural development scheme, which again is only one component of the scheme towards poverty alleviation".
I would like to make the following observation. It is well documented that modern plant breeding has not participated very much towards poverty alleviation of the poorest. Most of the varieties of the green revolution have been mainly useful to the people who had access to water resources and who were able to buy the package of inputs (fertilizers, pesticides) necessary to obtain yield from these varieties.
Research Station on date palm
and arid land farming systems.
E-mail: m.ferry (at) wanadoo.es
Sent: 21 November 2002 16:42
Subject: 33: Theories of direct nutrition and of superior races
My name is Jagdish Nazareth. I am a doctoral candidate in Agriculture at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. I am a post-graduate in business management from the same institution and have 28 years of work experience of which 21 have been spent doing action-research on the problems of people below poverty line in rural areas of Gujarat and, of them, 16 years doing action-research on the problems of sustainable organic agriculture.
Most biotechnology work is done within the paradigm set by two dominant theories in agriculture: the theory of direct nutrition (TDN) and the theory of superior races (TSR). The TDN is the theory by which NPK fertilizers are applied to plants for their nutrition. It assumes that if the plant cannot receive enough Nitrogen, Phosphorus or Potassium from the soil, then we human beings ought to supply those nutrients directly to the plant in a chemical form such as urea, di-ammonium phosphate, potassium sulphate, potassium chloride etc. The TSR is the theory by which most plant breeding is done. It assumes that if a plant variety cannot produce enough in a given environment, it should be replaced by an allochthonous, genetically superior race or cultivar which can do better. Much plant breeding is done within the framework of the TDN in that varieties are bred to be responsive to chemical fertilizers, particularly nitrogenous chemical fertilizers. Many plant breeders and biotechnologists implicitly assume the TDN to be true while evaluating plant varieties.
If the TDN were false, much of the genetic work based on the TSR would also need to be re-evaluated, including a large amount of the genetic engineering research and development that has gone into very many of the GMOs that are being released. Also much of the genetic engineering work in biotechnology is based on a presumption of lack of horizontal gene flow. If this presumption were to be false, it would again require a substantial re-evaluation.
Since 1989, we have done some work on a theory of indirect nutrition (TIN) which can clearly falsify the TDN. We claim that according to the TIN it is possible to influence biological nitrogen fixation to the extent that chemical nitrogenous fertilizers are strategically unnecessary for food security.
The effects of TIN are such as to call into question many assumptions underlying the application of the TSR in plant breeding with a view to agricultural utility. Moreover, by the use of TIN we are able to demonstrate a very large effect of rhizobacterial nutrition on expression of the plant genome, which can be an order of magnitude greater than the impact of much genetic engineering tinkering under the implicit assumption of TDN.
These are matters for the agricultural research agenda of developing countries. If a developing country not well endowed with fossil fuel energy resources, can follow a sustainable organic agriculture model for agricultural development which eliminates the need for nitrogenous chemical fertilizers, particularly under tropical and sub-tropical conditions in rainfed agriculture, at one-tenth the cost of another approach based on TDN and TSR, it should certainly evaluate the necessity of adopting current types of biotechnology, and search for new approaches which are in consonance with TIN.
I am therefore proposing that the agricultural research agenda should be re-evaluating biotechnology offerings in the light of the theory of indirect nutrition.
D-0716, Indian Institute of Management,
Vastrapur, Ahmedabad, Gujarat,
Phone: 91-79-632 6716
jagdish_nazareth (at) hotmail.com
Sent: 21 November 2002 16:47
Subject: 34: Re: Publically funded genomics research
This is David Reece, Research Fellow (Genomics and Developing-Country Agriculture) in the ESRC Centre for Genomics and Society at the University of Exeter, UK.
I simply must respond to Michel Ferry's comments (message 32, November 21). As a matter of fact, it has been extremely well documented that modern plant breeding has made an enormous contribution to alleviating poverty, by means of (i) providing new varieties that required greater labour input than traditional crop varieties, thus increasing levels of employment (and ultimately wage levels) for agricultural labourers; (ii) making it possible for farmers of all social classes to obtain increased yields. Those who were already rich have gained most, and were the first to be able to benefit from using the new varieties, but there is abundant evidence that poorer farmers have also eventually increased their incomes by means of the new varieties.
It is probable, however, that these technologies have deepened inequality: that is a serious problem, but is not the same as absolute poverty.
ESRC Centre for Genomics and Society
University of Exeter,
J.D.Reece (at) exeter.ac.uk