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Sent: 25 November 2002 11:36
Subject: 39: Place and role of biotechnology in agricultural research agenda in developing countries
[Thanks to Dr. Traoré for directly addressing some of the specific questions we wished to see discussed during the conference...Moderator].
My name is Adama Traoré. I am from Mali (West Africa) and a specialist in animal reproduction. I am presently chairman of the Malian National Council for Agricultural Research.
I am pleased to react to some of the issues raised in the Background Document and to some contributions posted in the conference so far. The comments of the Moderator at the bottom of message 37 (November 22) will help me to focus on the subject. As he said, a lot of issues raised by several contributors are interesting but in fact directly address themes already covered by former e-mail conferences.
Now, let me try to give some answers, where I find this possible, given my experiences as a NARS (national agricultural research systems) leader and an actor in international cooperation on agricultural research.
1) How much resources, of those allocated to the agricultural research agenda, should be devoted to biotechnology? This question is surely not simple to be answered! In a lot of NARS the allocated resource are far below the expected level, and sometimes donors-driven! But, in many NARS, like the case of Mali, the research agenda is becoming more and more demand driven (by the needs of the end users of the research result). Approximately, more than 80% of the resources have been allocated to applied and adaptive research! mostly to conventional research methodologies. Some resources could be devoted to selective biotechnology tools like molecular markers or tissue culture which could efficiently complement the ongoing conventional research!.
2) The prioritised sector will be very different from country to country; the setting of such priorities should be based on the added value the biotech tools bring to the research program!. In the case of Mali, the crop research is more targeted than the others sectors, due partly to the state of trained manpower and labour facilities. In livestock research, heat control and artificial insemination, as I have stated in a previous conference of this Forum, are already in use. Due to long generation intervals, biotech can also have some relevance to the forestry sector. [This reference is to Conference 3 (12 June to 25 August 2000) which was entitled "The appropriateness, significance and application of biotechnology options in the animal agriculture of developing countries."...Moderator].
3) I am convinced of the necessity for our NARS to tackle also some strategic issues in biotech research, inclusive genetic engineering, focusing more on our specific needs. To some extent, this could help our scientific partners, especially the IARCs (the international agricultural research centres) and ARIs (agricultural research institutes), to give more focus to a pro-poor biotech research.
4) I agree with some contributors who have expressed their scepticism about international private corporations addressing properly a pro-poor research agenda, since they are primarely guided by profit! But for me, the only alternative to this is to build a strategy based on active cooperation among NARS and alliance between NARS and public sector research institutions (IARCs, ARIs, universities) to enable NARS to have a certain research capacity to address issues important to them and to the poor. The international cooperation on biotech research should be encouraged to complement the individual national or sub-regional research agendas. In our African region, the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) is, in conjunction with the subregional organisations, going to play an important catalytic role in this.
5) Coming back to the case of Mali, the remaining 20% of resources allocated to strategic research will be partly use to enable some of our researchers to join appropriate subregional cooperation initiatives. Networking, establishment of sub-regional Centre of Excellence, launching of regional and subregional competitive Funds, participating in Challenges programs (CGIAR) and in Global partnership Program (GFAR) are some of the opportunities which are currently offered to NARS to strength their capacity to address some of the biotech research issues.
6) Collaboration with the international private sector, universities of the North and IARCs should be also encouraged to ensure that essential biotechnology research results stay public-good and accessible to NARS. The issue of intellectual property right (IPR) seem to me a crucial one if we want to see biotech research being relevant to poverty alleviation. In this regard, and of course in regard to biosafety issues and environmental preservation, the contribution of the civil society, in particular the NGOs, is highly appreciated! That is, among others reasons, why our regional, subregional and, more and more, national agricultural research governance bodies are opening themselves to these important constituencies.
Dr Adama TRAORE
Chairman of the National research council for agricultural research
CNRA Bamako (MALI)
Tel /fax: (223) 222 71 65
adama.traore (at) afribone.net.ml
or adama.traore (at) coraf.org
Sent: 25 November 2002 13:31
Subject: 40: Re: Theories of direct nutrition and of superior races
I found the posting by Jagdish Nazareth (message 33, November 21) most informative and interesting. Similar research seems to be happening by Searice in Philippines. There is a library with historical books on agriculture at http://chla.library.cornell.edu/ . The picture that emerges from some of these old books really challenges a lot of the developments in plant breeding as it has been performed during the last 100 years or so. I especially would refer to the book Hunger fighters by Paul de Kruif and the book The beginning of agriculture in America by Lyman Carrier.
There seems to be two groups in this debate. One group consists of researchers in the "public" research institutes who all favour gene technologies and a group of researchers and NGO-representatives who favour going in another direction.
Concerning the role of biotechnology in plant breeding, Marcel Nwalozie (message 31, November 21) mentioned tissue culture as a good technique. However, I would like to point out that tissue culture, like genetic engineering (GE), can also make harmful mutations in plants. In the "developed" world it was until recently a technique not used for vegetable crops but only for ornamental crops. I have some doubts about the extensive use of tissue culture for food crops. I would also like to point out that GE is not really playing a significant role in food crop production in the "developed" world. Until now, it involves only two major food crops soya and maize, (canola and cotton are not really food crops), most of which serves as animal feed in the "developed" world.
Why not focus biotechnology research on the classical biotechnology? From all I heard there is still much to gain by improving fermenting techniques, especially also on household level. No need for transgenics there but there seems to be some need to teach people to do their fermenting processes in safer ways.
Wytze de Lange
De Wittenstraat 43-45
1052 AL Amsterdam
wdl (at) xminy.nl
Sent: 25 November 2002 13:38
Subject: 41: Re: Developing countries stand to gain from agricultural biotechnology
I am Drew Kershen, a law professor who has focused on agricultural biotechology law and policy issues for the past six years. I teach agricultural law courses at the University of Oklahoma School of Law in the state of Oklahoma, United States.
Dr. Marcel Nwalozie (message 31, November 21) argued for Africa to become engaged in biotechnology so that Africa could gain independence from reliance on aid and could develop its own human and resource potential. Dr. Michael Ferry (message 35, November 22) responded stating that he was not arguing for excluding Africa from biotechnology but he proceeded to argue that Africa should not devote funds to biotechnology, which effectively means that Dr. Ferry desires that Africa should ignore biotechnology.
I respond by quoting from the newly released UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) document, "Harnessing technologies for sustainable development" (ECA Policy Research Report, August 2002). On page 18, in the last paragraph of Chapter 1 Overview, the UNECA writes: "Modern medical and agricultural biotechnology can contribute much to increased food security and better health in African countries by speeding the agricultural productivity and epidemiological transitions in these countries. For that to happen, it is critical that biotechnology be viewed as one part of a comprehensive, sustainable poverty reduction strategy, not as a technological "quick fix" for Africa's hunger and poverty problems. It is also essential that the necessaary innovations and investments be made in institutions. And particularly critical is building national and regional consensus to invest in the future. Indeed, the greatest risk for Africa is to do nothing, allowing the biotechnology revolution to pass it by."
As I read Dr. Nwalozie's message, he wants to invest in Africa's future by investing in biotechnology as the UNECA urges. By contrast, as I read Dr. Ferry's message, he wants Africa to ignore biotechnology, thereby letting the biotechnology revolution pass it by. I endorse Dr. Nwalozie's message and the UNECA report. Africa must invest in biotechnology if Africa is to have any future hope of gaining independance from aid, food security, and health security. The report is available at http://www.uneca.org/harnessing . The document is quite long (178 pages in PDF format) and I had difficulty getting it to download, though ultimately successful in the ZIP format.
Drew L. Kershen
Earl Sneed Centennial Professor of Law
University of Oklahoma College of Law
Norman, Oklahoma 73019-5081
dkershen (at) ou.edu
Sent: 25 November 2002 13:59
Subject: 42: Site-specific agroecological research
This is Miguel Altieri again. After reading some of the messages posted so far it is interesting to note that most people assume that technological modernization of small farms, through monocultures, new varieties and agrochemicals, is perceived as a critical prerequisite for increasing yields, labor efficiency and farm incomes. What is most interesting is that we assume that this is what small farmers want, when in fact major peasant movements in the world, represented by groups such as via Campesina or the Landless Workers' Movement (MST) in Brazil, have repeatedly expressed rejection to transgenics and the corporate control of biotechnology. Obviously, their voice is again absent from this fora, as it is from most international meetings setting the agenda for the poor. I don't claim to represent them, but as somebody intimately involved in research for resource-poor farmers, I think it is crucial the we make the process more participatory.
It is well known from the Green Revolution experience that as conversion from subsistence to cash agricultural economy occurs, the loss of biodiversity in many rural societies progresses at an alarming rate. As peasants directly link to the market economy, economic forces increasingly influence the mode of production, characterized by genetically uniform crops and mechanized and/or agrochemical packages. As adoption of modern varieties occurs, landraces and wild relatives are progressively abandoned, becoming relics or extinct. Greatest loss of traditional varieties occurs in lowland valleys close to urban centers and markets, than in more remote areas.
The above situation is expected to be aggravated by the technological evolution of agriculture based on emerging biotechnologies, whose development and commercialization is increasingly concentrated and under the control of a few corporations, accompanied by the increased withdrawal of the public sector as a major provider of research and extension services to rural communities. The social impacts of local crop shortfalls, resulting from genetic uniformity or changes in the genetic integrity of local varieties due to genetic pollution, can be considerable in the margins of the developing world. In the extreme periphery, crop losses mean ongoing ecological degradation, poverty, hunger and even famine. It is under these conditions of systematic market failures and lack of public external assistance that local skills and resources associated with biological and cultural diversity should be available to rural populations to maintain or recover their production processes.
Diverse agricultural systems and genetic materials that confer high levels of tolerance to changing socio-economic and environmental conditions are extremely valuable to poor farmers, as diverse systems buffer against natural or human-induced variations in production conditions. Impoverished rural populations must maintain low-risk agroecosystems that are primarily structured to ensure local food security. Farmers in the margins must continue to produce food for their local communities in the absence of modern inputs, and this can be reached by adopting agroecological methods and by preserving in-situ ecologically-intact locally-adapted agrobiodiversity.
Natural resource problems experienced by poor farmers are not amenable to the research approaches previously used by the international research community. In most organisations, including the 16 international agricultural research centers associated to the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), research has been commodity-oriented with the goal of improving yields of particular food crops and livestock, but generally without adequately understanding the needs and options of the poor, nor the ecological context of the systems being addressed.
Most scientists use a disciplinary approach, often resulting in recommendations for specific domains and failing to equip farmers with appropriate technologies or empower them to make informed choices between available options. Biotechnology research which, by its very reductionist nature, dominated by molecular biologists most of whom lack ecological background and also social-cultural sensitivity, still treats the complex agrobiodiversity characteristics of small farming systems as a "black-box". If truly inter-disciplinary research is to be conducted, crop, soil, water and pest management aspects must be addressed simultaneously at the field or watershed level in order to match elements for production with forms of agroecosystem management that are sensitive to maintaining and/or enhancing biodiversity. Such integrated approaches to agroecosystem management can allow the definition of a range of different strategies that can potentially offer farmers (especially those most reliant on the functions of agrobiodiversity) a choice of options or capacity to manipulate their systems according to their socio-economic constraints and requirements.
What is lacking in top-down defined research agendas is not only the perspective of the local people, but also the explicit description of methods to increase our understanding of the structure and dynamics of agricultural and natural resource ecosystems and providing guidelines to their productive and sustainable management. The high variability of ecological processes and their interactions with heterogeneous social, cultural, political, and economic factors, generate local systems that are exceptionally unique. When the heterogeneity of the rural poor is considered, the inappropriateness of biotechnological recipes or blueprints becomes obvious. The only way that the specificity of local systems, from regions to watersheds and all the way down to a farmer's field, can be taken into account is through site-specific agroecological research. A people's relevant agricultural strategy requires the use of general agroecological principles and customizing agricultural technologies to local needs and circumstances. Where the conventional technology transfer model breaks down is where new management systems need to be tailored and adapted in a site-specific way to highly variable and diverse farm conditions. Methodologically, this is the biggest weakness of biotech research. On the contrary, agroecological principles have universal applicability but the technological forms through which those principals become operational depend on the prevailing environmental and socio-economic conditions at each site.
Miguel A. Altieri, Ph.D.
Professor of Agroecology
Division of Insect Biology
201 Wellman Hall-3112
University of California
Berkeley CA 94720
tel 510 6429802
fax 510 6427428
agroeco3 (at) nature.berkeley.edu
Sent: 25 November 2002 14:05
Subject: 43: Rice production
This is from Udeni Edirisinghe, I am a Senior Lecturer in Faculty of Agriculture, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka and my field is fisheries.
I have been involved with rice-fish integration research and, from the results, I believe that rice production can be increase in developing countries such as Sri Lanka if the farmer is given the technology of cultivating in an intensive method, with or without the use of inorganic fertilizers.
The method used by farmers in Sri Lanka is to give minimum care to the paddy cultivation. In most instances, there are more weeds than the paddy plants. They apply lot of inorganic fertilizers, more than required and ultimately find that it is not economical. I did not find any technology to use organic farming for paddy cultivation in the literature and these would be more important than most of the areas where such research funds are being used.
Hence, I wish to indicate that the areas for biotechnology should be properly discussed at an appropriate forum and such areas should only be permitted to involve in research since a large quantum of assets have already been wasted by the researchers.
Dr. Udeni Edirisinghe
Dept. of Animal Science
University of Peradeniya
udenie (at) pdn.ac.lk
Sent: 25 November 2002 14:13
Subject: 44: Re: Capacity of developing the technology and holding IPRs
This is Terry Young, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Technology Transfer and Executive Director of the Technology Licensing Office at The Texas A&M University System, College Station, Texas, USA. I am also Immediate Past President of the Association of University Technology Managers (www.autm.net)
I am a member of a working group convened by the Rockefeller Foundation. My subgroup is focused upon development of intellectual property (IP) clauses for contracts for transfer of improved plant varieties/GMOs that would serve to facilitate the dissemination of such varieties in developing countries. The work on these proposed contract terms continues in "real time," with e-mails even this morning [23 November...Moderator] on the topic.
I believe it is possible to develop agreements that both (i) enable the availability of improved varieties in developing countries, while (ii) protecting the commercial interests of the Monsanto's of the world.
I also believe that there is a significant need for training programs on IPR (intellectual property rights) in the developing countries that should run in parallel with these efforts to develop favorable IP terms in contracts. Monsanto and other companies or organizations might even require that acceptance of "humanitarian" contract clauses for developing countries be in concert with or accompanied by IP training in the respective country(s).
I propose to work with others of similar interests to develop proposals to USAID (the United States Agency for International Development), CGIAR (the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research), private foundations, and other sources of funding to implement such training programs.
The Texas A&M University System
t-young (at) tamu.edu
Telephone - 979-847-8682
Sent: 25 November 2002 14:20
Subject: 45: Funding research programs
I am Sabu again from the National University of Malaysia.
Agriculture production and food safety are always related to technological inputs. This is not the contribution from biotechnology sector alone; there is enough room for the conventional plant breeders and agricultural technologists too. It is also worthwhile to remember that biotechnology is not just dealing with GMOs. There are so many other options, like plant tissue culture (PTC). A PTC lab can be set up in any 'not well funded public sector' institution/university. In fact, there are instances where PTC saved farmers, as in the case of sugar cane somaclonal variants resistant to certain diseases.
But now the question is: When the farmers are ready to suggest what they really want, who will come to fulfil that? Who is going to fund this? Whether the private sector will come and rescue the farmers where they may not able to protect their intellectual property rights (IPR), considering the request for supplying planting materials at minimal price. Since the fruits from the farmers field are eaten by all people, and not only those from the public sector, I think it is the responsibility of every tax payer that one portion of their tax should go to the farmers needs. Whenever this amount is not enough for a particular research program, there should be an alternative approach like collecting money from those who can contribute heavily - like implementing a surcharge to food production or pharmaceutical companies.
KK Sabu PhD
Post Doctoral Fellow
Plant Genetics and Biotechnology
School of Environmental and Natural Resource Sciences
Faculty of Science and Technology
National University of Malaysia
43600 Bangi, Selangor
Tel: 603-89215870, Fax: 603-89253357
kksabu (at) yahoo.com
Sent: 25 November 2002 17:26
Subject: 46: Nutritional Security and AgriBiotech
I am Jagdish Nazareth a doctoral candidate in the Agricultural area at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, India.
I made a typology of the main threats to nutritional security (as I have studied and observed them over the last 21 years of rural development with low-income rural families). The percentage figures are indicative and do not add up to 100 as the populations overlap. They are indicative for the Indian context:
A. In Rainfed Areas:
1. Insufficient nutritional variety in the basket of agricultural commodities produced by village griculture. This impacts the women, children and elders among the landless rural workers who do not participate in the monetised economy of the village and who have a small logistical radius in which to gather their diets (about 15% of the population).
2. Ignorance among farmers about the essential nutrient elements which are deficient in their arable soils, which may have an impact on their crop productivity and the nutritional quality of their produce (about 25% of the population).
3. Lack of purchasing power among sections of the rural population, especially the women-headed households or those where the wage-earners are disabled.
4. Short term food shortages in the beginning of the monsoon season until edible components of the monsoon crop have grown, especially when carry-over stocks from the previous year are low (about 20% specially tribal populations).
5. Lack of rural food distribution systems for perishable produce such as leafy vegetables and fruits, linking villages with assured irrigation to villages without assured irrigation where demand exists but which cannot be satisfied from local production (about 35%).
6. Elimination of pulses from the basket of agricultural production of villages because of low productivity (about 20%).
B. Irrigated Areas:
7. Cultivation of non-edible cash crops for export on too much of the village landmass, which prevents poor families from obtaining their full nutritional quantity and quality (about 10% and growing).
8. Micronutrient malnutrition caused by use of nitrogenous chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides (about 40%).
9. Use of groundwater with toxic levels of boron, fluorine and arsenic (about 15%).
10. Use of polluted surface water from rivers and untreated urban:industrial effluent streams for cultivation of food crops (about 20%).
11. Use of too much pesticides in the upper areas of river basins which re-enters rivers and pollutes drinking water sources of downstream communities (35%).
C. Urban Areas:
12. Practically 100% consumption of foodstuffs grown with chemical fertilizers which have lower densities of essential nutrients (30%).
13. High levels of pesticide residues which have toxic impact on consumer's nutritional status through destruction of heme building pathways, cytochrome p450 enzymes, glutathione and superoxide dismutase enzymes (35%).
14. Inadequate purchasing power in low-income urban groups, especially when the agriculture in surrounding peri-urban areas is of non-essential crops such as cut-flowers and of high cost-intensity, and farmers will allow produce to rot in fields rather than transport it to cities to sell it at reduced prices (15%).
I propose that the agricultural research systems take a look at these 14 causes of nutritional insecurity and evaluate current offering from agri-biotech to see how much they are part of the problem and to what extent they can be solutions.
D-0716, Indian Institute of Management,
Vastrapur, Ahmedabad, Gujarat,
Phone: 91-79-632 6716
jagdish_nazareth (at) hotmail.com
Sent: 25 November 2002 17:33
Subject: 47: Pooling together regional resources in agricultural biotech research
This is Marcel Nwalozie again. Thanks to all for the various reactions, for and against, my argument in message 31 (November 21). I maintain, however, that developing countries should not just adapt biotechnologies developed in other countries. These technologies should be developed in the developing countries or in the sub-region of the developing country! And that biotechnology development needs to be participatory in developing countries.
In this current message may I draw the attention of participants to the existence of regional, and sub-regional, research organisations for developing countries. The sub-regional organisations are composed of national agricultural research systems (NARS) as the building blocks. The sub-regional organisations, and their activities, are not meant to replace national programmes, or priorities. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the sub-regional organisations have drawn strategic plans for agricultural research co-operation. In the West and Central Africa sub-region, the strategic planning process was a long consensus-seeking exercise, involving several national, zonal and regional consultations. A broad spectrum of most actors (NARS, international agricultural research centres, ARIs scientists, farmers, extension, NGOs, etc.) were involved. Research partnerships with international centres of the CGIAR (Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research) and the Advance Research Institutes (ARIs) was advocated in the strategy. Biotechnology was identified as a very urgent tool to service the identified regional agricultural research cooperation and development priorities.
Given the definition of priorities at the regional levels, and the expensive nature of biotechnology, in general, I think it makes partnership and economic sense to pool human, material and financial resources together at regional levels in respect of biotechnology research in developing countries. This does not mean that national biotech programmes should be stopped. A regional approach can undertake certain research of common interest, and also strengthen national capacities in biotechnology. (In a recent study in West and Central Africa, it was discovered that the capacity of the various national systems in respect of biotechnology was too different. In fact in some NARS the capacity was near zero). I think it is plausible to designate some NARS' biotechnology research centres to play regional roles; or an out-right creation of regional centres in biotechnology with multi-stakeholder collaboration.
Marcel Nwalozie, Ph.D.
Scientific Co-ordinator, CORAF/WECARD,
7, Avenue Bourguiba,
BP 8237 Dakar-Yoff
email: marcel.nwalozie (at) coraf.org