[For further information on the Electronic Forum on Biotechnology in Food and
Agriculture see the Forum website.
Note, participants are assumed to be speaking on their own behalf, unless they state otherwise.]
Sent: 06 July 2009 10:00
Subject: 89: Forestry - biotechnology - India
This is E.M. Muralidharan from India, again.
I want to draw attention to the subject of biotechnology in forestry which has been largely overlooked in the conference so far. The tropical forests which produce a major share of the timber and other useful biomass are found in some of the poorest of the developing countries. Any benefit resulting from use of technology would have a great impact on the environment and the livelihood of the people. The scenario in India, which has a reasonably strong research infrastructure in biotechnology, but where no appreciable benefits have been realized due to the lack of concerted efforts, is perhaps typical of the developing world.
In spite of a surfeit of lab micropropagation protocols, for almost all of the important tree species in India, there is hardly any example to cite where the technology has been used in the field. I feel this is the result of biotechnologists working in isolation instead of joining forces with the practicing forest managers viz. the State Forest Departments. In the few instances where large scale micropropagation of a forestry species has been undertaken, it has been with insufficient scientific backing. It is a case of overkill when micropropagation is used to mass multiply trees that have undergone only a cursory round of selection and has not been adequately tested. To add to the woes there is this wrong perception, that many farmers and professionals have, that micropropagated plants are inherently superior to conventional propagules.
A good example is that of bamboo micropropagation that has caught the fancy of the industry in India, since the National Bamboo Mission was set up to promote cultivation and industrial utilization of bamboo. It should have been apparent to the participating agencies that without a proper selection of the mother plants of proven superiority, micropropagation will have no great advantage over plantlets raised from seed. Yet, tissue culture plants are being sold at exorbitant prices to government agencies and farmers. The only beneficiaries therefore are the companies who profit from the sales.
Another example is that of teak, the most important and widely planted of timber species. Almost three decades after achieving a breakthrough (in one of the earliest examples of cloning of a mature tree, teak was first cloned at the National Chemical Laboratory (NCL), Pune, India), hardly any inroads have been made to integrate the technique into forestry practices. Micropropagated plantlets could be used in establishing clonal seed orchards instead of the conventional grafts which appear to be unsuitable. Multi-locational testing of clones could result in quick deployment of superior clones for improving productivity albeit as a short term measure.
There has been increasing use of molecular markers in studying the provenances and the breeding behavior of some of the important tree species of India but here too there is no assimilation of the results into an ongoing breeding programme. Marker-assisted selection and identification of quantitative trait loci has great potential for improvement of forestry crops, where a big hurdle is the typically long life cycle and our poor understanding of the genetics.
I am aware that there are instances in other countries where notable improvement in productivity has been achieved using biotechnology. One such venture involved the judicious use of micropropagation and molecular markers for clonal forestry with superior teak in Malaysia (Goh et al., 2007).
Dr. E.M. Muralidharan
Kerala Forest Research Institute
Email: emmurali (at) gmail.com
[Some additional information on the case mentioned at the end here of teak clones in Malaysia is available at http://www.cirad.fr/en/actualite/communique.php?id=795. The Goh et al (2007) reference is available on the web at http://bft.revuesonline.com/gratuit/BFT_293_65-77.pdf (2.7 MB) and its abstract reads "The attractiveness of teak clones that can be planted either as monocultures or in combination with other crops is becoming more and more obvious in various countries. However, quality control of the planting material is essential for ensuring the reliability and future of teak clonal forestry. Development of quality control on the various aspects of teak clone production is being undertaken in Sabah [in Malaysia]. Refining the initial phenotypic selection of the candidate plus trees by taking into account economically-important wood characteristics, combined with appropriate clone testing are aimed at identifying superior clones. Conjointly, the development of reliable DNA markers can be used for identifying the genetic background and the possible relatedness of the candidate genotypes for wise clonal deployment. It is also a means of controlling the genotypic conformity of the mass-produced clones while at the same time, ascertaining property rights associated with their involvement in commercial transactions. Quality control is also applied to the successive steps of mass clonal propagation, from the introduction phase to in vitro conditions where meristem culture is preferable to nodal culture, up to the ex-vitro rooting and acclimatization of the microshoots. The further steps of nursery cultivation and field behavior of clones are then further monitored in order to optimize the quality of the plant material offered to clients. Proper packing and conditioning of microshoots for overseas shipment and delivery in the shortest delays to foreign countries are also crucial issues for preserving the quality of the plants"...Moderator].
Sent: 06 July 2009 10:50
Subject: 90: Re: Status of commercial tissue culture in india
This is P.K. Gupta again (see my message nr. 2).
I have read Message 87 by Dinesh Kumar with interest. However, I was looking for further details on the internet, but failed. I noticed some discrepancies also between this message and the published literature. A report published in 1997 (by S. Govil and S.C. Gupta) estimated that in 1996, the Indian micropropagation industry reached a level of 190 million plants annually. I was expecting that this must have gone up several fold during the last 13 years. In contrast, Dinesh Kumar reports "Currently there are about 300 TC labs operating in India, producing over 135 million plants". This number of 135 million plants hopefully should be annual production by these 300 TC labs, making it less than 450,000 plants per TC laboratory. Has the production gone down during the last 13 years?. If not, the readers may like to know the details about the growth of micropropagation industry and the demand in India and elsewhere.
Professor P.K. Gupta
Honorary Emeritus Professor and INSA Senior Scientist
Choudhury Charan Singh University (Meerut University)
e-mail : pkgupta36 (at) gmail.com
Sent: 06 July 2009 10:51
Subject: 91: Re: Status of commercial tissue culture in india
This is from Dr. Shashi Bhushan, scientist at the Institute of Himalayan Bioresource Technology (CSIR), India.
In continuation to Dinesh Kumar's comments (Message 87), I would like to highlight the role of scientific institutes like the Institute of Himalayan Bioresource Technology (IHBT), those provided the Research and Development support to private players. Institute is providing complete base to the entrepreneurs from lay-out to establishment of tissue culture lab, commercial production and even helping them to locate the market. This lab is also recognized by the Department of Biotechnology, New Delhi, India for accreditation of tissue culture raised plants. Hence, IHBT is playing a very big role in building-up national capacity for production of quality planting material and conservation of endangered Himalayan bioresources. Also, a lot of work is going on to produce commercially important secondary metabolites through plant cell culture technology.
Dr. Shashi Bhushan,
Division of Biotechnology,
Institute of Himalayan Bioresource Technology (CSIR),
shashidbhushan (at) yahoo.co.in
Sent: 06 July 2009 10:52
Subject: 92: Re: Status of commercial tissue culture in India
This is from Partha P Banerjee, India, again.
Message 87 on the status of commercial micropropagation in India was informative and I convey my thanks to Dinesh Kumar. I feel tissue culture is a form of clonal multiplication and it is utilized for the same purpose by many organizations. However, an excellent application of tissue culture, interesting to the plant breeders, may be of interest. That is 'somaclonal' variation. Some good experiments have been conducted on these aspects but the potential of this approach is still in the juvenile stage. It can be utilized more for the generation of novel variation, i.e. stress both biotic and abiotic tolerance. There are some good examples in banana, tomato, barley and some other crops too. However, it should be utilized in a greater way.
Partha P Banerjee, PhD
Scientist Corn Breeding
Hytech Seed India Pvt. Ltd.
parthabanerjee (at) aol.in
Cell: +91 9849100026
Sent: 06 July 2009 11:03
Subject: 93: Re: The pursuit of academic butterflies
This is Eduardo Trigo again. This time not about Argentina, but on the messages on 'the pursuit of academic butterflies'.
I think that I agree with some of the points made, but I am not sure that the idea that public sector people is evolving towards the basic end of the research spectrum and away from more applied, problem solving efforts, reflects reality. In any case, my feeling is that going after whether an effort is basic or applied is not very fruitful, when you look at success stories you came to the conclusion that most have components of both, there are times for upstream and times for downstream and, in the end, there is only 'good' and 'bad' research. Just as biotech and conventional breeding are complementary - a point well made in the messages - basic and applied also go together. Furthermore, going through the list of the messages in this e-conference, you find that what has emerged seems to point out that there is a lot of work on applications that hardly can be labeled as 'basic'. My experience in national agricultural research systems (NARS) in the Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) region and in my own country is that the bulk is on problem solving. To get there, researchers have to better understand the new technologies and get deeper into issues than they did before, and that is rendering a lot more of publications that may sound like basic when they are reflecting only the natural cycle of the incorporation of the new kits of tools to their activities.
I also think that the private sector is having a greater profile because many of the downstream activities - intellectual property rights, biosafety - are very difficult to handle by the public sector institutions. In most cases, they have neither the management capacities nor the resources to get down to handling the patenting processes of the biosafety deregulation by themselves, so they end up getting into agreements with private companies for them to handle those stages. This is also preventing them from getting into many of the lesser crops. Biotechnological approaches require longer maturation and are more complex to manage in their downstream stages and this translates into investments needs, and this is the weaker link in the system. Let it be genetic engineering or marker technologies, we are in front of greater investment requirements. David Jordan (Message 83) clearly highlights this in his four points for marker technologies to be able to work. Without appropriate, and intelligent, investment, there is a no go, and I think that this should be a key point in the agenda for the FAO international conference on agricultural biotechnologies in developing countries (ABDC-09). Staying out of the use of the new technologies, strengthening conventional breeding alone, is not the solution, even when we accept that there is still a lot to be achieved through conventional breeding. The fact is that molecular biology applications are the way of the future to make breeding more efficient and effective and we should push in that direction, otherwise we will be making still greater an already unacceptable gap between national systems around the world.
Eduardo J. Trigo
Director, Grupo CEO SA
trigoej (at) gmail.com
Sent: 06 July 2009 11:12
Subject: 94: Cuba - success/failure
My name is Luis Placido Ortega Izquierdo. I am a Master in Biophysics working in agriculture for more the 20 years. I am actually now working as president of the Asociacion Cubana de Tecnicos Agricolas y Forestales (Cuban Association of Agricultural and Forestry Technicians) in Havana Province, an NGO that promotes the Cuban agricultural development over sustainable and agro-ecological basis.
I am very pleased with this fao e-mail conference, and valuate it as very interesting, and consider that all this information could help us in the process of discussion we are promoting about agricultural biotechnology. For the most part of the messages, it is clear that it is not very wise to talk about "general" success or failure, but each experience in particular should be analyzed in the local context. I would like to point out also that biotechnology should be appreciate as another tool in the system of agricultural production and must seek for and integration with well established and "proved" successful techniques. Furthermore, it is important to evaluate all the great amount of variables that can help the success or failure of each introduction (as farm scale production, farmers education, government support, information, regulations, etc, etc).
Luis Placido Ortega Izquierdo, MSc.
Asociacion Cubana de Tecnicos Agricolas y Forestales (ACTAF)
email: cpasandino (at) sih.cu
Tel 53 047 423086
Add: Carr. El Grabiel. Km 2 1/2.
Guira de Melena La Habana Cuba
Sent: 06 July 2009 11:27
Subject: 95: GM crops in developing countries
I am K.Z. Ahmed, Professor of Genetics; President, African Crop Science Society (www.acss.ws); Director of Minia Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, Faculty of Agriculture, Minia University, El-Minia, Egypt, National Correspondent of FAO-BioDeC and Member of the Arab Science Journalists Association.
In 2008, the global hectarage of GM crops continued to grow strongly reaching 125 million hectares. While 25 countries (among them 15 are developing countries) planted commercialized biotech crops in 2008, an additional 30 countries, totaling 55, have granted regulatory approvals for GM crops for import for food and feed use and for release into the environment since 1996. The five principal developing countries committed to biotech crops, span all three continents of the South; they are India and China in Asia, Argentina and Brazil in Latin America and South Africa on the African continent. Collectively they represent 2.6 billion people or 40% of the global population, with a combined population of 1.3 billion who are completely dependent on agriculture, including millions of small and resource poor farmers and the rural landless, who represent the majority of the poor in the world.
Africa is home to over 900 million people representing 14% of the world population and is the only continent in the world where food production per capita is decreasing and where hunger and malnutrition afflicts at least one in three Africans. It is noteworthy that two of the three new countries that planted biotech crops for the first time in 2008 were from Africa, the continent with the greatest and most urgent need for crop biotechnology. However, 14 African countries are engaged with GM crops biotechnology research and application (i.e. Egypt, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda, and Zambia). African scientists with foreign partners are genetically modifying more than 30 important African crops (e.g. maize, barley, rice, wheat, sorghum, cotton, soyabean, cassava, yam, tomato, banana).
For the first twelve years of commercialization of biotech crops, 1996 to 2007, South Africa has long been the only country on the African continent to benefit from commercializing biotech crops. Africa is recognized as the continent that represents by far the biggest challenge in terms of adoption and acceptance. Accordingly, the decision in 2008 by Burkina Faso to grow 8,500 hectares of Bt cotton for seed multiplication and initial commercialization and for Egypt to commercialize 700 hectares of Bt maize for the first time was of strategic importance for the African continent.
According to the FAO-BioDeC database 2009, only 4 Arab countries out of 22 (i.e. Egypt, Morocco, Sudan and Tunisia) were conducting GM crops trails, at research lab and/or field test. But only one country (Egypt, the first Arab country) to commercialize 700 hectares of Bt maize last summer of 2008 (as mentioned above). Wheat, maize, barley, potato and canola are most important crops are subjecting for GM traits and application in Arabic countries. [FAO-BioDeC, http://www.fao.org/biotech/inventory_admin/dep/default.asp, is a database providing data on agricultural biotechnologies in use or in the pipeline in developing countries. Launched in 2003 for the crop sector only, it now contains over 4000 entries from the crop and other agricultural sectors of more than 100 countries (end of 2008). The entries come predominantly for the crop and forestry sectors, with less extensive coverage for livestock and fisheries. A detailed description of the database and the kind of information it contains can be found in an FAO publication (http://www.fao.org/docrep/008/y5800e/y5800e00.htm) providing a first analysis of FAO-BioDeC data, as of August 2004...Moderator].
Although GM crops are commercialised in some African and Arab countries, GM crops and food has won discussion and debate and not widely among scientists themselves only, but politicians and decision makers and society in general categories, and still fears of these products and their impact on the health of consumers, environment and socioeconomic systems. To address the potential negative impacts of GM crops, research on the different socio-economic, environmental, health and agronomic issues surrounding GM crops must be done, and an in-depth assessment must be conducted of the country's agricultural food and rural development policies and in particular, how GM plants benefit the poor as well as programmes for awareness about GM crops among the public and farmers in particular must be set up to ensure proper public consultations. African and Arab countries need to promote GM plant research and development and to develop their own GM crops using local technology to protect their small-scale farmers. Biosafety measures in African and Arab countries need to be strengthened by approving the biosafety legislation which has not been presented to Parliament yet in most African and Arab countries.
Kasem Zaki Ahmed, Ph.D.
Professor of Genetics,
President, African Crop Science Society (www.acss.ws)
Director of Minia Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology,
Member, the Arab Science Journalists Association
Faculty of Agriculture,
Telephone and Fax: ++ 20 (86) 2 36 21 82. Cell Phone: ++ 20 12 10 37 50 4
e-mail: ahmed_kz (at) yahoo.com
Sent: 06 July 2009 11:35
Subject: 96: Re: Biotechnologies - Nepal
This is Dhruba Pathak from Nepal, again.
Earlier in Message 65, I have discussed the failure of biotechnology in Nepal mainly due to lack of scholarship for the motivated candidates. However, in this message, I will present the problems associated while doing biotechnology in Nepal.
Nepal's population is heavily based on agriculture. Only 20% are employed in academics and research. The system in Nepal to encourage young Nepalese biotechnologists who come out from this small segment of (20%) population has not been taken seriously. It is due to the reason that the allocation of budget by government for development of science is not satisfactory. As the result of which, the government is not in a position to hire more research scholars and offer projects which are signature for contributing to development of science (in particular biotechnology).
Another associated problem is that shifting from traditional occupation of farming to the modern technology needs time to adopt. On the other hand, testing of any product that is suitable in one country doesn't necessarily mean that it will fit in each and every context. For example, the diversity of land in Nepal (ranges from 500m above sea level to 5555 m) needs obviously broad research and versatility of biotechnology services depending on context of climate.
Unfortunately, towards this end, there has not been any establishment of industry which can produce simply the chemicals/reagents needed for development of biotechnology. It means that investment in these sectors in Nepal is still in a rudimentary state. As a result of which, research in biotechnology has to pay a high price if one desires to give a start kick.
PhD student in Neuroscience
School of Biology
University of Belgrade
Email: pathakdhruba (at) gmail.com
Sent: 06 July 2009 15:18
Subject: 97: Biotechnology - Pastoralist communities - Uganda
My name is Thomas Loquang. I hail from the pastoralist Karimojong community of Karamoja sub-region, in North-East Uganda.
Pastoralists' communities have over millennia used several biotechnology processes mainly in indigenous food processing.
Milk is one of the main food items for the pastoralists. For the process of ghee/butter making, pastoralists worldwide use the age-old technique of fermenting milk over 12-24 hours [by chance bacteria], and then churning it in gourds to obtain ghee. Ghee is very important in the pastoralists' livelihoods; including its use in various pastoralists' dishes, rituals/ceremonies, body cream and preservative for diverse leather, wooden, earthen and metallic goods.
Pastoralists also use certain plant derivatives to preserve the freshness of milk, albeit only for a short period [about 12 hours]; and also others for longer periods. Ghee and fermented milk are also important commodities of trade in pastoralists' areas. Since these techniques have sustained the livelihoods of the pastoralists's for generations, it is only fair to say that their traditional methods/practices have been successful. Lessons learnt from these techniques could be used to study the preservation properties of plant derivatives used in preserving fresh milk; this is open for further investigations and improvement.
Traditional brewing is also another common process that agro-pastoralists use by applying traditional biotechnology knowledge. Grain is moistened and allowed to ferment for two days by chance bacteria; the grain that would have germinated is then dried and ground. The ground flour is the yeast used in local brewing. The beer has to be brewed daily as it has short shelf life. Local beer is a favourite beverage among the agro-pastoralist communities, especially in the absence of factory manufactured beer. It is a partial success at the point of view of the producers and consumers; as it is an agreeable commercial product that forms a significant part of the informal trade among less affluent communities. There is the need to improve this production technique as the traditional brewing is crude and is reportedly illegal in many countries.
Artificial insemination (AI) was introduced in Uganda about two decades ago. However the import of animal semen into the country was banned in 1997 following the outbreak of mad cow disease. The ban was lifted last year thus ensuring the continuation of the practice of livestock production through AI; albeit other challenges, including inadequate equipment and inputs - due to prohibitive costs. AI has made significant contributions to the livestock industry in Uganda as it contributes to the production of livestock for milk, sale on the hoof and/or slaughter for beef. Together with the emerging milk processing industry, many jobs have as such been created - which indeed contribute to income and food security.
Whereas AI is practiced in almost all parts of Uganda, the conspicuous exception is Karamoja; a pastoralists region in North-East Uganda where the technology could not take off. First, the mobile livelihood of the pastoralists offered an excuse for the service providers not to introduce AI in Karamoja. The harsh climate is also a discouraging factor due to uncertainties of adaptability of offspring. Furthermore, the process of AI itself, as it involves artificial physical introduction of semen to the female animal's birth canal is a taboo among Karimojong communities, is to them tantamount to bestiality. I would nevertheless justify an assessment of partial success of AI in Uganda.
Banana is a major food crop in Uganda and neighbouring countries. Banana planting material production by tissue culture is rapidly gaining ground in Uganda, since its introduction at the turn of this century. However I first encountered this technology during my undergraduate studies at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) in Kenya in 2002. While at JKUAT, I observed that there was a very large demand for not only banana plantlets but also for the banana fruit that was produced at the campus and sold to the public. However, I left some unsecured questions as I completed my studies at JKUAT: The banana taste and texture were slightly but significantly different from the banana produced naturally [conventionally]. The external colour of the banana fruit was somewhat exaggerated. Well, these disparities might have been due to the diverse genetic properties of the mother plant [source of initial tissue] and/or environmental factors. These observations are nevertheless open for further investigations. It is noteworthy that the banana wilt and weevils have been a threat to banana production in Uganda during the last few years. The option of replenishing banana plantations with clean planting material has helped to alleviate the named pests' threat. I consider tissue culture as a technique for producing banana plating material a success, because of the following reasons: Rapid production of many plantlets [under sterile conditions], which translates into a lot of clean planting material that boosts food and income security.
Bt cotton is among the biotechnology endeavours that is under trials in Uganda with the support of donor community with the objective of producing pest resistant cotton. Time will tell, the success [and or failure] of this effort.
Thomas M. Loquang
KISUP ATEKER - LIFE Network
P.O. BOX 26459
TEL +256 782 154 494 / +256 752 154 494
FAX c/o Lily Nakiru; +256 312 242 500
Email: aatomloquang (at) yahoo.com
Sent: 06 July 2009 15:49
Subject: 98: Malawi - YY male tilapia
My name is Hastings Zidana, working at the Malawi National Aquaculture Centre researching on Fish Breeding and Genetics. The aim is to domestic and commercialise indigenous cichlids fish from Lake Malawi into fish farming. Mainly we are working with subsistence farmers though with very few numbers of commercial farmers as well.
The main species of production is a cichlid species Tilapia. The system used is mixed sex which affects the growth and reduce the production tonnage of the farmers greatly. We embarked on the YY male production using manuals from BFAR (the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources of the Phillipines Department of Agriculture) and GIFT (Genetically Improved Farmed Tilapia) from Phillipines as well. This was to get information on procedure and culture methods respectively.
We managed to produce the YY males for our own indigenous tilapias and growth rates were of much improved standards as compared to mixed sex production. This program is of fundamental importance to the rural farmers in developing countries who rely on tilapia as a source of their protein with figures reaching 70% datum.
This program was a success on the technical part but lacked continuity due to some logistic problems.
The problems encountered were on purchasing of hormones. We could not get them locally produced or within the region so we had to order them from some Asian countries which sky rocketted our production figures heavily.
We could not manage to get collaborators within or outside the region so that we could have support on cost and expertise to support the production and sustain the program.
The farmers are back producing the mixed sex system which we know is not profitable at all.
Most of the time, a success in fish farming business depends on quality seed and management. So if we are talking about biotechnolgy aimed at improving the lives of the people on our global village, then we need good coordination and back up system to support the technologies which have been produced out there and have proved to be profitable already.
Do we need a list of biotechnologies and expertise willing to volounteer on sharing information and expertise? Is there any intention of transferring these biotechnologies deliberately to those in need? Do we have a situation analysis world map showing where biotechnologies are being produced or expertise is available and where it is needed most?
Malawi National Aquaculture Centre
P.O. Box 44
hzidana2004 (at) yahoo.co.uk
[Development of monosex (single sex) populations was covered very briefly in Section 2.6.3 of the Background Document. Further information is also available on pages 146-146 at http://www.fao.org/DOCREP/003/AB412E/ab412e03.htm which begins: "Various strategies utilizing sex reversal and breeding, progeny testing, gynogenesis and androgenesis can lead to the development of predominantly, or completely, male or female populations, or a 'super-male' genotype (YY). The primary aim is to take advantage of sexually dimorphic characteristics (including flesh quality), control reproduction or prevent establishment of exotic species. All female populations have been successfully developed for salmonids, carps and tilapias. Populations of super males (i.e. fish with two rather than one Y chromosome) have been established for Nile tilapia, salmonids and marginally, for channel catfish"...Moderator]
Sent: 06 July 2009 17:10
Subject: 99: Training of biotechnologists in Africa
I am Eric Danquah, Professor of Genetics and Director, West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement, University of Ghana.
In 1989, I participated in the symposium on Plant Biotechnology for Developing Countries, organized by FAO and the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) in Luxembourg on 26-30 June 1989. There, we were optimistic that the new technologies would facilitate progress in not only crop improvement and food production but also the environment in general. Several years on, I dare say that the biotechnologies have not impacted positively in many areas in agriculture leaving sub-Saharan Africa in a very sorry situation in the context of food security. The need for a re-think of strategy for the application of biotechnologies in the area of plant breeding is very urgent. If there is one area that needs attention to bring about the biotechnology revolution that we seek I would say it is education, education, education.
First, we have to go back to basics and develop not only the post-graduate schools in sub-Saharan Africa but the entire plant science programmes in institutions of higher learning. Today, a number of universities in Africa are struggling and many cannot run a good practical class for science students and many people graduate without the necessary skills to confront the challenges of any workplace. It's important for us to recognize that many of these half-baked students are those who end up in higher offices, some as politicians who never appreciate the application of science to development.
Second, the need for close collaboration between research institutions and universities in sub-Saharan Africa is urgent. A few weeks ago, I found myself on a review panel of a multi-million dollar project being executed by the main agricultural research organization in Ghana and was surprised to see that none of the projects aimed at developing the crops that feed us involved other local institutions including the universities. Unquestionably, this cannot bring about the kind of green revolution that we yearn for. The consequence of such non-collaboration is that we tend to replicate work which limits progress. Additionally, we fail to use the expertise available in a country to solve problems.
Third is the need for advocacy to ensure that all governments in sub-Saharan Africa are taking the necessary measures to develop and implement the policies critical for development. I am aware that most countries in the sub-region do not have science policies left alone policies on biotechnology. We need to move quickly in the area of policy to ensure that we are all back to the drawing board and thinking about the next steps. The UN, FAO, and all regional and sub-regional organizations need to place policy development high on the agenda.
Finally, I would argue that until we establish sub-regional Centres of Excellence and Innovation with hubs in every country, we may never see light at the end of the tunnel. For me the place to train the next generation of African biotechnologists is in Africa itself. We cannot afford to promote brain drain by sending our outstanding scholars to train in world class institutions abroad. We need to develop the world class institutions in sub-Saharan Africa through investment, commitment, hard work, and collaborations and train the next generation of biotechnologists in sub-Saharan Africa on Africa problems.
We need to develop the products that will address our food security problems locally and this will have to be done by the African scientists themselves and in Africa. Of course, the need for collaborations that will allow us to fast-track progress cannot be overemphasized.
West Africa Centre for Crop Improvement
University of Ghana
Tel: +233 21 520609 (Office), +233 21 632088 (Cell)
Fax: +233 21 520604
edanquah (at) wacci.edu.gh
Sent: 06 July 2009 17:32
Subject: 100: Recurring themes of this e-conference
This is Denis Murphy, UK again (see message 80).
Some of the recurring themes of this e-conference include:
1. Lack of collaboration/interaction between breeders and molecular biologists (Message 2 by P.K. Gupta)
2. Lack of facilities/coordination in the South for biotech Research and Development (R and D) and a 'brain drain' to the North and/or away from practical R and D (Messages 8, 9, 21, 29, 30, 33, 36, 44, 48, 62, 65)
3. Lack of capacity for indigenous development of agricultural biotechnology in the South (Messages 6, 18, 23, 42, 54, 76)
These themes are all closely linked and emphasise the continuing interdependence of countries in the North and South for scientific progress.
Theme 1 also applies to the North to some extent, but I get the impression it is much more serious in the South, possibly due to the more recent development/introduction of some biotechnologies there. My own work in Malaysia has highlighted this lack of collaboration/interaction and it needs to be addressed by improved education of agricultural science graduates in ways that emphasise the unity of the discipline and especially the role of biotechnology as the servant of breeders and agronomists rather than their master.
Theme 2 is very difficult to address because many biotechnology methods are still expensive and require high levels of both equipment and expertise that may be beyond the reach of some countries, especially where infrastructure may be unreliable (e.g. power cuts [Message 30 by Walter Ajambang]). To some extent CGIAR (Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research) regional centres are already doing a great job filling this gap. Further development of these and other transnational Research and Development centres, focussed very much on practical agriculture in their respective regions, may be a way forward (Messages 68, 83, 84). It may be unrealistic for each nation, however small, to fund its own agricultural research program but rather to collaborate with neighbouring countries and also with Northern centres. The latter should definitely be doing more practically focused outreach Research and Development in collaboration with credible partners in the South (Messages 31 and 43).
The brain drain is real but need not be catastrophic. I am sure many of us have been inspired by the award of the 2009 World Food Prize to Gabisa Ejeta in recognition of his achievements in improving the prospects of African sorghum farmers by developing a series of hybrid varieties. Ejeta is a graduate of Haramaya University in Ethiopia who worked in Sudan on drought-tolerant hybrids in the 1980s. He then moved to the USA where he used germplasm he had produced in Niger and Sudan to develop elite inbred lines of sorghum at Purdue University to generate commercial sorghum hybrids for the US and international markets. However, perhaps the most important sorghum hybrids were the Striga-tolerant forms developed in the 1990s and widely disseminated in Africa after 2002-2003. Ejeta and colleagues used a broadly based research approach involving molecular genetics, biochemistry, and agronomy to identify genes for Striga resistance, which were then introgressed into both locally adapted and more modern sorghum varieties. Finally, an integrated Striga management system has been developed that has further increased sorghum productivity through a combination of weed resistance, soil-fertility enhancement, and water conservation.
The point about this story is that Ejeta did not use Northern facilities and expertise simply to pursue narrow academic work. On the contrary, by retaining his focus on real-life Southern problems, his North/South team has been able to leverage US know-how for the direct benefit of subsistence farmers in Africa.Theme 3 can possibly be addressed by a judicious mixture of:
If genetic engineering, marker-assisted selection etc. are to fulfil their undoubted promise as useful tools for global agriculture, they need to go beyond their largely commercial, private-sector paradigm and reach into the realm of public-good crop/livestock improvement. Ideally, this would involve ownership and development of these and other biotechnologies within the countries and regions in which they are deployed directly for the benefit of indigenous populations.
Finally, a key issue raised by several people is the institutional context that often prevents uptake of good R and D (Message 20 by Jose Falck-Zepeda). Examples include deficiencies in extension services as mentioned above, but also cross sectoral issues such as lack of access to credit, poor transport links, inadequate legislation, bureaucracy (Messages 25 and 79) etc. Many of these issues are generic to several countries and ultimately they can only be addressed within each country. However, by highlighting and disseminating specific examples of best practice to politicians and opinion makers, perhaps we as a community can help empower colleagues to make a difference in their respective countries.
R and D is like a hosepipe - there is little point in filling it with water if the outlet remains blocked!
Professor Denis J Murphy
Head of Biotechnology Unit and Head of Research
Division of Biological Sciences,
University of Glamorgan CF37 1DL,
email: dmurphy2 (at) glam.ac.uk
Sent: 06 July 2009 18:01
Subject: 101: Re: Status of commercial tissue culture in india
This is from Dinesh Kumar, again, General Secretary of the Consortium of Commercial Plant Tissue Culture laboratories (India). I am currently working as General Manager (India operations), M/s Lowes TC Pty ltd. I am in the plant biotech field since 1983 and worked in senior management cadre in well-known biotech laboratories in India.
This is in response to Message 90 by Dr P.K. Gupta.
The figures mentioned in my Message 87 are correct and refer to the current annual production. The report you had quoted must be in reference to the installed capacity. In 1996, the number of commercial labs was far less and almost all of them were in the export business. There were only about 50 labs in India around that time. Most of these were in the large- and medium-scale category, with very few small-scale labs. But currently 50% of the tissue culture labs are in the small-scale category. The total annual production at that time would not have been more than 20 million and there was always a yawning gap between the installed capacity and actual production then.
The global demand for clean and healthy saplings for floriculture industry runs into billions. Safeguarding of breeders' material is of utmost importance, supported by excellent quality and consistency in delivery. The slow growth of the industry could be attributed to these factors.
Please refer to Prakash (2006) for more information.
Dinesh Kumar M A
Consortium of Commercial Plant Tissue Culture Laboratories (India)
12/44, Rajiv Gandhi Nagar
Mobile: +91 953508 7576
Ph. : +91 80 41109273 (O)
e mail: dineshkumar_ma (at) hotmail.com
alternate email: dinesh (at) lowestc.com.au