The agricultural research agenda should be defined using a "bottom-up" approach, based on the needs of local communities in developing countries. The needs and realities of small farmers in developing countries require special attention in the research agenda. Research is very important for developing country agriculture and more public funding of biotechnology research is needed. There is general agreement about the positive role that non-GMO biotechnology research can play in developing countries but opinions are divided about use of scarce agricultural research resources for GMO research. Biotechnology research can and should complement research into conventional technologies. Research collaboration, both within and between countries, is essential for developing countries but there are some reservations about public-private sector collaborations. Intellectual property rights are an issue of concern for biotechnology research in developing countries. With reduced national research budgets, regional collaborations have special importance. Opinions are divided on whether developing countries should develop their own biotechnology products and techniques or whether they should adapt those developed elsewhere. These were some of the outcomes of a moderated e-mail conference, entitled "What should be the role and focus of biotechnology in the agricultural research agendas of developing countries?", hosted by the FAO Biotechnology Forum from 13 November to 16 December 2002. During the 5-week conference, 347 people subscribed and 128 messages were posted, about 60% from people living in developing countries. Most were from people working in research centres/organisations (35%), universities (25%) and NGOs (20%), with the remainder coming from independent consultants (10%) or people working in government agencies or FAO.
The theme of the 8th conference of the FAO Biotechnology Forum, which took place from 13 November to 16 December 2002, was "What should be the role and focus of biotechnology in the agricultural research agendas of developing countries?". As stated in the Background Document to this conference, the theme is both topical and important. This was shown, for example, in Rome in June 2002, when the Heads of State and Government of over 180 countries unanimously adopted the "Declaration of the World Food Summit: five years later" stating, inter alia, "We call on the FAO, in conjunction with the CGIAR and other international research institutes, to advance agricultural research and research into new technologies, including biotechnology. The introduction of tried and tested new technologies including biotechnology should be accomplished in a safe manner and adapted to local conditions to help improve agricultural productivity in developing countries. We are committed to study, share and facilitate the responsible use of biotechnology in addressing development needs".
During the conference, a total of 128 messages were received, numbered in the order of posting. The aim of this Summary Document is to provide a summary of the main arguments and issues discussed during the conference, based on the participants' messages. Specific references to messages posted, giving the participant's surname and message number, are provided. All messages can be viewed at the Archives of Conference 8. Note, in the Forum, participants are always assumed to be speaking on their own personal behalf and not on behalf of their employers, unless they state otherwise.
There was large interest in the subject of the conference. A total of 347 people joined and 67 (19%) of them submitted at least one message. Messages came from all parts of the world, about 60% from participants living in developing countries. The conference was very successful, both in terms of the number of topics covered and, in particular, the quality of the messages posted. As Murphy (106) wrote in the final week, "The discussions have overwhelmingly been positive and constructive both in substance and tone and I have learned a lot from people with whom I would rarely have the chance to communicate".
Most of the discussions, when referring to specific agricultural situations, considered the crop sector, with few messages focusing solely on the agro-industry, fishery, forestry or livestock sectors. Although the term "biotechnology" in the FAO Biotechnology Forum covers a wide range of diverse technologies, used mainly in reproductive biology or in the manipulation and use of genetic material of living organisms, participants chose to focus on genetic modification and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Thus, as in previous Forum conferences, GM crops were a major topic of discussion.
In Section 2 of this document, the main elements of the discussions are summarised under seven topics (2.1-2.7). Section 3 provides some information about participation in the conference and Section 4 gives the name and country of the people that sent referenced messages. Section 5 provides an explanation of abbreviations used in the document.
2. Main topics discussed
2.1 Bottom-up approach to agricultural research
There was large consensus that research in developing countries should be intimately linked to the problems and requirements of local communities. The need for a "bottom-up" approach in agricultural research and development was therefore emphasised (Altieri (42, 94), Bhatia (53), Nishio (100), Ashton (102, 119), Dhlamini (105), DeGrassi (111) and Vazquez (128)). As Altieri (94) wrote, the approach should use and build upon the resources available i.e. the local people, their knowledge and native natural resources and "it must also seriously take into consideration, through participatory approaches, the needs, aspirations and circumstances of smallholders". Ashton (119) argued that breeding improvements (through biotechnology or conventional methods) can only succeed if a network exists to take the "needs of farmers to breeders and for the two to meaningfully interface".
Perera (76) referred to a practical application of the bottom-up approach when establishing agricultural biotechnology priorities for Sri Lanka. Here, institutes in the national agricultural research systems (NARS) and other related institutes held discussions with their relevant stakeholders and then informed a national committee of their future plans and priorities in the field of biotechnology. The committee then decided on the national priorities by considering the real problems faced by the farming community and deciding which techniques could help to solve/minimise these problems. Nwalozie (47) also described how a broad spectrum of stakeholders, including farmers and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), were involved in development of agricultural research plans for West and Central Africa.
DeGrassi (111) agreed with Altieri (42) that the voice of the poor farmer was mostly absent when the agenda was being set for the poor and he advocated building basic grassroots democracy. Muralidharan (6) felt that even in developing countries with high biotechnology capacity, like India and China, "hardly any benefits have been realized which are specific to poor-farmer requirements". Altieri (8), supported by Sai (15), also argued that the CGIAR and GFAR, both important for defining the research agendas for the developing world, had little participation from farmers and NGOs. Badr (127) argued that because small farmers have their own expertise and local knowledge, researchers should work with them, a point also made by Nishio (100). Sanchez (126) indicated the need for biotechnology researchers to not only receive training in biology techniques but also to develop a "holistic view of the rural and agricultural situation of their countries".
2.2 How much of the limited resources available for agricultural research should be devoted to biotechnology?
As noted in the Background Document (and emphasised by participants throughout the conference), agricultural research is very important for developing countries, especially in the light of the challenges that farmers there will face in the coming decades, but it receives relatively limited funding. One of the questions that participants were asked to address in the conference was how much of these limited resources should be devoted to biotechnology research. Traoré (39) felt it was not easy to answer the question. As Immonen (30) noted, "agricultural biotechnology may compete with many other research needs in agriculture and in other areas of research for benefit of the developing countries". There was a lively discussion on the topic, with considerable disagreement about using research resources on GMOs (i.e. "GMO research"). There was, however, general agreement about the positive role that biotechnology research excluding GMOs (i.e. "non-GMO biotechnology research") can play and that biotechnology research can and should complement research into conventional technologies.
Limitation of agricultural research resources was in some cases, however, seen to be an insurmountable problem. For example, Mayer (87) noted that in reality there were often few or no research funds available for allocation and that funding for international agricultural research had fallen badly in recent years. Herbert (99) said that in his country, Nigeria, less than 0.1% of the GDP was applied to agricultural research (crop and livestock together, with relatively fewer resources going to livestock), a situation which was not conducive to investments in livestock biotechnology research.
2.2.1 Biotechnology research complementing conventional research
Several participants emphasised the complementarity between biotechnology research and research into conventional technologies. Downes (9) argued for increased support for biotechnology research but said this did not deny the need for better more conventional technologies in food production. Beach (4), supported by Collard (24), also felt there was room for both conventional breeding and biotechnology and that it would be wrong to reduce support for conventional breeding and depend on biotechnology (i.e. "they must go together"). This was precisely the concern of Guimarães (3), who noted that many traditional rice breeding programmes had been dismantled and funds transferred to other research areas such as biotechnology, meaning that it was now more difficult to train a young scientist in conventional rice breeding methods than it was a couple of decades ago.
Traoré (39) estimated that in his country, Mali, more than 80% of the agricultural research resources were allocated to applied and adaptive research, mostly to conventional research methodologies, and suggested that "some resources could be devoted to selective biotechnology tools like molecular markers or tissue culture which could efficiently complement the ongoing conventional research". Muir (72) proposed that given limited resources and time, optimal allocation of research resources could be found by defining the alternatives technologies (e.g. conventional breeding, marker assisted selection or genetic modification), the costs of each and the likely benefits from each.
Izquierdo (19) favoured a "strict interdisciplinary complementation considering conventional breeding, advanced genetic plant improvement and integrated crop management" and urged that polarisation be avoided. Altieri (42) also urged that truly inter-disciplinary research be conducted, covering crop, soil, water and pest management aspects simultaneously and considering the specificity of the local farming systems, maintaining that biotechnology research treats the complex agrobiodiversity characteristics of small farming systems as a "black box". Murphy (48) emphasised the importance of getting the basics in place first, i.e. metaphorically making the cake, and that GMO research might be then the "icing on the cake". His overall feelings about agricultural research in developing countries were that a) there was still a great dearth of basic knowledge about the agronomy, physiology and genetics of many major crops in these countries; b) an appropriate infrastructure, both for education and training and for advice and outreach to farmers was still being developed; c) dramatic yield benefits might be possible by simple improvements in management practices and by better use of existing germplasm; d) in the longer term, developing countries would need to deploy the full range of modern agricultural biotechnology methods and they should therefore foster a modest research effort in this area.
2.2.2 Research on GMOs
There was considerable discussion, and deep division, regarding how much research resources should be used on one biotechnology, genetic modification. Altieri (1) provided a number of reasons why he considered that very little public funds should be used for GMO research in developing countries, particularly in relation to small farmers, such as the costs of transgenic seeds, the long development time for GM crops (especially when modified for complex traits, like drought tolerance), the absence of acceptable biosafety regulations in some countries and intellectual property rights (IPR) issues. Howe (13) argued that substantial funding of GMO research by large companies meant that it was not carried out to benefit the poor and that (69) no public funding should be dedicated to GMO research. As an alternative to genetic modification, Altieri (8) proposed that there were "hundreds of other less risky, less costly agroecological technologies that are pro-poor, do not cause environmental degradation and that are culturally sensitive and socially activating". De Lange (16) agreed, citing integrated farming, mixed cropping and traditional soil and water conservation methods. Ferry (18) felt that promoting more GMO research "except in some exceptional cases, will be at best useless to the poor and more probably prejudicial for them", and argued that since money for research in developing countries was increasingly rare, biotechnology should not be a priority for the poor.
The issue of consumer concerns about "GM food" was raised by some participants (e.g. Verzola, 11; Mashava, 12) who felt the concerns should be a motive for reducing GMO research funding, while others (e.g. Infante, 17) suggested it was hindering the possibility of developing countries introducing new GM products onto the world market. Vazquez (28) said that the healthy food-production environment of developing countries should be further boosted and that alternatives to GM crops, such as research in the fields of agroecology, population ecology and community ecology, should be explored. Verzola (51) cautioned about the risks of gene flow from field testing GMOs and warned scientists to be aware that field testing could be used to carry out a hidden agenda of "deliberate contamination" of GMO-free countries. In this context, Mehra (70) noted that many developing countries do not have sufficient infrastructure to regulate the release/use of GM crops, while Halos (52) proposed that when a country decides to invest in GMO research it should also establish a biosafety regulatory system.
Other participants emphasised the potential benefits of GMO research. For example, Downes (9), while accepting the main arguments of Altieri (1, 8), came to a different conclusion, arguing for better support for GMO research (and teaching) "carried out on a broadly public-good model, in developing countries and in partnership with them". He felt that, although still at the early stages of its development, genetic modification "is generally judged to be at the beginning of extraordinary wealth (and health) creation in the rich world" and that poor regions of the world should not be allowed to fall behind in this area and should be assisted to access it for their own needs. Sai (7), like Muralidharan (6), also disagreed with Altieri (1) that very little public funds should be used for GMO research in developing countries, arguing that this would only support the cause of the multi-national corporations (MNCs), who currently possess knowledge in the field, and that "successful public research can only counter monopolistic tendencies of private corporations".
2.2.3 Non-GMO biotechnology research
As Sabu (45) reminded participants, biotechnology is not just about GMOs. While the use of agricultural research funds for GMO research was a subject of considerable debate, the same was not true for other biotechnologies. Participants proposed a range of different non-GMO biotechnologies that should be included in the research agenda (although without specifying how much resources should be devoted to them), often suggesting that this research would be more beneficial to developing countries than research involving GMOs.
Muralidharan (61), supported by Dollie (62) and Howe (64), felt that less sophisticated, cheaper biotechnologies were being neglected in the research agenda in favour of genetic modification because it was "new and fashionable". Dollie (62), therefore, suggested "perhaps it is time to pause and re-prioritise". Verzola (11) and Collard (24) also argued that biotechnology research was too skewed in favour of genetic modification while non-GMO biotechnologies received little attention and funds. Newman (86) felt that scarce funding should be allocated preferably to non-GMO biotechnology that "offers the same promises of disease, frost, drought and insect tolerance that we are needing". Collard (24) suggested that research into other biotechnologies (such as mutation breeding, tissue culture and use of markers) might be more relevant to developing countries than GMO research and that non-GMO biotechnologies should be considered on the research agenda, but only in conjunction with non-biotechnology areas of agricultural research. Datta (26), on the other hand, argued that each biotechnology has its own merits and disadvantages and that genetic modification, for example, could tackle some problems that other biotechnologies could not.
Edirisinghe (88) emphasised that there are many areas of research where there are "no arguments and which all can agree to work on", thoughts echoed by De Lange (118) who said "we should focus on biotechnologies that are acceptable for everybody". Muralidharan (92) supported Edirisinghe's (88) point, proposing 'lower biotechnologies' (such as biofertilisers) as one such research area. He also argued that they would benefit from the availability of cheap labour in developing countries and that additional research should be carried out to make micropropagation more accessible to farmers in developing countries. Scanlan (80) also supported research into the "lower biotechnologies", maintaining that substantial progress had been made in the development of biofertilisers and biopesticides and suggesting that, when associated with other desirable practices (including promotion of biodiversity, multiple cropping systems, indigenous plant species, improved germplasm and integrated production and protection), technologies such as these "can have much impact in addressing household food security and creating sustainable livelihoods in low-income food-deficit countries".
Sabu (45), like Nwalozie (31), described the benefits of tissue culture, where a plant tissue culture lab could be set up in public sector institutions with poor finances, and underlined the role that genomics could play in rice breeding. Immonen (30) also highlighted the importance of genomics research, arguing that it would be particularly important for crops in developing countries, while De Lange (118) underlined how much has yet to be learned about genomes. Rajmohan (84) also felt that tissue culture was an important biotechnology for developing countries, but stressed its limitations. He proposed that use of molecular markers was the most important area of biotechnology, given the rich plant genetic resources found in developing countries, and that GMO research (focused on specific-country needs) should be strengthened only in selected institutions, in collaboration with developed countries. Mayer (66) also underlined that apomixis in otherwise non-apomictic crops was a very important area of biotechnology research.
2.3 What should be the priorities for biotechnology research in developing countries?
Of the resources devoted to agricultural biotechnology research in developing countries, what priorities should be given to the different agricultural sectors (crop, fishery, forestry, agro-industry or livestock) and which research areas should be prioritised within each of these sectors? In the conference, some participants attempted to answer these difficult questions.
Considering prioritisation in general, Bhatia (53) suggested that when setting priorities in agricultural research, methods should be used to identify areas giving "maximum return in the shortest possible time, with minimum investment", although he pointed out that even in small farming communities, conflicts may arise between the needs of different groups of farmers (e.g. those with dry land or with irrigation facilities). He proposed that the most limiting constraint for production systems in an area be identified and then "the best available technology that can ameliorate the situation in the shortest time frame, at an affordable cost, should be used". Franco (120) argued that prioritising the needs of developing countries should be on the basis of a case-by-case analysis, considering the kind of biotechnology research involved (GMO, tissue culture, molecular markers etc.), the user (poor farmer for food subsistence, or large farmer for export of products) and the time horizon. Rajmohan (84) maintained that when allocating resources for biotechnology research, developing countries should have concrete ideas about the immediate and long term benefits to their resource-poor farmers and they should not merely attempt to mimic the biotechnology research of developed countries.
Hong (101) noted that each country has to prioritise and evaluate areas of biotechnology that could be effectively and economically employed for its (agricultural) development, giving the example of Malaysia, where the government has formed a National Biotechnology Secretariat to prioritise and coordinate suitable biotechnological applications for development of industries or processes, especially those using agricultural resources. Perera (76) described the outcome of an exercise to determine agriculture biotechnology priorities for Sri Lanka, considering the real problems of the farmers and deciding which techniques could help/minimise them. The seven priorities were improvement of crop and livestock productivity; reduction of costs of cultivation of crops and management of livestock; biodiversity; environment; genome analysis and transgenics; bioinformatics and, finally, nutrition.
2.3.1 Priorities between the different agricultural sectors
Badr (60) felt it was hard to generalise about this, as the agricultural sectors to be prioritised may differ between countries and even between regions of a country. Traoré (39) also noted that the prioritised sector will differ from country to country and suggested that prioritisation should depend on the added value that biotechnology brings to the research program. For his country, Mali, research in the crop sector had been prioritised "due partly to the state of trained manpower and labour facilities", but that livestock and forestry biotechnology research had not been neglected. Similarly, Rajmohan (84) said crop biotechnology seems to have top priority in most developing countries and that priorities between the remaining sectors should be based on benefits to the farmers. Muhunthan (117), because of the importance of crops such as cereals, legumes, vegetables and tubers, proposed that first priority for agricultural biotechnology research should be given to the crop sector, followed by the forestry sector, then the livestock/fishery sectors and, finally, agro-industry.
2.3.2 Priorities within the different agricultural sectors
When considering priorities for biotechnology research within specific agricultural sectors, most messages considered the crop sector, with participants proposing a range of different research areas and species to be prioritised.
Infante (17) pointed out that some crops of high economic and trade value, such as coffee or cocao, have not been prioritised in the research agenda, but should be. He also proposed a number of areas where biotechnology would be invaluable for improving crop production because improvement through conventional breeding is difficult, such as crops with a narrow genetic base and/or long agronomic cycles. Sabu (21) mentioned specifically how the genetic diversity of rice had been eroded by genetic selection processes and that both the productivity and genetic diversity of rice had to be increased in Asia, proposing that biotechnology be used for the identification and incorporation of useful genes from wild rice germplasm. Immonen (30) mentioned in particular the need for research into the function of genes controlling important crop traits, such as tolerance to different abiotic stresses. Muhunthan (117) suggested use of DNA markers, micropropagation and other in vitro technologies be prioritised with the aim of increasing productivity and the development of pest/disease resistant crop varieties. Owusu-Biney (93) suggested a number of specific examples of problems in West Africa that might be addressed by biotechnology, including those involving the cassava mosaic virus, the presence of arsenates in soils of mining areas and the need for fast growing trees for afforestation programs and to satisfy demand for wood. Newman (86) said that priority in research should be given to addressing the impacts of seasonal variation, in particular due to drought, because farmers need consistency in income. Infante (17) suggested that research in South America should also consider the special circumstances of people living in regions above 3000 meters in altitude.
For the forestry sector, Muralidharan (85) emphasised the "tremendous potential of biotechnology" for improving understanding of the genetics of forest trees in the tropics and thus accelerating their genetic improvement, but argued that the objectives of tree improvement programmes should move from the emphasis on a few, fast-growing clones grown in a sterile high-input environment to a "more people and eco-friendly forestry". Muhunthan (117) emphasised the need for preserving the valuable genetic resources of developing countries, where molecular markers and in vitro techniques, along with reproductive biological studies, could be used.
Regarding other sectors, Herbert (99) felt there was an urgent need to apply biotechnology to ensure maintenance of livestock biodiversity in the developing world, emphasising the risk of erosion of animal genetic resources. Halos (52) proposed that biotechnology research should also focus on development of edible vaccines for humans and animals, an area also highlighted by Badr (95). Muhunthan (117) emphasised milk production of local livestock breeds, using conventional methods as well as reproductive and DNA technologies to increase production, while for aquaculture, he proposed that the focus be on genetic selection and hybridisation, with maximum utilisation of sea and inland water resources. For agro-industry, De Lange (40) suggested biotechnology research should aim to improve fermentation techniques, especially at the household level, while Muhunthan (117) maintained that research should focus on "conventional biotechnologies", such as biofertilisers and biopesticides, and that village communities should be directly involved in the research work.
2.3.3 Impact of the time horizon on priorities
Ferry (90) pointed out the importance of considering the time perspective when discussing priorities in the research agenda, as new varieties (GM or not) might not be considered necessary for reducing the number of poor by the year 2015 but they might be if the time horizon was extended to 2050. He also proposed that research resources for regions with serious hunger problems (such as sub-Saharan African) should be focused on projects providing very quick solutions. Muralidharan (54, 67) also felt that, particularly for developing countries, research funding should go towards meeting short term goals. Collard (24) maintained that with so many food insecure people in the world, research providing short term benefits was essential in agriculture and, since many areas of biotechnology may only provide medium to long term benefits, this research might not involve biotechnology.
Blanchfield (58) felt it was a mistake to try to weigh up short term versus long term goals, as a "balance is needed between the two", so that the serious problems currently facing the poor, requiring short-term solutions, as well as the responsibility to future generations, would be addressed. Muir (104), supported by Murti (109) and Heisey (110), maintained that short term solutions for poverty were not to be found in biology (or biotechnology) but in the economics and politics of the region involved, thus "there is no silver bullet such as biotechnology that is going to stop poverty - that requires a consistent and focused political structure to provide the infrastructure necessary to succeed". Infante (107) agreed with Muir (104) that the solution to poverty was social and not technological, and underlined the importance of education. Murti (109) highlighted the problems of building policy in this area when policy-makers are "scientifically illiterate" and scientists "politically clueless".
2.4 Focusing research towards the small farmer
Throughout the conference, participants placed special emphasis on the situation and needs of the small farmers in developing countries and the potential impact that biotechnology research could have on their lives. Thus, in the first message of the conference, Altieri (1) emphasised that "an estimated 850 million people live on land threatened by desertification. Another 500 million reside on terrain that is too steep to cultivate. Because of those and other limitations, about two billion people have been untouched by modern agricultural science. Most of the rural poor live in the tropics, a region that is the most vulnerable to the effects of global warming".
2.4.1 The needs of the small farmer
Izquierdo (19) highlighted traits important for small farmers in marginal areas, such as tolerance to drought, salinity, soil pH, pest resistance, food or fodder quality and post harvest keeping quality. Mayer (66), like Datta (36), underlined the importance of improved seed for the small farmer and argued that "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". Sharry (71) agreed, arguing that in her country, Argentina, GM crops could help in some special situations. Badr (78) noted that the needs of small farmers differ from one country to another and gave examples of the problems facing small farmers in her country, Egypt, such as high costs and fluctuations in market prices. She wrote (82) that in Egypt, small farmers want increased yields and income by applying biotechnology research, provided it is safe. Verzola (11) said the small farmers he works with in the Philippines need and want more research on organic, chemical-free agriculture. Ouf (115) maintained that small farmers need high-producing varieties tolerant to different environmental stresses.
Altieri (94) provided a list of eight topics that he thought would emerge in the research agenda if defined jointly with small farmers from developing countries, namely improved understanding of marginal agroecosystems; selection of local varieties that deliver stable yields in the face of environmental stress; technologies for water harvesting and drought management; small-scale, community-managed irrigation and water-conservation systems; more diversified, less risky and productive farming systems; synergetic, diversified and less risky cropping and crop-livestock systems providing more stable yields; productive and sustainable agroforestry alternatives to shifting cultivation and, finally, sustainable income- and employment-generating exploitation of forest, fisheries and natural resources, as well as research on land reform, access to local markets, etc. Based on his long experience with low-income rural families in India, Nazareth (46) listed the main causes (14 in total) of nutritional insecurity for rain fed, irrigated and urban areas and suggested that agricultural research systems should look at them and evaluate current agricultural biotechnologies "to see how much they are part of the problem and to what extent they can be solutions".
2.4.2 Whether biotechnology research can help the small farmer
Although there were clear differences of opinion about genetic modification, there seemed to be general agreement (e.g. Ashton, 102) that specific non-GMO biotechnologies and biotechnology research could help small farmers.
Ashton (102) suggested that countries should follow the example of Zimbabwe where an independent biotechnology trust investigated problems among smallholder farmers that might be addressed by biotechnology. It identified no problems that could be mitigated by use of GM crops. He suggested that GM crops do not aim to meet the needs of small farmers because they are directed towards intensive, industrial farming, a point also made by Ferry (18). Verzola (20) warned that farmers from developing countries who invest in GM crops would feel "the full brunt of reduced GM crop prices and market rejection", as there were no subsidy programmes for farmers. Altieri (42) stated that major peasant movements worldwide reject GMOs and "corporate control of biotechnology". Muralidharan (6) felt, however, that "poor-farmer biotechnology" could start with nutritional improvement of a staple food crop using genetic modification, as this would clearly illustrate benefits of the technology. Halos (14) described the conditions of small farmers in the Philippines, suggesting that GMOs might be important for them in some situations e.g. increasing their incomes by reducing crop losses due to pests or diseases.
Ashton (102) suggested that other biotechnologies, such as tissue culture or marker assisted selection, might successfully address the needs of small farmers. Badr (82) felt that biotechnology research to help small farmers should involve research to increase yields, preferably through small quick projects that could be run by women farmers at home, mentioning (114), in particular, the benefits of micropropagation. Looking at the past, Ferry (32) argued, however, that most high yielding varieties produced by the "green revolution" had been mainly useful to farmers with access to water resources and money to buy fertilisers and pesticides. In reply, Reece (34) accepted that bigger farmers had been the first to benefit from the new varieties, but argued there was evidence to suggest that smaller farmers also eventually increased their incomes by means of the new varieties.
Muralidharan (55) felt that the scarce public funds available should support research to improve and implement "modern, but relatively conventional, agricultural practices" (such as post-harvest protection, storage and equitably distributing food grains) that have a better chance of reaching poor farmers. Muhunthan (122) suggested that the "biovillage concept" could be important for small farmers, where the term "biovillage" is used to denote "the integration of biotechnology with the best in traditional techniques, in a manner that the livelihood security of rural people can be upgraded ecologically and economically". Scanlan (80) advocated the potential benefits of biotechnology research for small farmers in the context of conservation agriculture and other sustainable practices.
Many participants, including Badr (60), felt that any research agenda should be accompanied by training and education for farmers. Kambikambi (50) felt that in some countries, small farmers were not able to make informed decisions about biotechnology because of poor understanding of the subject. Badr (60) also felt that by seeing new technologies applied successfully in field experiments, small farmers would then try to use them. Herbert (99) argued that in rural Africa, where livestock serve as stores of cash, small farmers would accept reproductive technologies in the livestock sector if they were involved in development of the technologies.
2.5 National, regional and international research collaborations
Cooperation, cooperation, cooperation!!! With constraints in national research budgets, participants emphasised the importance of increased cooperation between researchers and research organisations, both within and between countries.
2.5.1 Research at the national and regional level
A point made in the Background Document was that there are large differences between developing countries with respect to biotechnology capacity and financial/human investments in biotechnology research. A small number of countries, such as Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa, have well-developed biotechnology programmes. The majority have, however, relatively weak biotechnology capacity and very limited research resources. In this situation, there was strong support from participants for regional research initiatives. For example, Bhatia (53) claimed that NARS in most countries have very little of the expertise and infrastructure needed for advanced biotechnology research (a point also highlighted by Nwalozie (47)), and emphasised, therefore, the need for active collaborations between individuals, departments and institutions.
Mayer (6) advocated fostering regional collaborations based on strong NARS and international agricultural research centres (IARCs), and that major donors and advanced research institutes (ARIs) should also be involved. Traoré (39) argued that NARS in developing countries, in addition to other areas, needed to tackle some strategic issues in biotechnology research, focusing on the special needs of developing countries, and that this would help their scientific partners (including IARCs) to give more focus to pro-poor biotechnology research. He encouraged international cooperation on biotechnology research to complement the individual national or sub-regional research agendas and said that in the African region, the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), in conjunction with the sub-regional organisations, would play an important catalytic role in this. Muralidharan (6) admitted that, individually, NARS were no match for large corporate firms but emphasised that, collectively, they would have many advantages, such as their ability to focus on specific poor-farmer oriented technologies.
Nwalozie (47) informed participants about the existence of regional and sub-regional research organisations for developing countries, with the sub-regional organisations composed of NARS as the building blocks. He described the long consensus-seeking process by which strategic plans for agricultural research cooperation had been drawn up for the West and Central Africa sub-region, from which biotechnology was identified as a key tool. Given the definition of regional priorities and the expensive nature of biotechnology, he concluded that "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". Rajmohan (84) also argued that prioritisation of the research objectives should be made at the regional, rather than the national, level and highlighted the importance of regional cooperation between biotechnology research institutions, something he said was often missing.
Muhunthan (121) acknowledged that sub-regional and regional collaboration was very important, but felt that objectives for biotechnology research should be first prioritised at the national level within NARS and that a body should monitor research within the country to avoid duplication of research efforts, a problem also mentioned by other participants (e.g. Abdel-Mawgood, 108). For a small country like Sri Lanka, he suggested there was a lot to be gained from collaborating with "regional biotechnology giants", such as India. Ashton (102) also favoured a regional approach, proposing that "the limited resources available for agricultural research should therefore be regionally pooled and examine the simplest, most practical and preferably previously proven and tested technologies used in similar climatological, infrastructurally-deficient regions".
2.5.2 Collaborations involving NARS, IARCs, developed country research institutions and the private sector
International collaboration was generally seen in a very positive light, in particular collaboration involving different public sector institutes. Some participants, however, urged caution concerning public-private sector research collaborations.
Herbert (99) felt that cooperation between scientists in the North and South should continue as it was yielding good fruits, a point also emphasised by Abdel-Mawgood (108) who said that from his own experience, "the most successful work is that involving collaborative research projects with scientists from the developed world. So I am suggesting that developing countries set up agendas for their priorities and find an expertise from the developed world in that area of research to benefit from his/her experience, to speed up the research and hasten benefit from the technology".
Hong (101) emphasised that biotechnology research must be strategically planned and government supported, with the active participation of the private sector. Rajmohan (84) welcomed international collaboration and said that it was essential, particularly for human resource development and establishment of facilities, as was cooperation between public and private sector institutes within a country. The importance of training human resources in biotechnology was underlined by several participants. For example, Murphy (106) noted its importance for enabling informed decisions to be made on the allocation of scarce research and development resources, while Dhlamini (105) maintained "capacity building and the ability to retain trained personnel is central to the adoption and utilisation of biotechnology in developing countries".
Some participants, however, expressed reservations about public-private sector biotechnology research collaborations for developing countries and urged increased investments in public sector biotechnology research as an alternative. For example, Muralidharan (6) felt that as private companies had a vested interest in developing technology/products that maximized their profit, this might often go against the interests of farmers in developing countries. Verzola (116) cautioned CGIAR institutes from opening themselves up to "greater corporate influence". Traoré (39) was also sceptical about the private sector properly addressing a pro-poor research agenda, and argued that the only alternative to this was 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". Similarly, Dhlamini (105) felt that "over-dependency on the donor community and private sector should be discouraged" as "different donors have different objectives and priorities and, in most cases, these are not in line with the critical needs of the recipient countries". He therefore urged increased public sector financing of applied biotechnology activities. Immonen (30) also emphasised the public sector's role, when she called for publicly funded genomics research, involving developing country NARS, IARCs and universities, noting the several advantages the public sector had for engaging in such research. Muralidharan (55) also argued that publicly funded GMO research, unlike that of the private sector, could ensure that crop varieties strategically important for developing countries were included in the research priorities.
Morris (37), however, urged public funding bodies to "develop a mindset that encourages the growth of real wealth creating activities in the developing world", arguing that publicly funded research often "does not lead to the development of true globally competitive research capacity in the developing world, and is often not self sustaining because IPR may not be retained by the organization undertaking the research".
A number of participants underlined the role that international organisations, such as FAO, should have in this area, in: supporting development of infrastructure for public-good agricultural research (Datta ,74; Murphy, 106); providing knowledge and training to researchers from developing countries (Sabu, 21); assisting dialogue on GMOs (Infante, 17; Reddy, 89); providing access to intellectual property useful to developing countries (Datta, 36 and 74); and providing general support for national agricultural biotechnology (Acikgoz, 38).
2.6 Should developing countries adapt existing biotechnology products and techniques or develop their own?
Participants were divided on the subject of whether developing countries should, or would need to, develop their own biotechnology products or techniques or, alternatively, whether they should rely on adapting the research results from industrialised countries. For example, Nwalozie (31, 47) and Morris (37) felt developing countries should be pro-active about biotechnology development, both referring specifically to their continent, Africa, with Nwalozie (47) maintaining "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!". Kershen (41) supported this stance, maintaining that Africa must invest in biotechnology if it is "to have any future hope of gaining independence from aid, food security, and health security".
Nassar (49) disagreed, saying "why should we developing countries spend hundreds of millions of dollars on research that can be made by developed countries?", proposing instead, like Mayer (66), adaptation of technology developed elsewhere. In a similar vein, Bhatia (53) compared development of GM crops to aircraft construction and asked rhetorically "how many countries have developed their own passenger aircrafts?". Given the high technology level and the long time required to develop a GM crop, he said he personally would seek to import the GM seeds from a private company, although he noted that in some cases (if the technology was unavailable/expensive or if the country wished to invest in capacity building), public funds should be used for local biotechnology development. Martinez (57) disagreed with Nassar (49), arguing that the farmer's vision, goals, needs and capabilities should be considered first and then solutions should be tailored to the farmer's specific set of constraints and goals, something "that won't be achieved by simply importing technology developed for a different population target with different sets of goals and constraints".
Van Asselt (125), arguing that biotechnology research technologies have been developed in close interaction with specific research organisms and are therefore largely "context-dependent", also questioned whether adoption of research results from developed countries was an optimal strategy as the species cultivated in developing countries tended to differ from those used in biotechnology research in developed countries. He therefore supported Franco's (120) call for developing countries to be on the "biotechnology development train". Infante (96) also highlighted that some research problems are specific to developing country agriculture, so developing countries will have to develop the appropriate biotechnology solutions, if they want them.
Willemse (98) noted that most developing countries are net importers of technologies and argued that the need was evident for (a) local adaptation and extension of imported technologies and (b) development and enhancement of new technologies/competencies. In successfully developing the biotechnology sector, he emphasised (98, 103) the importance of the enabling environment for development and application. Rajmohan (84) emphasised the importance of international collaborative efforts, but argued that adoption of already-developed technologies should only be a short term objective and that the ultimate aim for developing countries should be the generation of independent results and products.
Murphy (106) felt it might be better for developing countries to wait a few years before investing in GMO research, arguing that the technology is getting cheaper and simpler, many of the current applications will be superseded in the next 5-10 years and that current technology may then be semi-obsolescent. Immonen (30), on the other hand, suggested that public sector genomics research initiatives, involving developing country NARS, were worthwhile right now, as "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".
2.7 Intellectual property rights and biotechnology research in developing countries
In discussing research collaborations between developed and developing countries, concerns about the impacts of IPR on biotechnology research in developing countries and the private sector's importance in the IPR issue were often raised. For example, Altieri (8) felt an important issue to be addressed was how poorly funded public research institutions would be able to conduct independent, pro-poor biotechnology research "in the midst of existing IPR regimes controlled by MNCs and also given that private sector funding of many public research centers and universities is increasingly biasing the research agenda?". Vazquez (28) also suggested that industrialised nations are advancing patent-like protection and/or plant breeders' rights for plant varieties and that "the introduction of GMOs as well as enforcement of IPR regimes globally can be seen as market expansion by corporations". Sai (15) shared the concerns of Altieri (8) and argued therefore that the public in developing countries should be educated that they should have IPR regimes suitable to their needs. He concluded that there was no need for developing countries to comply with the "dictats of MNCs" and that the WTO's agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) provides them with sufficient flexibility. Sullivan (77) also urged that available options under TRIPS be explored as they could, for example, leave open the possibility for countries to "adopt broad research exemptions to intellectual property infringement, which could be of benefit to developing country agriculture".
Beach (4), Mayer (5) and Young (44) were more optimistic about IPR issues and felt that agreements could be reached to benefit all parties, enabling developing countries to access technology and GM crops yet protecting the commercial interests of MNCs. Sullivan (77) stated that "the issue of proprietary claims to research products will not simply go away" and argued, like Young (44), that proper training of personnel in developing countries is necessary to "develop the capacity and sophistication to deal with modern IPR systems and to negotiate and do business with institutions and companies that hold vitally needed technology". Beach (4) also underlined that scientists in developing countries needed training in IPR and regulatory issues, in addition to knowing how to use the technology.
Mayer (5) also argued that the existence of patents did not mean all doors were closed, as licences at acceptable rates could be obtained, owners of key patents could be lobbied and, finally, patents have a time limit. Immonen (30) also suggested that IPR questions should not be avoided and that many solutions exist, noting that at least "patents are far better for information sharing and negotiation than trade secrets".
For developing countries to circumvent IPR problems, some participants (e.g. Mieschendahl, 29; Immonen, 30) proposed increasing public agricultural research to reduce the reliance on patented inputs from the private sector. For the same reason, Morris (37) proposed that Africa should rapidly engage in all facets of biotechnology development, which would allow it to generate its own intellectual property and solutions.
3. Participation in the conference
A total of 347 people subscribed to the conference and 67 of them (i.e. 19 %) submitted at least one message - the highest numbers of active participants and the highest participation rate of all the ten conferences held so far in the FAO Biotechnology Forum, indicating the high interest that people have in this topic. 58% of messages were from participants living in developing countries and 42% from developed countries.
All continents were represented, with 41 of the 128 messages posted (i.e. 32%) coming from participants living in Asia while the remainder came from Europe (25 messages - 20%), North America (22 messages - 17%), Africa (20 messages - 16%), Latin America and the Caribbean (11 messages - 9%) and Oceania (9 messages - 7%). People sent messages from 29 different countries- the greatest proportion came from the United States (17%), India (16%), The Philippines (9%), Australia (7%) and Egypt (5%), followed by South Africa, Spain and the Netherlands (each with 6 messages - 5%).
The greatest proportion of messages came from people working in research centres or research organisations (35%, including 7 messages from people in CGIAR research centres and its Science Council), which was not unusual given the theme of the conference. There were 32 messages from people in universities (25%), 26 messages from NGOs (20%) and the remainder came from independent consultants (10%), people in government agencies (5%) and FAO (4%).
4. Name and country of participants with referenced messagesAbdel-Mawgood, Ahmed. Saudi Arabia
ARI = Advanced research institute; CGIAR = Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research; FAO = Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; GDP= Gross Domestic Product; GFAR = Global Forum on Agricultural Research; GMO = Genetically modified organism; IARC = International agricultural research centre; IPR = Intellectual property rights; MNC = Multi-national corporation; NARS = National agricultural research systems; NGO = Non-governmental organisation; TRIPS = World Trade Organization agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights
To each and all of the 67 people who submitted messages, a very special thanks.- Published by FAO, 20 February 2004, (Summary Document, Conference 8, http://www.fao.org/biotech/logs/C8/summary.htm)