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1. Introduction

The FAO Committee on Agriculture (COAG), whose main task is to review and provide advice on FAO's programme of work in food and agriculture, including on selected international development issues, stressed in 1999 that biotechnology, when coupled with other technologies, offers considerable potential and opportunity for new solutions to some of the old problems hindering sustainable rural development and achievement of food security, but also notes that it is an area where there is a growing gap between developing and developed countries. To take advantage of the biotechnology promise, many FAO member countries need assistance in strengthening their overall capabilities in research and development, and at the policy and regulation level.

The member countries have in particular recommended that FAO provide, on request, policy advice for biotechnology issues related to food and agriculture; promote information exchange, and provide technical and legal assistance and advice to its members. In addition, member countries recommended that FAO develop a strategic approach with emphasis on the coordination of a cross-sectorial programme on biotechnology.

Priority Areas for Interdisciplinary Action (PAIAs) have been identified within FAO's strategic framework for 2000-2015. An Interdepartmental Working Group on Biotechnology (IDWGB) was established in 1999 to guide and coordinate FAO's strategic approach under the new PAIA on biotechnology.

The IDWGB identified the development of an inventory of plant biotechnological products and techniques in use and in the pipeline in developing and transition countries as a means of contributing to the information exchange needs of its member countries. It may help them to identify needs and gaps in agricultural biotechnology research, becoming a decision-making tool for policy-makers to establish or revise national priorities. In addition, such an inventory offers countries the opportunity to give a closer look at programmes in neighbouring countries and identify potential partners for joint programmes. Finally, examination of all the data makes it possible to carry out global analyses of biotechnology applications in developing countries and in countries with transition economies and to make comparisons between regions.

The inventory has now been compiled, and the information has been organized in a searchable database called the FAO-BioDeC (FAO Biotechnology in Developing Countries). It was launched in April 2003 and is available on the FAO Biotechnology web site at: dep/default.asp. The database is still incomplete at this first stage. Verification and regular updating of information in the database is being carried out through a network of national correspondents.

This document presents a preliminary assessment of the status of application of biotechnology in developing countries based on the review of the information already present in the FAO-BioDeC as of 31 August 2004. The main purpose of this document is to present some of the types of data and analyses that can be gleaned from its current content and structure. As the database is still far from being complete, the overview presented is quite preliminary. Nevertheless, it should allow a meaningful analysis of the status of applications of crop biotechnology in developing countries to be carried out.

In particular, it should be noted that the current content of the inventory is a preliminary representation of the extent of research and development in plant biotechnology research and development in many countries. Where data is currently absent in the FAO-BioDeC, it is not possible to conclude for that country that a particular type of research is absent, as information may simply be lacking and activities unreported. More reliable interpretation of the data will be obtained from looking at what data are definitively incorporated in the database (i.e. to focus on the positive data rather than inferred negative data). Furthermore, where research programmes are involved, this analysis does not differentiate between ongoing and terminated projects as this information was not readily available for this first edition of the FAO-BioDeC. However, the database allows for the inclusion of project start and end dates, and this will be implemented for future data updates. This document and the information it contains should therefore be used as the first step of a process to develop a more structured and streamlined inventory which will eventually allow countries to make up-to-date analyses of existing activities in biotechnology application.

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