[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: 09 July 2009 14:48
Subject: 116: Slow growth for in vitro germplasm conservation - Sri Lanka
This is from Dr Ranjith Pathirana, again.
This message discusses in vitro slow growth available for various vegetatively propagated crops for conservation purposes, as this has not been touched in the conference although it is in the background document.
The Plant Genetic Resources Centre (PGRC) of the Department of Agriculture, Gannoruwa, Peradeniya was established in 1988 with a grant provided through the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). The centre has cold storage facilities for short- and medium-term conservation of seeds of orthodox species. Vegetatively propagated materials and recalcitrant species are conserved in greenhouses, the tissue culture repository or in the field. The PGRC comes under the jurisdiction of the Division of Seed Certification and Plant Protection of the Department of Agriculture under the Ministry of Agriculture. The PGRC is the focal point for promoting and facilitating the conservation and sustainable utilization of plant genetic resources in Sri Lanka. To achieve its objectives, the Centre explores, collects, introduces, conserves, evaluates and documents the genetic diversity of food crops and their related species.
PGRC has several units with special programmes for Exploration, Conservation, Evaluation, Biotechnology and Tissue Culture, and Data Management. PGRC is responsible for planning, implementing and co-ordination activities related to conservation of plant genetic resources. Its facilities are also used to conduct biotechnology studies, especially for conservation, evaluation and enhancement of genetic resources. One thrust area of this programme is the pyramiding of genes for resistance to Brown Plant Hopper (BPH) Bacterial Leaf Blight (BLB) and Gall Midge (GM) into new improved rice varieties. This programme utilises methods to produce breeding lines/ varieties with multiple resistances to BPH, GM and BLB through identification of biotypes/patho types and development of molecular markers for resistance genes. The centre is also engaged in developing thrips resistant rice varieties through molecular marker assisted breeding and is developing molecular markers for the identification of major rice varieties grown in Sri Lanka. In vitro conservation protocols have been established for cassava, sweet potato, potato, yams, colocasia, innala (Solenostemon rotundifolius), grape, passion fruit, avocado, papaw, citrus, strawberry, apple, pears and banana. Some accessions of cassava, sweet potato, potato, yams, colocasia, innala and banana are maintained in storage under normal or minimal growth conditions. The technique of potato micro-tubers for germplasm conservation has been successfully applied to conserve the potato germplasm. The Centre also undertakes micropropagation of crops such as banana, pineapple and sweet potato.
Dr Ranjith Pathirana
Food Industry Science Centre
New Zealand Institute for Plant and Food Research
Private Bag 11 600
Palmerston North 4442
Office: +64 6 355 6169
Lab: +64 6 355 6194
Reception:+64 6 356 8300
Mobile: +64 2102792256
After hours: +64 6 357 4266
Fax: +64 6 351 7050
Email: PathiranaR (at) crop.cri.nz
Sent: 09 July 2009 14:49
Subject: 117: Learning from past experiences
This is from Sadok Driss, Tunisia. I have been involved in closely related fields - international agricultural development and agricultural policy. Teaching at the university was one of the activities yet not the only one.
Not long ago, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) contributed to an international symposium related to "biotechnology and germplasm" on April 21 2009 in Tunis. This gathering was attended by participants from thirty countries. The keynote speaker of that event was Dr Harvey Blackburn, USDA chief of laboratory of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in Fort Collins, Colorado. He enlightened the participants who were not familiar with the US Land-Grant Universities and their emphasis on the unholy trinity "research, teaching and extension". Unfortunately, it took years for that system to bring concrete results, notwithstanding surprises. Many theories were put forward, by various institutions, such as the Ford Foundation, the World Bank and USAID multitude of development projects financed, in the 1960s and later.
One thing is certain, the transfer of technology from the USA to African or Asian countries was not as easy as it seemed. Warnings were provided by numerous scientists, such as Norman Borlaug from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), Mexico, Dale Hathaway, the founder of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) or the late Robert Macnamara of the World Bank, as well as Yugiro Hayami and Vernon Ruttan in their book "Agricultural development: an international perspective" published in 1971. Two years later, "Small is beautiful: Economics as if people mattered" was another warning to put the emphasis on people rather than products. As early as the 1960s, Arnold Harberger from the University of Chicago, Illinois, did raise this pertinet question: "should we invest in machines, or people?". Can one learn from past experiences? Only a systemic approach is apt to lead to acceptable answers. Anyhow, emphasis should be placed upon people, first, and their needs. Focus of attention should be placed on the linkages between: (1) institutions (2) innovations (3)incentives and (4) infrastructure. In all these endeavors, "training should be the priority," as echoed by Mary Bowman, from the University of Chicago, "Learning to learn is more important than learning to do," a highly cherished principle taken up by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in the early 1970s.
Sadok Driss, PhD
University of Tunis 7 November
sadok_driss (at) yahoo.fr
Sent: 09 July 2009 14:55
Subject: 118: Re: Biotechnologies - Nepal
My name is Val Giddings. I am a geneticist by training, and I have worked for 25 years on policy and science-based regulation of biotechnology products for governments, multilateral organizations, NGOs, and industry. In my current capacity as a consultant, I work for a variety of clients worldwide. I am presently based in the US but most of my work involves developing countries.
I add my voice to the grateful chorus commending FAO for hosting this conference. It has elicited an abundance of good and useful comments and input that should provide welcome guidance as FAO and others consider how best to bring biotechnology to bear on the challenges of sustainable agricultural production, particular in developing countries.
I want to comment on the observation Dr. Sivakumar made in post 112 that "Biotechnology is not going to yield products immediately for any developing countries." While some may hold this view, participants should be aware that major benefits have already been delivered to the economies, environments, and peoples of developing countries by the biotech improved crops introduced to date. The majority of countries growing biotech crops (legally) to date are in the developing world (15 of 25) where 12.3 million of the 13.3 million farmers growing biotech crops live. This has been well documented in a variety of publications, perhaps most notably by Clive James (see http://www.isaaa.org/resources/publications/briefs/39/executivesummary/default.html) and by Graham Brookes and Peter Barfoot (see http://www.pgeconomics.co.uk/pdf/GM_crop_yield_arial.pdf). Biotech is not merely promise and potential, but increasingly it is value already delivered to farmers on the ground in developing countries.
In each case, where farmers are successfully and legally growing biotech improved crops today, it is because regulatory hurdles have been overcome and permission has been granted by government authorities to grow and use them. If any single obstacle to the wider dissemination of these crops has been under-emphasized in this e-conference, it is that scientifically unsupportable regulatory burdens continue to block farmer access to crops that even EU officials have conceded are probably safer than the alternatives (see http://ec.europa.eu/research/fp5/eag-gmo.html). It would serve FAO and its mission well to consider measures that could be undertaken to help reduce such obstacles, for if they cannot be overcome, conquering all the others described in the postings to this conference will count for nothing.
L. Val Giddings, Ph.D
P.O. Box 8254
LVG (at) PrometheusAB.com
[The document referred to in the last paragraph is 'GMO research in perspective', the report of a workshop held in Brussels 9-10 September 1999 by External Advisory Groups of the EU's "Quality of Life and Management of Living Resources" research programme . The disclaimer on the report, notes that "this report has not been adopted or in any way approved by the Commission and should not be relied upon as a statement of the Commission's or the Research-DG's views"...Moderator].
Sent: 09 July 2009 14:56
Subject: 119: Limitations of bioregulation for public researchers
Here is Maria Mercedes Roca from Zamorano, Honduras again.
The world is watching Honduras as the political crisis unfolds. It strikes most of us in Honduras that a lot of judgment is being passed by people who do not really understand the context of what they are discussing or judging. All this has made me think that there are some parallels between this and what the public scientists are saying regarding bioregulation of GMOs and the dire consequences this has for research by public institutions. This regulation is often not science-based and it is often done by people who do not understand the context. I want to share with you below, the text of the Vina del Mar declaration that resulted from the 2007 REDBIO meeting in Chile, which is also available in Spanish, English and Portuguese at http://www.redbio.org/newsredbio.asp?id=391
Maria Mercedes Roca, PhD
Biotechnology and Plant Protection Programs
P.O. Box. 93
Tel: (504) 776 6140 ext. 2362
Fax: (504) 776 6242
Email: mmroca (at) zamorano.edu
1. The 600 participants from 21 countries present at the VI Latin American and Caribbean Congress of Agricultural Biotechnology, REDBIO 2007, gathered in Vina del Mar, Chile, aware that agrobiotechnologies can be an important factor for the sustainable development, for food security, for environmental and social well being, and for encouraging the future bio-economy, express their strong support for the use of agrobiotechnologies as an integral component for the development strategies for Latin America and the Caribbean. These technologies have the capacity to provide healthy and safe food in sufficient quantity and facilitate agronomic practices that are more sustainable from an environmental and social perspective.
2. They also recognize the value of a sensible regulatory framework that allows for the evaluation and the safe and effective use of agricultural biotechnology, including genetic engineering, and which reasonably ensures food safety and environmental sustainability.
3. It is important to note that the experience accumulated during the first decade since the commercialization of products obtained through Modern Biotechnology on more than 100 million hectares in 21 countries, has scientifically demonstrated that crops obtained through these technologies do not have risk profiles that are any different from those of crops developed through other plant breeding methods. The potential health and environmental risks originally foreseen have not materialized. Furthermore, it has been demonstrated that this technology provides environmental and economic benefits. Millions of farmers, mainly small farmers in developing countries, are already benefiting in other parts of the world.
4. At the same time, the principles on which the current regulations are based were established when the commercial use of transgenic crops was just beginning, and do not consider information gathered during more than 10 years of extensive use. This lack of actualization contributes to delays in the development and use of Modern Biotechnology in Latin America and the Caribbean. This in turn increases the technological gap that exists between this region and the more industrialized countries, and prevents the region from exercising sovereignty over its genetic resources.
5. We note with concern that the continuous tendency towards excessive regulation is also slowing the development of our crops, and is keeping the advances made by Latin American researchers from benefiting society. This excess in regulation increases costs and disproportionately affects the public and small enterprise sectors.
6. Biotechnology in Latin America and the Caribbean continues to advance, and will continue to play an increasingly important role. We are confident that it is possible to formulate regulatory frameworks targeted towards scientifically established risks and not towards perceived or theoretical ones, and thus help ensure environmental and food safety, while avoiding unnecessary hindrances in its development.
7. We therefore request that the regulatory biosafety frameworks consider the history of safe use that transgenic crops have had in the world for over a decade. It is especially important that norms in the region consider both the benefits and the risks of this technology, and analyze them relative to those of the present agricultural production systems. In turn, regulatory frameworks should foster and facilitate innovation and technological applications that benefit our peoples.
We are encouraged to think that these technological developments will continue to be one of the main engines that drive the development of Latin America and the Caribbean.
Sent: 09 July 2009 14:57
Subject: 120: Constraints to research and development
I am Dr. Benjamin Ewa Ubi, Plant breeder and Biotechnologist, formerly Director of the Biotechnology Research and Development Centre, Ebonyi State, Nigeria. I am currently a visiting Scientist at the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) in Tsukuba Science City, Japan.
A number of excellent contributions have been made to this conference and I am happy also that my Successor in Office (Dr. Happiness Oselebe, message 57) among several others have also contributed to draw your attention to our efforts at Ebonyi State University, Abakaliki, Nigeria.
Perhaps, the peculiar case of our Biotechnology Centre at Ebonyi State University will also highlight the difficulties inherent in our efforts towards a more functional research and development in our countries in Africa, and especially Nigeria - where many R&D challenges and opportunities exist.
The University, through the Pioneering Director, Prof. James Ogbonna decided to establish a Centre of Excellence to provide centralized biotechnology facilities. Our hope was that after the establishment of the Centre, we should through collaborations/MoUs (memos of understanding) move the Centre as one of the best, since adequate (a crop of well-trained and internationally-recognized) manpower existed. The Centre was built up and through facilities provided by the International Foundation for Science (IFS) and the counterpart support from the University most of the basic facilities were provided and installed.
We also got funding from the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) for a rice project that is being excellently implemented at the Centre through our Visiting Scientist Dr. A. Efisue, alongside with the IFS Project in which only the non lab-based component was completed. We entered into MoUs with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) hoping we could meaningfully collaborate to carry out more functional research by way of getting funded projects that can be executed at our Centre - which is highly organized and basic facilities already available. However, in spite of several visits to IITA, functional collaboration is yet to take place even when the first 3 years of the agreement is gradually winding off.
The AGRA rice project has gone so well because it is mainly screenhouse and field-based with basic laboratory needs. Rice is one of the most important crops in Ebonyi State and so the AGRA project was excellently located there. Among the many constraints, the gall midge, iron toxicity, drought, etc are a serious threat and farmers may obtain zero yield. This should naturally lead us to investigate the molecular basis of resistance in the several lines/crosses already availble and doing well in our on-farm trials located in the highly endemic fields using the tools of biotechnology. Several efforts were also made with Cornell University Dr. Theresa Fulton, who has been interested in helping the Centre secure project funds - but to no avail.
Looking inwards, I wrote an Excellent proposal to the ETF (Education Tax Fund) in Nigeria that was interested in supporting our efforts in making the Centre a Centre of excellence. However, at the last minute due to politics, the funding was rather directed to an ill-prepared institution. These were very frustrating for a well-trained scientist eager to work at home and build capacity. Right now, I am forced to send my Ph.D students to South Africa to complete an aspect of their Ph.D work that ordinarily would have been done in our lab for lack of facilities.
In a nutshell, the constraints we presently have (as also highlighted by Dr. Happiness Oselebe in message 57) include:
1. Lack of functional collaboration with other laboratories involving funded projects
2. Inadequate power supply
3. Lack of project grants to graduate students and scientist by the Nigerian Govt. or other science agencies unlike in other climes
The Ebonyi state University (Biotechnology Research and Development centre) has recently secured an MoU with Hokkaido University Japan and we hope that this will help fast-track our mission of being a leader in integrative plant breeding/biotech R&D based on our know-how. The 20th Annual conference of the Biotechnology Society of Nigeria was also successfully hosted by the Centre.
We need to move on in collaboration with partners in R&D as we need to provide a good platform for training African Biotechnologist in our University.
Benjamin Ewa Ubi, Ph.D
Plant breeder and Biotechnologist
Biotechnology Research and Development Centre
Ebonyi State University, Abakaliki, Nigeria
Visiting Research Scientist
Laboratory of cell and Molecular Biology
National Institute of Fruit Tree Science
National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO)
Tsukuba Science City, Ibaraki Pref. 305-8605
E-mail: ubi.benjamin (at) yahoo.com ; benubi (at) affrc.go.jp
Sent: 09 July 2009 14:58
Subject: 121: Experiences regarding agricultural biotechnology in Guyana
My name is John Cartey Caesar, Senior Lecturer in Biology and the National Project Coordinator for the UNEP-GEF Biosafety Framework Development. Once again, the FAO online conference series have been very enlightening. Unfortunately, this series may be ending ending too soon, even with the current extension.
Firstly, I would like to give some glimpses of past experiences regarding agricultural biotechnology in Guyana:
1. The first tissue culture attempt was made at the Institute of Applied Science and Technology in the mid 1980s followed by a fully established laboratory at the National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) in early 1990s. I believe the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) was involved in training Guyana's first locally identified professional at the PhD level in the UK - Dr. Veronica Broomes.
2. NARI spearheaded an aggressive programme in tissue culture with successes in pineapple, sweet potato, plantain, among others. Attempts to use local resources such as brown sugar were made between my Department and NARI as part of an Applied Plant Physiology Studentship programme I had developed with the support of the stipendiary donations from the private sector for students.
3. Biofertilizer attempts have been made chiefly with the isolation and inoculation of rhizobia from cowpea and soybean. I made the first partially successful attempt to use these to inoculate seedlings of the local forest species Eperua grandiflora ssp guyanensis.
4. Over the past decade, key professionals Dr. Broomes and Dr. Jerome Octive have since migrated due to some of the economic security and related issues.
5. Climate change-induced devastating floods of 2005 decimated the tissue culture lab and almost all of its germplasm collections. Only one biotechnologist MSc remains at the Institute. The lab has since been relocated. The reality of climate change impact!
6. Attempts at micropropagation of some of our endemic orchids have been made with very little preliminary success with media (University-NARI) including an MSc student project that has since been abandoned due to financial difficulties.
7. The major recent success in animal biotechnology was the transfer of British texel sheep embryos to local black belly sheep with donor support from the British High Commission. We believe this is a first in the Caribbean and Latin America.
Secondly, some of the comments advanced in this e-mail conference and those of Professor Eric Danquah (Message 99) and some others on capacity building issues have re-emphasised my own thrust in Conferences 13 and 15, contributions 126 and 88, respectively, in this series. I believe these are still pertinent and worth recapitulation here, i.e.
- Regional and sub-regional groupings of developing countries along similar lines as the UNEP-GEF Biosafety Frameworks project for structured global biotech development;
- Assistance with the development of national biotechnology policies driven by comprehensive national needs assessments, inclusive of human, infrastructural and institutional capacity;
- Need for national biotechnology development strategies. Very small countries with very common problems needing biotechnological interventions could be pooled as clusters in subregions;
- A Framework for leveraging and transfering biotechnology knowledge in tandem with the vision of Agenda 21 and the Convention on Biological Diversity, taking into account biotechnology transfer assimilation capacity;
- A comprehensive scholarship/fellowship programme for developing countries to facilitate the leveraging of biotechnology capacity through postgraduate research in developed countries [in a 'sandwich model'] that specifically permits research on specific problems of the awardees' country of origin. This should be complemented by a five to ten year in-country of origin sustainability/support programme to help avert brain drain. Address issues of economic security for such professionals. The twin issues of human capacity sustainability and brain drain in the developing countries will inevitably be a looming threat to effective biotechnology development in developing countries unless we find innovative answers - regional/subregional pools/clusters in biotechnology R&D institutions with reasonably/moderately competitive salaries may be a simplistic but explorable solution;
- Continuous short-term biotechnology education programme for biotechnology practitioners similar to the UNESCO short-term fellowship programme on a larger scale;
- FAO, like UNEP, can spearhead such a global biotechnology capacity building project with funding from GEF (?) if possible or a global biotechnology fund contributed to by the world's G8 countries - on the premise that biotechnology may be yet another tangible tool for ridding the world of poverty and disease."
Added to these, we can explore a comprehensive 'brain gain' or 'brain circulation' model that leverages the knowledge and support of citizens of developing countries fully established in the developed countries. I provided one example in contribution 88 of conference 15 in the case of Professor Suresh Narine and biodiesel development in Guyana.
John Cartey Caesar BSc (Hons), MSc
University of Guyana,
Box 10 - 1110, Georgetown
[National Project Coordinator, UNEP-GEF National Biosafety Framework,
Chairman - National Agricultural Research Committee/NARI; Commissioner (part-time), Public Utilities Commission of Guyana]
Tel.: +592-222-4926; Mobile: +592-640-1478
Email: jccaesar (at) yahoo.com
[1. Some media stories provided by John regarding the sheep embryo transfer initiative mentioned above are available at http://www.stabroeknews.com/2008/news/04/12/sheep-embryos-implanted-in-regional-first/ ; http://news.caribseek.com/set-up/exec/view.cgi?archive=157&num=68911 ; and http://www.agriculture.gov.gy/Bulletins/April,%202008/Embryo%20transplant%20underway%20for%20developing%20Texel%20sheep%20locally.html
2. John's previous messages in conferences 13 and 15 are available at http://www.fao.org/biotech/logs/C13/040705.htm and http://www.fao.org/BIOTECH/logs/c15/151208.htm respectively...Moderator]