[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.]

-----Original Message-----
From: Biotech-Mod4
Sent: 09 June 2009 13:39
To: 'biotech-room4@mailserv.fao.org'
Subject: Welcome to the FAO e-mail conference on agricultural biotechnologies

Dear Colleagues,

Welcome to this FAO e-mail conference on "Learning from the past: Successes and failures with agricultural biotechnologies in developing countries over the last 20 years" !!

Messages can be posted to the conference any day up until Sunday 5 July 2009 (send them to biotech-room4@mailserv.fao.org). No messages have yet been posted.

We hope that the conference will be interesting, constructive and beneficial and we encourage you to participate actively. We would like to briefly remind you of some of the main points about the running of the conference:

1. Participants should introduce themselves briefly in their first posting to the conference. They should also provide their full address at the end of the message. When a message is posted, we will replace @ in the e-mail address with (at) because of spamming.

2. Messages should not exceed 600 words

3. People posting messages are assumed to be speaking on their own behalf and not on behalf of their employers (unless they indicate otherwise)

4. The Background Document to the conference, sent by e-mail to members of the FAO Biotechnology Forum on 4 June, sets the scene for the conference and so we strongly encourage you to read it, especially Section 3 (reproduced below) which provides some specific guidance about this conference. The document is available at http://www.fao.org/biotech/C16doc.htm (in HTML) and http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/templates/abdc/documents/forumbd.pdf (in PDF, 102 KB). Contact me if you want to receive the document as text within an e-mail or as a PDF or WORD e-mail attachment.

5. Messages posted in the conference will also be placed on the Forum website, usually with a couple of days delay, at http://www.fao.org/biotech/logs/c16logs.htm

6. No messages will be posted with attachments. If you receive a message during the conference with an e-mail attachment, just delete it without opening the attachment.

7. The conference encompasses applications of many different kinds of biotechnologies, described in Section 2 of the background Document, involving crops, livestock, fish, forest trees and micro-organisms and different areas of application (e.g. for genetic resources management, disease diagnosis/vaccination or genetic improvement) and so brings together people who may have knowledge/experience from one or more of these topics, but not all of them. As terminology is occasionally sector/subject-specific, we ask participants to try and keep this in mind when writing their messages (e.g. giving a brief explanation of any sector-specific technical terms, when first used in the conference).

8. As for all other conferences hosted by this Forum, when finished a document will be prepared to provide a summary of the main arguments and issues discussed during the e-mail conference, based on the messages posted by the participants. The summary document will be put on the Forum website and disseminated as widely as possible.

For those of you who joined the Forum recently, we can tell you that this is the 16th e-mail conference that it has hosted since its launch in the year 2000. All publications, background and summary documents, e-mail messages etc. related to these previous conferences are available on the Forum website - http://www.fao.org/biotech/forum.asp

Finally, we encourage you to tell any potentially interested colleagues or contacts about this conference. A short notice is included below for this purpose.

With our sincere best wishes for a successful conference,


John Ruane, PhD
Moderator, Conference 16
e-mail: mailto:biotech-mod4@fao.org
FAO Biotechnology Forum website http://www.fao.org/biotech/forum.asp
FAO Biotechnology website http://www.fao.org/biotech/index.asp

FAO e-mail conference: Agricultural biotechnologies in developing countries - Learning from the past

From 8 June to 5 July 2009, the FAO Biotechnology Forum is hosting an e-mail conference entitled "Learning from the past: Successes and failures with agricultural biotechnologies in developing countries over the last 20 years". It aims to analyse past experiences of applying different agricultural biotechnologies in the crop, forestry, livestock, fisheries/aquaculture and agro-industry sectors in developing countries; to document and discuss what has, partially or fully, succeeded or failed; and to determine and evaluate the key factors that were responsible for their relative success or failure. It is taking place as part of the build-up to the FAO international technical conference on Agricultural Biotechnologies in Developing Countries (ABDC-09) to be held in Guadalajara, Mexico on 2-5 November 2009. The e-mail conference is open to everyone, is free and will be moderated. To join the FAO Biotechnology Forum (and also register for the e-mail conference), send an e-mail to mailserv@mailserv.fao.org leaving the subject blank and entering the following text on two lines:

subscribe BIOTECH-L
subscribe biotech-room4

People who are already Forum members should leave out the first line of the above message, to register. For more information, including the e-conference background document, see http://www.fao.org/biotech/conf16.htm or contact biotech-mod4@fao.org.


3. Specific Points About This E-mail Conference

The general aim of the e-mail conference is to bring together and discuss relevant, often previously un-documented, past experiences of applying biotechnologies at the field level (i.e. used by farmers for commercial production) in developing countries, ascertain the success or failure (be it partial or total) of their application, and determine and evaluate the key factors that were responsible for their success or failure. The conference does not cover experiences in developed countries.

3.1 Issues to be addressed in the e-mail conference

For any one (or combination) of the biotechnologies described in Section 2, considering its application at the field level in one of the different food and agricultural sectors (crops, livestock, forestry, fishery or agro-industry), in any particular developing country or region, and in any specific time period over the past 20 years:

- provide an overall assessment of the experience of applying the biotechnology i.e. was it a success or failure, partial or full (and provide a justification for this assessment)

- based on this, describe some of the key features that determined its partial or complete success (or failure)

- if possible, indicate how transferable these results might be to other a) developing countries/regions b) biotechnologies and c) food and agricultural sectors

- indicate any lessons that can be drawn from this experience that may be important for applications of agricultural biotechnology in developing countries in the future

3.2 Defining success and failure

When considering a certain situation where a biotechnology was implemented in a specific developing country, sector and time period, and attempting to assess it as a full or partial success (or failure), a number of different aspects can be taken into consideration, such as any potential impacts its application had of a socio-economic, cultural, regulatory, environmental, agro-ecological, nutritional, health and hygiene, consumer interest and perceptions, sustainable livelihoods, equity, technology transfer or food security nature. For example, if we consider the use of a reproductive technology such as artificial insemination in a certain livestock species (e.g. dairy cattle) in a given developing country, some of the factors which might influence whether we would consider it to be a success or failure could include the impact that applying the biotechnology had on:

- milk production (the trait of main interest)

- other traits, such as cow fertility and health, that can be indirectly affected (often negatively) by improvements in milk production

- trade (e.g. did use of the biotechnology result in surpluses that led to creation of new trade opportunities? Alternatively, did its use result in closure of some existing markets, e.g. due to regulatory issues?).

- economic returns to the farmer, considering the increased financial returns from increased milk yields as well as any additional costs from using the biotechnology, such as the cost of inseminating the cow, any additional feed or veterinary bills, etc.

- food security (e.g. was more milk produced, leading to greater food security?)

- equity (e.g. was use of the biotechnology restricted to already-rich farmers or did its use also extend to the more food-insecure smallholders; also who gained from sale of the biotechnology itself ? [e.g. were the AI services provided by a foreign multinational company or by a local farmers co-operative])

- consumer interests (did use of the biotechnology produce a negative consumer reaction, resulting in reduced milk consumption?)

- genetic resources (e.g. if AI was used to cross local females with semen from bulls of developed countries, did it result in erosion of valuable genetic resources in developing countries)

- technical aspects related to applying the biotechnology (e.g. did it work properly, was much training/equipment needed for people to use it?)

- any unexpected impacts of using the biotechnology.

The number of potential factors that could influence the overall assessment of the biotechnology as a success or failure (partial or complete) is therefore quite large and, for a given case, some of the factors might be negative and others positive. Thus, the fact that a certain biotechnology has been used (and maybe continues to be used) does not mean per se that it has been a success, although in certain cases, it may be considered as an indicator of success.

A major hurdle to determining fully whether specific applications of biotechnology have been a success or failure is that there is normally a lack of solid, scientifically sound data and documentation about the impacts of their application on people's livelihoods and their socio-economic conditions etc. (Sonnino et al, 2009). Indeed, one of the aims of this e-mail conference is to try and get a better insight and more information on such areas.

3.3 Covering GM versus non-GM biotechnologies

The conference will be moderated and one of the Moderator's main tasks is to ensure that all of the biotechnologies as well as all of the food and agricultural sectors are adequately covered in the conference. As anyone following this area knows, the topic of genetic modification, and GMOs, is one of major interest and has been the object of a highly polarized debate, particularly concerning GM crops. One of the consequences of this is that the actual impacts and the potential benefits of the many non-GM biotechnologies have tended to be neglected. However, to learn from the past regarding applications of agricultural biotechnologies in developing countries, the entire range of biotechnologies should be considered as there may be many specificities related to any particular biotechnology tool, regarding aspects such as its financial, technical and human capacity requirements, its purpose (e.g. genetic improvement, genetic resources management or disease diagnosis), its potential impacts etc. For this reason, we ask participants to ensure that all the biotechnologies and all the food and agricultural sectors are covered adequately. In addition, regarding GMOs, discussion in the conference should not consider the issues of whether GMOs should or should not be used per se or the attributes, positive or negative, of GMOs themselves. Instead, the goal is to bring together and discuss specific experiences of applying biotechnologies (including genetic modification) in the past in developing countries.

Return to Archives of Conference 16 or go to the main Forum pages. Note: you must join the Forum to participate in these discussions.