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International Conference At Brighton, UK

The Executive Secretary, FBAE, was invited to participate in the International Conference on “Can Agricultural Biotechnology be Pro-poor?”, conducted by the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK, held on October 1-2, 2003.   The following proposals were made by the FBAE at the conference.   The summary of the entire conference can be viewed at www.ids.ac.uk/biotech/.


The developing countries need a shift in priorities and direction of research, and promote an internal pro-active climate, in order to benefit from transgenic technology in agriculture.   They also need international financial institutions to support development and deployment of GE crops. 

1. Costs of transgenic technology

Private sector GE products are expensive since the high technology costs are sunk in sale prices.   However, in certain cases such as Golden Rice and virus resistant sweet potato, the product is given free of technology costs to developing countries.   Efforts should be made to bring down the costs of GE products. 

a) Transfer of technology

Currently, transfer of technology seems to be an expedient option for developing countries than developing it indigenously.   To lessen the burden of the consumers, the Governments should bear the costs of technology transfer, as also the costs of development of varieties suitable to local conditions.  

An international aid/loan fund should be set up, with the help of the World Bank or a similar institutional mechanism, to help developing countries to meet with costs of transfer of technology.

b) Collaboration between public and private sectors

Developing countries cannot forever depend on transferred technology but should develop it indigenously in course of time.   Consumer costs would be minimized when the public sector research institutions develop the technology.   An international financial support institution should help the public sector research efforts.

Several developing countries have very competent expertise in GE.   This and the wherewithal of the private enterprise together can make GE products from developing countries internationally competitive.   The Governments should facilitate collaboration between public and private efforts.

New models of academy-industry partnerships, which foster academic brilliance without losing focus on commercial application, need to be developed.   The government should set aside some funds to provide focused support to early commercialization of ideas in agribiotech (on the model of the SBIR grants in the US).  Such funds should be available to budding entrepreneurs with scientifically sound and implementable ideas that could address real problems in Indian agriculture. 

In course of time, the developing countries should get into a position of collaborative product development and transfer/exchange of proven technology among themselves.

2. Need for a shift of focus to abiotic stress and non-cereal crops

Farmers and consumers in developing countries would certainly benefit from the traits in the current transgenic crops.   Nevertheless, there is a need to focus on the development of crops tolerant of abiotic stress (drought, flood and salinity), to benefit small landholders and those cultivating marginal lands.   This will bring more land under cultivation.   It is equally important to focus on millets, pulses and oil seed crops that are usually cultivated in the dry regions or during the dry season, by the landed poor.     

3. Regulation of GEOs

Every country should put in place a regulatory authority for transgenic crops.   The regulatory authority should function basing on international guidelines in a manner that is consistent, expedient, accountable and transparent, in order to be internationally accredited.  
The regulatory process should be based in science and on input from stakeholders and not from the emotional platform of some vocal groups.   With the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety now in place, it would soon be possible to establish an internationally acceptable regulatory process, taking advantage of the scientific evidence available elsewhere, and without having to repeat every test in every country. 

4. Public awareness and involvement of stakeholders

The public acceptance of transgenic products largely depends upon a vastly enhanced public awareness of the benefits and risk management issues.   This would simultaneously weaken the vested interest.   All the stakeholders should be involved in decision-making on the basis of such education.   .

The discussions relevant to the safety of biotechnology must be firmly based in science and not on emotion.   Developing countries should launch a massive awareness and education programme involving not only the public, but also the media, judiciary and more importantly the Governmental agencies responsible for formulation and implementation of policy.

5.   Save technology from politics

Issues of GE are now mired in corporate, national and continental politics.     Much misinformation, disinformation, and with facts used 'out-of-context', dominate the anti-tech arguments.   Often activists even indulge in violence and vandalism.   They do not want any genetically engineered products, forgetting that it is the consumer who has the right to decide what is wanted.   The miniscule minority who do not want the technology, for their own reasons, has no right to impose their will on all the others.

The activists have been taking advantage of the huge information gap, and mix up ethical, economic and political issues, to create suspicion and scare on the public mind, from the emotive and sentimental platform, to serve diverse vested interests.   Only an informed public involved in decision-making can counter this. 

Both conventional and transgenic crops can be grown either conventionally or organically.

Prof.essor  C Kameswara Rao, Executive Secretary, Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education, Bangalore 560 004, India

Ph: 91-80-654 9470, 653 4740; krao@vsnl.com; http://www.fbae.org