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Sent: 29 November 2002 10:06
Subject: 65: Re: Are we pursuing the wrong research objectives?
This is Prof Ralph Blanchfield again.
Dr Muralidharan (Message 61, November 28) opens by writing of the need for him to respond to some of the points raised by me (message 58, November 27) "and others". This is followed by three paragraphs of generalizations. I cannot speak for "and others", but those paragraphs have no relevance whatever to the tone or substance of what I wrote.
He then proceeds to take up two specific items from my section on our longer-term potential benefits from future biotechnology to fulfil our responsibilities to future generations, and mistakenly treats them as though they are proposals for short-term measures, indeed criticizes one of them because "I hardly consider this as a priority for the short-term needs of poor nations". In passing, I am surprised that he would consider drought, saline soils, and extremes of temperature as "man-made situations". However, before dealing with the longer-term aspects, I did write (in Message 58) "A balance is needed between the two. The present intolerable situation of malnutrition, hunger, starvation, death for so many people cries out for short-term remedies." I may add that I have been instigating a scheme, through the International Union of Food Science & Technology, which I hope will establish a database to enable greatly improved co-ordination of the many such short-term projects already being carried out by food scientists and technologists around the world.
Leaving Dr Muralidharan, may I now revert to my hammer and screwdriver analogy. Of course the hammer came much the earlier and was used in primitive and then increasingly better-designed forms. Then came the screw and the screwdriver. I observe that in this discussion, and in every such public discussion involving biotechnology, by analogy the discussion becomes increasingly polarized between those who understand that each tool serves purposes that the other cannot and regard each as a useful tool for its purpose, and those who with varying degrees of emphasis and ingenuity, and from a variety of agendas and motives, argue for a policy of hammers only, some even to the extent of wanting screwdrivers to be banned, and arguing that research should heavily concentrate on (or even be exclusively devoted to) improving hammer design. I do not see, here or elsewhere, anyone arguing for screws and screwdrivers only.
Prof J Ralph Blanchfield, MBE
Food Science, Food Technology and Food Law Consultant
Chair, External Affairs, Institute of Food Science and Technology
Adjunct Professor, Michigan State University
IFST Web address www.ifst.org
Personal Web address www.jralphb.co.uk
jralphb (at) easynet.co.uk
Sent: 29 November 2002 10:08
Subject: 66: Crop biotech reaching small farmers
This is from Jorge Mayer, CAMBIA (Canberra, Australia).
What is the currency of the small farmer? Seed. How does its value increase? Through improved seed.
Integrated crop and pest management go hand in hand with germplasm improvement. Biotechnology is an important component of the latter. Doing one without the other is like having roads and no cars, and doing breeding without using the best tools that you can get is like having a car with full-rubber tyres, bumpy and slow.
It will be very important to accurately identify the special needs of small farmers with respect to germplasm improvement and then to decide which is the best technical path to achieve the desired results. Biotechnology will not always be the answer but it definitely will in some cases.
In identifying traits that can be introduced by transgenesis, useful to small farmers in least developed countries (LDCs), it is important to identify genes that can be released without restrictions. It is probably not a good idea to give small farmers crops that produce pharmaceuticals, for example. Widely useful genes should be then introduced into many landraces used by the farmers so they won't exchange their crops for monocultures. We need here the development of robust transformation technologies for all important crops.
Apomixis (asexual reproduction) in otherwise non-apomictic crops: This is a very important area of biotechnology research, because fixation of heterotic vigor would not only guarantee higher yields and increased use of biodiversity but also reduce labor. Hybrid rice is taking over in China for obvious reasons. The problem is that crosses involve a lot of manual labor. Apomixis would boost rice production in the whole world.
Marker assisted selection (MAS) is an effort justifiable for the production of varieties that will be widely used, and therefore, this technology might not always be the appropriate one for small farmers. We must not forget that the ratio of urban to rural population is inverting in most countries, and that to feed the increasing number of city dwellers, we must promote an increase of medium-sized farms to cover the demand for land produce. We are not here to maintain the status quo, we should be promoting the development of every single country. In this context, MAS plays an important role. The countries do not need to develop new technologies for that, just adopt them and apply them to crops of their own interest.
Jorge E. Mayer, PhD
Principal Scientist & IP Analyst
GPO Box 3200
Canberra ACT 2601, Australia
Phone +61 2 6246 4516
Fax +61 2 6246 4501
Email j.mayer (at) cambia.org
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