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Executive summary

FAO and its Governing Bodies recognize the role biotechnology can play in augmenting agricultural production when properly integrated with other technologies. Member countries look to FAO's assistance in strengthening their institutions through provision of technical, legal and policy advice as well as promotion of information exchange. Information on biotechnology activities in developing countries is scarce and this has prompted FAO to develop an inventory of plant biotechnology products and techniques in use or in the pipeline in developing countries. The inventory has been compiled and organized into a searchable online database called the FAO Biotechnology In Developing Countries Database (FAO-BioDeC). This document summarizes and analyses the information contained in the database as of 31 August 2004.

Individual country information in the database is organized in two broad categories: genetically modified crops and other biotechnologies. The status of application is divided into three classes: research phase, field trials and commercialization (in the case of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or routine utilization (in the case of other biotechnologies).

GMOs are classified within the database as having genes conferring resistance to pests (Lepidoptera, Coleoptera, nematodes), pathogens (viruses, bacteria and fungi), herbicides (gluphosinate, glyphosate, phosphinotricin), abiotic stresses (frost, salt, heat and drought) or modified for improved quality traits (vitamin content, oil composition, protein quality and altered growth/development). GMO activities (479 records, Table 12) are ongoing in many countries but unevenly distributed, with Latin America and Asia recording 85 percent of all recorded GMO activities in the developing world (45 percent and 40 percent, respectively). GMO activities aimed at pathogen resistant cultivars form 35 percent of the total activities, followed by pest resistance at 20 percent, quality traits and herbicide resistance each at 16 percent. Most of the commercialized GMOs were acquired from developed countries and are mainly herbicide and Bt resistant cotton, maize and soybean cultivars. From the number of field trials (40 percent of all GMO activities) it can be postulated that in the near future the developing country markets will have new GM crops such as virus resistant papaya, sweet potato and cassava; rice tolerant to abiotic stress (salinity and drought), and even high lysine maize and soybeans with improved oil composition. However, a lot of biosafety capacity building is needed to enable many countries in Africa, Eastern Europe and the Near East to benefit from this technology.

The use of other biotechnologies, such as micropropagation, molecular markers, diagnostics and microbial techniques, in developing countries is much more prevalent (1 351) activities recorded: Table 14) and the distribution of the activities seems not as skewed between regions as in the case of GMOs. For example, plant propagation techniques are the most used (49 percent) of all biotechnologies and regional proportions are as follows: Latin America, 30 percent; Asia, 28 percent; Africa, 20 percent; Eastern Europe, 18 percent; and the Near East, 4 percent. Generally, there may be under-reporting of some technologies that are considered too routine. Future information gathering for the FAO-BioDeC should strive to highlight all these biotechnology applications. Many of these technologies are being used on a commercial scale but only a few studies have been carried out to assess their socio-economic impacts. This is an area that needs urgent attention as it is likely to help guide research and technology policies towards wider and efficient utilization of all the biotechnologies.

Even though the database is not complete at present, it does give a clear picture of developing country and regional competencies in biotechnology and can be used to identify potential partners for joint programmes. A network of country correspondents has been put into place for the regular updating of the database. In the near future the FAO-BioDeC will be expanded to cover the forestry, animal and fisheries sectors.

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