[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: 23 June 2009 09:44
To: '[email protected]'
Subject: 56: Re: Biofertiliser - Common bean - Mexico

This is from Dr. Sunita Sangar, India. I am getting started to do a research study to look into 1-2 cases of biotechnologies with respect to biofertilizers or biopesticides (say rhizobial strains or others) that have been converted into innovations for their successful application/commercialization at the field level for poor farmers.

Regarding Messages 22 and 50 from Humberto Peralta about an application of bioferilisers in Mexico, this is a good case of biotechnological application for improved biofertilizers. I am also looking for a similar case in India. In India, there has been lot of emphasis on biofertilisers (through various schemed projects) owing to its ecological and economic benefits. However, I wonder if we have cases of this kind where improvements through biotechnology (development of improved inoculant strains with improved genetic understanding) have directly benefitted the poor. Or where have these biotechnologies actually helped poor farmers in India.

Biofertilzers have come up in a big way, but we need good scientific understanding with the use of biotechnology. Has biotechnology served that purpose in dealing with poor peoples' needs? Do we have any examples of success in the past in India with some specific biofertilisers (improved through biotechnology)? If so, were they developed through farmers participation/feedback? Or were farmers mere recipients of these biotechnologies? We have a large population of poor farmers in India and only if biotechnology can cater to their needs can it be called successful.

I am interested in looking at some cases of biofertilisers where biotechnology has played a major role in its application in the past at the field level for the poor and in which regions in India. I have heard that they have been more successful in South India than in North India. Since I am not a biotechnology specialist I would appreciate any knowledge or points of information that could be tapped to understand how biotechnological applications in fertilizers have helped the poor farmers. Also, if there are case studies of failures regarding biofertilisers in the past that would help us to understand the kind of necessary interventions that are needed to make them innovative for the poor, this would also be useful.

Sunita Sangar, Ph.D.
Group Head - Research and Social Initiatives Society for Strategy, Technology
and Delivery for Development(Society STADD)
A-6 DDA, Shahpur Jat
New Delhi - 110049
India
Web: http://www.stadd.com
Mobile: 91-98730-02694
Tel: 91-11-26496962
Telefax: 91-11-26496962
s.sangar (at) stadd.com

-----Original Message-----
From: Biotech-Mod4
Sent: 23 June 2009 09:59
To: '[email protected]'
Subject: 57: Plantains and bananas - Nigeria

I am Happiness Oselebe, Director, Biotechnology Research and Development Centre, Ebonyi State University, P.M.B. 053, Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, Nigeria.

I commend the efforts of the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and other research institutes worldwide for the generation and dissemination of plantain and banana hybrids for smallholder farmers in Nigeria. However, a lot is still to be done to give this crop its pride of place in our cropping system i.e. increasing their cultivation and generation of improved disease resistant hybrids that will be desirable to consumers.

Most of the hybrids generated in Nigeria are through conventional breeding and cannot adequately compete in the market with the most desirable and acceptable landrace genotype 'Agbagba', in terms of taste, colour and texture at ripening, etc. When placed at par, consumers in most cases would choose the landrace genotype especially for household consumption. There is a need to complement conventional breeding with modern biotechnologies e.g. marker-assisted selection (MAS) that will give precision to breeding activities, identification of the genes for the important traits in the desirable landrace and incorporation into varieties of interest etc. Incidentally, few laboratories apart from IITA are equipped with modern facilities for these high-tech activities. In my University, Ebonyi State University, for example, efforts are being made to scale-up a biotech lab which was established by the University so as to accommodate these activities. In this regard, proposals are continually sent out to donor agencies for possible research grants for the purpose.

Several biotechnologies have been used to generate sucker plantlets in an attempt to increase the cultivation of the crops by Nigerian farmers. These include micropropagation through tissue culture techniques and macropropagation using non soil media. Other source of sucker-plants for cultivation is through farmer to farmer transfer, an avenue that leads to the spread of disease in most cases. Micropropagation could lead to rapid multiplication of disease-free plantlets for farmers. However, it is highly technical, can only be employed in very few research institutes (in most cases for other crops) and is not amenable to the resource-poor farmers who are the main producers of plantain and banana. Some universities, including Ebonyi State University, are trying to establish a functional tissue culture laboratory for micropropagation of mandate crops, although seriously constrained by funds.

Macropropagation on the other hand can be employed at the farm level by researchers/farmers for the generation of sucker plantlet on non soil media, especially sawdust. There is however need for the diffusion of this technology to indigenous farmers nation-wide.

Finally, it is expedient that where possible, donor agencies in the developed nations and other modern biotechnology labs mentor some of the laboratories in the developing countries and universities in terms of funding of agricultural development programs, training of staff in modern agricultural biotechnologies/techniques and equipment acquisition to scale up laboratories for functional research. This will ultimately enhance the application of biotechnology for the enhancement of food production and food availability for the teaming population.

Dr Happiness O. Oselebe
Plant Breeder and Geneticist
Director, Biotechnology Research and Development Centre,
Ebonyi State University,
P.M.B. 053,
Abakaliki, Ebonyi State,
Nigeria.
happinessoselebe (at) yahoo.com

[For more information on biotechnologies and enhancement of Musa spp (plantains and bananas), see e.g. http://www.fao.org/docrep/007/ae216e/ae216e00.htm (a 30-chapter book from 2004) or http://www.academicjournals.org/AJB/PDF/Pdf2005/Mar/Baiyeri%20and%20Aba.pdf (for more background on the situation in Nigeria)...Moderator]

-----Original Message-----
From: Biotech-Mod4
Sent: 23 June 2009 10:41
To: '[email protected]'
Subject: 58: Re: Bt cotton in developing countries...

This is from Dominic Glover of Wageningen University, again.

Partha Banerjee (message 53) has added an important dimension to the discussion about Bt cotton, for example in India. In my earlier message (nr. 51), I concentrated on socio-economic and institutional issues, but it is of course also true that a number of technical and agronomic factors also have to be in place before a GM crop technology can deliver its potential benefits.

For example, as Dr. Banerjee mentioned, the first commercial Bt cotton hybrids that were released in India were not well-adapted to all of the locations where they were approved and marketed. As a result, some farmers had bad experiences with the crop in the first season (2002). (For instance, a former sales representative for Mahyco-Monsanto described the MECH 162 hybrid to me as 'the failure variety' in Vizianagram District of Andhra Pradesh that season). Those negative experiences serve to illustrate the fact that, unless the background variety or hybrid is already well-suited to the local growing conditions, then inserting a single gene or a few genes cannot make a very big difference, positively or negatively.

It has been suggested that it is the background variety and not the Bt trait that should be blamed for the failure, but I think it is more accurate to say that it takes *both* a suitable background variety and a functioning gene to produce a beneficial outcome. After all, a gene does nothing on its own. Both of these (technical) features have to be in place (as well as favourable soils, water, temperature etc.) in order for the gene to do its work and a good harvest to be achieved, so that the farmer can reap the benefits. Those are the facts of life that plant breeders, agronomists and (not least) farmers themselves have to deal with.

In my view, we need to pay attention to the means and mechanisms by which a new technology is delivered, applied and operationalised, because those mechanisms make a difference. Thus, it was in my view an unfortunate (institutional) failure that the original MECH hybrids were approved for, and sometimes marketed in, areas where they were not really suitable.

Dr. Banerjee is of course quite right that *any* crop needs favourable soils, water and so on in order to grow well. The point is that, unfortunately, not all farmers have these advantages. Therefore, it is no good expecting a technology like Bt cotton to deliver its potential benefits to the more disadvantaged farmers, so long as they continue to face poor soils, unreliable water, and so on. That is why it is important, in my view, to consider the specific local circumstances (bio-physical, social and institutional) under which biotechnologies need to perform, and to evaluate the positive and negative outcomes in developmental terms (e.g. their effects on labour, incomes, equity, empowerment etc.) - recognising that these impacts will be different for different people in different places and circumstances. This last observation applies to all kinds of biotechnologies, of course, not just to GM crops.

Dominic Glover
Post-doctoral Fellow
Technology and Agrarian Development Group
Wageningen University
PO Box 8130
6700 EW Wageningen
The Netherlands
Tel: +31 (0)317 48 40 18
Email: dominic.glover (at) wur.nl
Skype: domglov
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/dominicglover

-----Original Message-----
From: Biotech-Mod4
Sent: 23 June 2009 10:44
To: '[email protected]'
Subject: 59: RE: Bt cotton in developing countries...

I am Patricia Zambrano, Senior Research Analyst at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in Washington DC, United States.

I would like to add to Partha Banerjee (Message 53) and Dominic Glover (Message 51) on the experience of Bt cotton. We recently published some results for Bt cotton in Colombia. Our initial findings show that overall farmers in Colombia benefited from the technology. The results, nevertheless, are not generalized for all cotton growing regions or for all farmers in the country. We emphasize that results are specific, as is the case in other studies, to one growing season that had particular agroclimatic conditions. In fact, in one of the regions there was one of the most prolonged droughts of the past 10 years, that obviously affected results of both Bt and non-Bt cotton fields. The most successful results are seen in the areas that have irrigation, better lands, and count with more farmer-friendly associations, which in Colombia provide farmers with inputs and credit. Our study identified the important role that such institutions play in the adoption process (see Tripp 2009 for a comprehensive analysis) and at the same time uncovered the lack of timely information about the technology in hands of farmers.

The most recent experience in Colombia with Round-up Ready (RR) cotton, not covered in our study as commercialization of these varieties had barely started when we did our case study survey in 2007-8, appears to be much less successful. GM cotton varieties in Colombia, as in other small-size adopting markets, are the same ones commercialized in the USA and South Africa. The initial Bt variety first commercialized in Colombia is a variety that is isogenic to an imported but well-adapted conventional variety; this was not the case for the new RR and stacked varieties. According to documented information from our in-country partner, the Colombian Cotton Confederation (CONALGODON), farmers in some regions of Colombia suffered important losses with these new RR and stacked varieties imported from the USA. Lack or incorrect information about crop management and herbicide application appears to have been one of the causes of these losses. A more detailed study needs to be done to assess these losses, and to try to separate what is more a result of a not well-adapted variety (choice of germplasm), poor crop management and specific agroclimatic conditions rather than a result of the technology itself, as some farmers appear to be claiming. Again the situation pinpoints to the importance for a successful biotech adoption of having timely and correct information about adequate practices and good regulatory practices in place.

Patricia Zambrano
IFPRI
2033K Street NW
Washington DC 20006
United States
p.zambrano (at) cgiar.org

References:
- Tripp R. (ed) 2009. Biotechnology and agricultural development: Transgenic cotton, rural institutions and resource-poor farmers. Routledge Explorations in Environmental Economics 19. London: Routledge.

- Case study for Colombia:
Zambrano, P., L. A. Fonseca, I. Cardona, and E. Magalhaes. 2009. The socioeconomic impact of transgenic cotton in Colombia. In Biotechnology and agricultural development: Transgenic cotton, rural institutions and resource-poor farmers, ed. R. Tripp. Routledge Explorations in Environmental Economics 19. London: Routledge. Chapter 8. Pp. 168-199


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