- Today's Topics in 'AgBioView' -
* More Cartoons
* Listen to Inventors, Not Activists
* CIMMYT Says No GM Promoter in GeneBank
* APEC Leaders Want Biotech Dialogue
* State Control: Bark Worse Than Bite
* Persuading the Wary Consumers: GMOs and Mistrust
* Private Investments in Ag Research and Int Technology Transfer in Asia
* Global Governance: A Recipe for Global Protectionism
* Getting Better All The Time
* Global Gaps in Scientific Knowledge
From: "Gordon Couger"
If we are doing cartoons, here are two of mine.
If anyone wants to use them I have higher resolution images available suitable for print publication. Donate any royalties to AgbioWorld or use them without royalty as you see fit.
- Gordon Couger
Listen to Inventors, Not Activists
- Bibek Debroy, Business Day (Johannesburg); November 8, 2001 (Forwarded by Tom DeGregori )
Activists at this weeks' World Trade Organisation (WTO) ministerial in Qatar are demanding that governments weaken protection of patents on "essential" medicines. Although their proposals no doubt spring from a desire to do good, the unintended consequences could be very harmful and would far outweigh any benefits. Those concerned about access to medicines should focus on liberalising government licensing, not weakening patent protection.
For several years, activist groups have been campaigning against the Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (Trips), claiming that patents undermine "public health objectives". The presumption is that by strengthening patent protection on pharmaceuticals, Trips raises prices and undermines public health.
Their objective is either to destroy Trips altogether or to encourage countries to use the compulsory licensing provisions in Trips to reduce the price of certain drugs. But their arguments are na´ve, based on a static conception of economic activity and a misconceived view of the problems of poverty. Opponents of patents typically argue that they create monopolies and thereby harm consumers. However, the legal recognition of intellectual property does not create a monopoly. A monopoly is created the moment there is an invention. That invention can be commercially exploited, without necessarily divulging the details to the public. In many countries, including India, there has been a tradition of handing down professional knowledge through families. That knowledge was never in the public domain. Emperor Shah Jahan, who built the Taj Mahal, had the architect's arm chopped off, so that he could not build another Taj Mahal.
That was also an attempt to protect intellectual property that was not in the public domain. Today, such forms of intellectual property are called trade secrets or undisclosed information, often protected through common law, which beats amputation. The fact that an invention can be cheaply copied is no argument against intellectual property. In many cases, huge fixed costs will have gone into the invention. Without the incentive of IP protection the invention would not have been produced, so it hardly seems just that the rules should be changed after the investment has been made.
The monopoly argument is also a red herring. In the real world (outside that of economics textbooks), there are almost no instances either of monopolies or of perfect competition. Take the pharmaceutical industry. For practically every new drug that is on patent, there are substitute drugs that are off patent and cheaper, with minor differences in therapeutic and side effects. There are numerous antibiotics that are effective against anthrax, but a spat emerged over Cipro because it was the only drug licensed by the US government specifically for use against anthrax. In the slightly longer run, supply-side adjustments and additional investments ensure that price increases remain in check.
Trips does not preclude the use of sensible competition policy but neither does it prevent the use of discriminatory and essentially counterproductive competition policy. Sensible competition policy measures should focus on conduct (for example, collusive behaviour), not on market structure or performance. In a dynamic market, market shares will break down unless there are barriers to entry, so the focus should be on firms attempting to create artificial barriers to entry. Performance (measured by prices, or profitability) will be commensurate with the efficiency of market participants.
Unfortunately, Trips does not adequately discipline the use of structure or performance-based policies. For example, price controls are allowed. In many developing countries, the most important barrier to entry is government-administered licensing, which prevents markets from functioning effectively. The mindset is something like the following: begin by licensing pharmaceuticals. This leads to shortages and would lead to price increases. To prevent price increases, introduce price controls. This constrains future investments. So the vicious cycle goes on.
By permitting such measures against supposed "monopolies", Trips fails to recognise the dynamism of the market. It says almost nothing about parallel imports. And it has very loose provisions on compulsory licensing, leaving a lot of discretion to governments. This needs disciplining.
>From an Indian perspective, the moral is simple: if you have the intellect, you will want to protect it. Trips is part of the global tapestry of intellectual property protection that India and Indians now embrace. Although it is far from perfect (it is a relatively new agreement), Trips has the very significant merit of enabling all members of the WTO to benefit from fair, non-discriminatory, reciprocal protection of intellectual property. On this issue, WTO ambassadors should listen to the inventors, not the activists.
Debroy is Director of Research at the Rajiv Ghandi Institute for
Contemporary Studies in Delhi.
CIMMYT Says No GM Promoter in GeneBank
The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) says tests of Mexican landraces held in its maize gene bank show that none of the 28 representative populations that were tested carry the CaMV 35S promoter. This promoter would indicate the presence of a transgene. The tests follow Mexican government reports of contamination of non-GM maize with transgenes in Oaxaca. CIMMYT scientists are screening seed lots recently collected in Oaxaca as part of a study on farmer varieties (but not entered as germplasm bank accessions), for the presence of the promoter.
CIMMYT has reiterated its offer to provide its considerable expertise to the appropriate Mexican institutions to help identify the type and source of the introduced gene(s), assess potential impacts to biodiversity, the ecology, and the socioeconomic environment, and to explore possible responses.
Twenty-eight populations were selected from the CIMMYT maize germplasm bank, spanning accessions collected or regenerated from eleven Mexican states and dating as far back as 1967. Although the first commercial transgenic maize was not released in the United States until 1996, researchers wanted to determine whether any transgenes had made their way into the bank's collection during recent regenerations of the seed stocks. Herbicide tests to determine the presence of expressed herbicide-resistant transgenes and PCR-based tests on other materials as described above are ongoing.
Patricia Davila, President of the Mexican Botanical Association says that the contamination issue has highlighted shortcomings in Mexican laws on biotechnology. "The legislation of transgenic plants is still very poor and indeed, we do not know how these plants will help or avoid the development of the Mexican agriculture. It seems that we have a lot to be known in this aspect and I hope the results are positive."
APEC Leaders Want Biotech Dialogue
The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting has agreed to establish a new High-Level Biotechnology Policy Dialogue. Most APEC economies are developing domestic regulatory, trade, and scientific policies to address the emerging field of agricultural biotechnology. The dialogue will allow policy-makers to exchange views and pursue cooperative activities on a wide range of issues relating to biotechnology development, regulations governing new products, implications for trade, and effective communications strategies.
The APEC leaders agreed a statement reading: "Recognizing the benefits of biotechnology in improving productivity, increasing nutrition, and reducing the environmental impact of agricultural production, we reaffirm the importance of safe introduction and use of biotechnology products based on sound science."
APEC officials plan to hold the first session of the Biotechnology Dialogue in Mexico City in February 2002. The USA, which proposed the Dialogue, believes "it will help officials harness this new technology and capitalize on its benefits."
In a Declaration at the meeting, APEC Leaders called for more capacity building activities to help member economies develop agricultural biotechnology. The US government says it is already enhancing technical assistance to support agricultural biotechnology through a number of public and private sector programmes. These efforts include:
A joint project by the USDA, the US Geological Survey, and US and Chinese universities to establish "centers of excellence" in China to further capacity building and information exchange on best agricultural practices. Programs to develop appropriate disease-resistant crops, such as the US-Mexico project on genetic patterns of wheat viruses, which aims to improve wheat resistance to infection.
Programs to develop crops with enhanced nutritional value, such as a multi-nation project to develop staple crop varieties that contain significantly more nutrients to address the malnutrition that afflicts an estimated 3 billion people worldwide.
A public-private sector cooperative exchange program on food research focusing on state-of-the-art developments in agricultural biotechnology. An initial program, funded by the US Trade Development Agency and the private sector, is being organized by the Danforth Research Center in St. Louis, Missouri, the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology, and the US National Center for APEC.
An exchange programme for food safety and a public-private dialogue on biotechnology regulation, supported by the US Trade and Development Agency, with the assistance of the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology and the US National Center for APEC. This project will help build capacity in the region to formulate sound, science-based regulatory policies, in areas such as phytosanitary regulations, risk assessment, and testing and certification requirements, that will ensure the environmental and food safety of all food products.
At the APEC meeting Xu Guanhua, China's minister of science and technology emphasised the country's interest in developing agricultural biotechnology. "Over the next five to 10 years, he said, China will "make full use of our advantages of rich and stable biodiversity resources. R&D into functional gene groups, bioinformatics, biomedicine and genetic breeding will be conducted, so as to be competitive in biotechnology and industry in the world." Alan Carroll, executive chairman of the Pacific Rim Forum said that China was "not going to be caught up in the so-called moral dilemmas" over biotech. "If it wants to do it, they're going to do it."
State Control: Bark Worse Than Bite
Business Line (India) , November 11, 2001
That the state writ no longer runs in large tracts of Jammu and Kashmir and Naxal- infested pockets of Bihar and Andhra Pradesh is, by now, well known. The challenge to state authority that the movements in these States represent is principally of a violent nature. But a more insidious, though no less dramatic, challenge has been mounted by some sections of the farming community in the country against the authority of the state, and successfully too. Two recent events underscore the emergence of this phenomenon.
Cotton-growers in Gujarat have shown they do not particularly care for such niceties as Governmental permission when it comes to the choice of seeds they use in cultivation. The Government has claimed that the use of genetically modified cotton seeds has not been approved by it. As such, its use in the fields was illegal. But that has not prevented farmers in vast tracts of the cotton belt in Gujarat to use a seed variety that, by all accounts, is genetically modified.
Whether the seed in question is a hybrid variety that, by a strange coincidence, acquired the capacity to destroy the bollworm pest, or if it is merely a pirated version of the Monsanto-patented seed type is an interesting sidelight to the controversy. There is a good chance that the debate would eventually be reduced to the 'product' versus 'process' patent protection regime that the pharmaceutical industry is so familiar with. Nevertheless, the outcome has been a perfect example of the theatre of the absurd, something Indian politics throws up from time to time.
Initially, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee - an inter-ministerial bureaucratic watchdog at the Centre - said that the crop grown with genetically modified seeds had to be destroyed. But when the State government clearly baulked at any measure that threatened to pit it against the farming community, the Committee modified its ruling to say that the crop would be purchased by the State government at market prices and quarantined thereafter. Even this was found to be infeasible.
A Rs 100-crore ($25 million) outlay on an expenditure of such a contingent nature is clearly beyond the scope of a state that barely manages to keep both ends meet, if at all, that is. But even this would have been a compromise solution as a part of the crop had already hit the market and will probably find its way to the wardrobes of Indian customers by Deepavali. For now, the issue has been put on the backburner. But going by the past, the GEAC may be unable to conclude whether the genetically modified seeds are fit for cultivation even by the time the next crop hits the market, a year from now. It is safe to say the comic opera of illegal seeds would be played out yet another time.
Elsewhere in Karnataka, coconut farmers locked horns with the State government over the right to tap toddy from coconut trees, which the government initially refused but finally allowed under mounting public pressure. It was clearly a high- stakes game in which it was the government that blinked first. The government knew that allowing farmers to tap toddy is the thin end of the wedge in the government's near-total control over the liquor industry.
There is really very little difference between 'neera', the sweet unfermented toddy, and the fermented brew it turns into within a few hours of its extraction. So, allowing unrestricted tapping effectively means that fermented toddy poses a threat to the State-regulated sale of arrack and to an extent even that of distilled branded spirits.
If the State loses market share in excise-generating liquor, the financial consequences can be disastrous. What are the lessons from these two episodes? For one, farmers with even a narrow crop interest constitute, together with their component of landless agricultural labourers, a large, homogeneous group of stakeholders in the economy. Hence, from the perspective of electoral politics it would appeal to any leader to champion their cause.
In contrast, industrial workers present a relative more heterogeneous community, with each sub-group not large enough for any single party or politician to take up their cause. Again, the farming community, by and large, lead a subsistence existence and, hence, policy choices affect their lives almost immediately which makes the tasks of mobilisation that much easier. In contrast, the beneficial aspects of a certain policy choice tend to be diffused or percolate after a time-lag, making the job of setting up a countervailing force among the consuming class that much more difficult.
The policy-makers would do well to keep in mind the objectives, even when they formulate the most well meaning of policies and especially when the policy calls for some adjustment on the part of the farming community. The challenge is all the greater if the policies are seen as irrational, or if their implementation demonstrates a certain callous disregard of farmers' interests.
In the Bt cotton seed controversy, the Government had only itself to blame for the predicament it found itself in as, for nearly four years, it could not decide whether to allow such seeds to be used or not. It is difficult for farmers to deny themselves the fruits of new technology against as yet unformulated ecological fears. As regards the rationality of the liquor policy in most States, the less said the better. In the event, a flouting of state authority is something that was simply waiting to happen.
Persuading the Wary Consumers: GMOs and Mistrust
- Reuters, 8 Nov 2001
London - The debate may have cooled and slipped off newspapers' front pages, but European consumers still show little appetite for genetically modified foods three years after near panic swept them off supermarket shelves.
The European Union, anxious not to cede the scientific race, has gently tried to reopen a public debate, but so far there are few signs that moves to address consumer concerns will jumpstart stalled EU approvals for GM crop growing. Consumers still distrust authorities who claimed mad cow disease could not hurt humans -- only to have 100 people die from the human variant. They fear long-term environmental harm and are unwilling to be reassured by safety claims. This time, they would simply rather be safe than sorry.
"If the biotech industry or governments want to recover a place for GM crops and food in Europe I'm afraid they have got to do it on the public's terms, or not at all, because they've lost its trust,'' said Dr Donald Bruce, director of the Church of Scotland's Society, Religion and Technology Project.(SRTP) In the three years since the widespread rejection of GM food products, industry and governments have stepped up efforts to understand and address consumer concerns. But they are a long way from accomplishing the job.
"The new European Commission proposals for mandatory labelling of GM foods by process of manufacture are essential if people are to have any real choice,'' said Bruce, whose SRTP is due to update its GM study ``Engineering Genesis'' next year. "But they are rather like locking the stable door after the horse has bolted,'' he said.
THE CREDIBILITY GAP: Many say it will be a long hard haul. Environmental groups who are fundamentally opposed to genetic modification feel they have secured a victory but they would likely ride to battle again should the threat reappear. "They probably feel they've secured a very definite victory in Europe and delayed it for a decade and they may well be right,'' said Dr Sandy Thomas, director of the British-based Nuffield Council on Bioethics. "I think what's obvious now...whatever Europe does is going to be in isolation to the rest of the world,'' she said. ``Whatever happens in the next 10 years -- and I suspect in Europe that will not be a lot in terms of GM technology -- much of the rest of the world will continue...''
Still, some say consumers might be persuaded of the merits of the genetically modified case were certain standards met. But that won't be easy. Biotechnology in agriculture has not offered tangible benefits the way it has in medicine. "Consumers in Europe made a simple risk-benefit equation,'' said Bruce. "They asked very reasonably 'What are the benefits and risks of GM food. The benefits are mostly for seed and biotech companies in the United States, and if there are risks, they are all ours, so why should we eat the stuff?''
REBUILDING TRUST: At the root of public concern is GMO decision-making made solely on a narrow assessment of scientific risk, said the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission (AEBC), the British government's biotech advisor, in its September report. "The public is not necessarily expressing a lack of trust in science or scientists, but simply pointing out that judgements are being made, both within and beyond the science, which demand wider public involvement,'' the AEBC said. Risk is a big concern, but scientific estimates of potential risks of new human allergies or environmental change are only one part of the picture.
There are underlying notions about tampering with nature and irreversible change which have to be taken seriously, as well as the simple case of giving people a fair choice. The following are some of the main hurdles ethicists and roundtable groups insist GMO foodstuffs must take to win over wary, battered consumers:
-have a nutritional or health benefit -have insignificant health risks -minimise environmental damage in light of damage caused by conventional agriculture -be tested independently with public or charitable funds -be labelled -be commercialised through a process that involves more than a scientific risk assessment.
Despite the size of the job, the European Commission plans to unveil a policy initiative at the end of the year to make Europe a world leader in the field of biotechnology.
COSTS VERSUS BENEFITS: But the costs of some of these ``musts'' may well cripple the industry, handicapping its ability to come up with a next generation which is aiming at nutritional and health benefits. "The opportunity costs of what we are seeing are simply phenomenal,'' said Dr Henry I Miller, a former senior official in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, now a fellow at the Hoover Institution, a think tank at Stanford University. "When you over-regulate a technology to the point that it is no longer cost-effective, it goes away,'' Miller said.
The AEBC report recognises that the EU approach, which regulates specifically for GMOs, suggests they are unique in their potential impact on the environment. "From a scientific perspective, there is little reason why the full weight of regulatory oversight should fall on GM crops. Many would argue that there are potentially more environmentally damaging practices...in conventional agriculture,'' it said.
Gregory Conko, director of food safety policy at the U.S.-based Competitive Enterprise Institute, a non-profit public policy organisation dedicated to free enterprise and limited government, added that we may be accepting risks and forgoing benefits with the current approach. "A product coming on the market may have a certain risk but it may still be net beneficial to the health and environment. What we would like is a regulatory system that weighs both of these equally,'' Conko said.
For some scientists, who regard GMOs as a refinement of cruder, older technologies, the consumer response can be, at least in part, blamed on government officials, who according to Miller, "prefer regulation to education.'' "If public officials, including regulators, had spent one percent of the time on educating the public that they've spent on implementing unnecessary regulation, the public would understand that what we have is an improvement, and that these products are more predictable, more precisely crafted and ultimately safer,'' Miller said.
Private Investments in Agricultural Research and International
Technology Transfer in Asia
- Carl E. Pray and Keith O. Fuglie.
USDA/ERS Agricultural Economics Report No. 805. 162 pp, Nov 2001
This report provides original estimates of private sector agricultural research and development efforts in Asia during the 1990s. The report examines seven Asia countries (India, Pakistan, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and China). The examination provides an assessment of the trends in private sector R&D developments in the agricultural inputs industries in each country. Download at http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/aer805
'AgBioview Selection From the Past.....'
Global Governance: A Recipe for Global Protectionism
- Deepak Lal, Professor, Economics, UCLA
Complete document at
"Numerous non-governmental organizations (NGO's) are currently in the forefront of various issues which impinge directly or indirectly on the international economy. Their locus standi they maintain is as representatives of a global civil society which seeks representation in the various transnational organizations such as the United Nations, the World Bank, IMF and the World Trade Organization, which they see as running the world. But whatever the merits of this claim -- which I will eventually examine critically -- at the outset it needs to be noted that, given their stand on various issues, they pose a serious threat to the prosperity of the peoples of the Third World.
Thus the environmental NGO's are in the vanguard in attempting to stop growth (and the poverty alleviation it entails) in the Third World by seeking to limit their carbon emissions; the consumer NGO's -- not I hasten to add this one -- are seeking to prevent imports of goods from developing countries produced by means which do not meet their moral standards, in the name of ethical trading; the human rights NGO's are attempting to legislate a new extra-territorial principle based on western moral values categorized as 'human rights; the health NGO's have taken on a crusade against GM foods,which promise the same hope for the hungry of the world that the Green Revolution (which too was based on the genetic modification of plants) delivered in the last three decades."
Getting Better All The Time
- The Economist, Nov 8t 2001
Developing countries are widely thought to be losing out from ever-faster technological change. Not so, argues Robert Guest: science is rapidly improving the lives of poor as well as rich people
AnA ngolan refugee camp is not a happy place. Tired and hungry families huddle for shade under black plastic sheets. Amputees limp by on makeshift wooden crutches. The smell of human waste hangs thickly in the hot, dry air.
Angola is arguably the most wretched place on earth. Three decades of civil war show little sign of easing. A pitiless rebel army makes the countryside too dangerous to farm, so peasants flee to the cities in search of food and safety. Every rubbish skip has ragged children in it, foraging for lunch. Twentieth-century technology has caused terrible harm. Armour-piercing bullets keep evil men in power. Plastic explosives shred limbs.
Yet despite war and poverty, Angolans now live almost twice as long as their great-grandparents. By western standards, a life expectancy of 45 sounds pitifully short. But a century ago, Angolans, like most people throughout human history, survived for an average of only 25 years.
The reason is 20th-century medicine. Even the sad souls in Luanda's refugee camps have access to drugs. Antibiotics clear up infections that would previously have been fatal. Vaccines prevent countless children from dying before they can walk. In Angola as a whole, two-thirds of one-year-olds are immunised against tuberculosis. This is one of the lowest rates on earth, but it is a vast improvement on nobody 100 years ago.
The conventional wisdom is that as rich countries innovate with ever-increasing speed, the 5 billion people who live in developing countries are left behind. This survey is more optimistic. Of course technology makes the rich richer. But it also makes the poor richer, not to mention healthier, better-fed, longer-lived and supplied with more entertainment.
People from developing countries can now expect to live two-and-a-half times longer than in 1900
Consider the most basic indicator of well-being: staying alive. If people are living longer even in Angola, it should come as no surprise that the gains are even greater elsewhere. Angus Maddison, an economic historian, estimates that life expectancy in 1900 in what we now call the developing world-roughly speaking, everywhere apart from Western Europe, North America, Australasia and Japan-was 26. In the West, it was 46, about the same as in Angola today. Westerners now live 70% longer than they did a century ago, to an average of 78. People from developing countries can now expect to live two-and-a-half times longer than in 1900, to 64. These figures are astonishing. In the millennium before 1900, lifespans in Asia, Africa and Latin America barely budged.
People are living longer for many reasons: better food, cleaner water, more effective medicines. How did they get these things? It helps that the poor are getting richer: average annual incomes in developing countries doubled between 1975 and 1998, from $1,300 to $2,500 (in 1985 dollars at purchasing-power parity). It does not hurt, either, that their rulers are getting less despotic: since the collapse of the Soviet Union, 100 developing countries have ended military or one-party rule. (Angola was an exception to both these trends.)
The strongest force propelling human progress, however, has been the swift advance and wide diffusion of technology. Bread has been around for thousands of years, but the hybrid wheat seeds, chemical pesticides and fertilisers that have allowed food production to outstrip population growth are recent inventions. Water is older than mankind, but no one thought to add chlorine to it until the 20th century. And the medical advances of the past 100 years far surpass those of the previous million.
Countries vary hugely in their ability to produce new technology. According to a recent report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the 29 industrial nations that make up the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), with 19% of the world's population, accounted for 91% of the patents issued in 1998. That year, those countries spent $520 billion on research and development (R&D)-more than the combined economic output of the world's 30 poorest countries.
Many people worry that the "digital divide" is unbridgeable. Rich countries grow richer from their high-tech industries, which allows them to invest in the next generation of high-tech products. High salaries in Silicon Valley suck the best brains out of poor countries. The West gets wired, enabling its researchers and businessmen to swap ideas and sign deals at Internet speed. Poor countries, excluded from these opportunities, fall ever further behind.
Sunnier folk argue that for rich countries to be pushing out new technologies at an unprecedented rate must be a good thing. Knowledge does not wear out, and American and Japanese inventions eventually get cheap enough for Africans to buy them. It still takes too long, but it is happening faster now than ever before.
The first three articles in this survey look at three fields where technology holds particular promise for the poor. The first is agriculture: the controversial science of genetic modification could feed the world, if only environmentalists would let it (Posted on AgBioView Nov 9, 2001) . The second is medicine: startling advances continue, but the fight against AIDS and tropical diseases will require more public money. The third is information and communication technology (ICT). Despite the pessimists' dire predictions, ICT is spreading more rapidly than anyone imagined, and is spawning and spreading other technologies, too. Most of the rest of the survey deals with how developing countries are trying to catch up and start innovating for themselves.
Global Gaps in Scientific Knowledge
- Excerpted Chapter from "Philip G. Pardey and Nienke M. Beintema, 2001. Slow Magic: Agricultural R&D A Century After Mendel Download". Full doc at http://www.ifpri.org/pubs/pubs.htm#fpr.
The eightfold difference in total research intensities illustrates the present gap in agriculture between rich and poor countries. Moreover, the situation is growing worse.The difference in public research-intensity ratios was 3.4-fold in the 1970s, compared with 4.2-fold now (it would be an even wider gap if private spending were factored in). Global Gaps in Stocks of Scientific Knowledge
These trends may actually understate the gap in scientific knowledge. Science is a cumulative endeavor, with a snowball effect. Innovations beget new ideas and further rounds of innovation or additions to the cumulative stock of knowledge.The mutually beneficial effects of accumulating and exchanging ideas is why lone innovators have largely given way to institutional approaches to research, why scientific disciplines formed professional organizations and spawned journals to capture and carry forward findings, and why scientists seek out other scientists at conferences, via the Internet or other venues.And so the size of the accumulated stock of knowledge, not merely the amount of investment in current research and innovative activity, gives a more meaningful measure of a country's technological capacity.
The current stock of knowledge and the contribution of past research spending to that stock is sensitive to the types of science being done, the institutional structures surrounding the science, and the economic context that affects the use of this stock. Some science spending makes persistent and even perpetual contributions to the changing stock of locally produced knowledge: the same spending in societies ravaged by wars, institutional instability, and outright collapse may have a much more ephemeral effect.
The sequential and cumulative nature of scientific progress and knowledge is starkly illustrated by crop improvement. It typically takes 7 to10 years of breeding to develop a uniform, stable, and superior variety of wheat, rice, or corn (with improved yield, grain quality, or other attributes).Today's breeders build on an accumulation of knowledge built up by the breeders of yesterday. Breeding lines from earlier research are used to develop new varieties, so research of the distant past is still feeding today's research. New crops not only carry forward the genes of earlier varieties, they also carry the crop-breeding and -selection strategies made by earlier breeders, whether they are the farmers who made the selections over the first 10,000 years or the scientific crosses and selections made by researchers during the past 100 years.
Figure 9 (Not Show here in AgBioView) shows a partial pedigree of the wheat variety Pioneer 2375, released in February 1989 by Pioneer-Hybrid International, the private company mentioned in connection with the Wallace family (now part of Dupont). Pioneer 2375 was one of several commercially significant wheat varieties in Minnesota during the early 1990s.26 This pedigree reveals the persistent effects of research spending in the distant past on current innovative activity. Pioneer 2375 was developed by crossing the varieties Olaf/Era/Suquamuxi68 and Chris/ND487/Lark. Moving back through successive generations reveals that varieties developed or discovered as long ago as 1873 (Turkey Red), 1901 (Federation), and 1935 (Norin 10) are part of this pedigree. Over 14 percent of the varieties or breeding lines incorporated into Pioneer 2375's pedigree were available prior to 1900, and at least 36 percent before 1940. 27 The cumulative nature of this process means that past discoveries and related research are an in
Providing adequate funding for research is thus only part of the story. Putting in place the policies and practices to accumulate innovations and increase the stock of knowledge is an equally important and almost universally unappreciated foundation. Discoveries and data that are improperly documented or inaccessible (and effectively exist only in the mind of the researcher) are lost from the historical record when researchers retire from science.These "hidden" losses seem particularly prevalent in cash-strapped research agencies in the developing world, where inadequate and often irregular amounts of funding limit the functioning of libraries, data banks, and genebanks, and hasten staff turnover.
There can be catastrophic losses, too, tied to the political instability that is also a cause of hunger. Civil strife and wars cause an exodus of scientific staff, or at least a flight from practicing science. Most of Uganda's scientific facilities, for example, were in ruins when its civil war ended in the early 1980s. It is hard to imagine that today's Congo once had among the most sophisticated scientific infrastructure in colonial Africa, comparable to the facilities and quality of staff found in most developed countries at the time.28 To construct money metrics of the knowledge stocks for US agriculture, we developed an annual series of public agricultural R&D spending from 1862 (the first year of operation of the United States Department of Agriculture and federal funding for the land-grant universities) to 2000. 29 The private-sector R&D series stretches back to 1850. Private research (often an individual initiative in its earlier years) is a long-established feature of US agriculture, beginning well
Agricultural research in Africa started in Britain's Central and Eastern African colonies at the turn of the 20th century, with renewed spurts of spending after World War II (when the Colonial Research Fund became operational in the early 1940s) and again in the 1960s as large injections of donor dollars underwrote the shift to independent, postcolonial governments.The French government began investing in agricultural research in its West African colonies after 1943 (a little later than the British), mainly when it created the Office de la Recherche Scientifique Coloniale. Our African agricultural research series runs from 1900 to 2000 (the figures for public research are based on direct estimates since 1960 and synthetic estimates for earlier years, with a synthetic series for private research since 1900).
We generated money measures of the stock of scientific knowledge based on research performed in the United States (assuming a baseline depreciation rate of 3 percent per annum) and Africa (assuming the same 3 percent baseline depreciation rate and also a depreciation rate of 6 percent per year, perhaps more realistic given the instability and lack of infrastructure for R&D throughout much of the region). Knowledge stocks in 1995-representing a discounted accumulation of research spending from 1850 for the United States and from 1900 for Africa-were expressed as percentages of 1995 AgGDP to normalize for differences in the size of the respective agricultural sectors (Figure 10; Not shown here..).
The accumulated stock of knowledge in the United States was about 11 times more than the amount of agricultural output produced in 1995. In other words, for every $100 of agricultural output, there existed a $1,100 stock of knowledge to draw upon. In Africa, the stock of scientific knowledge in 1995 was actually less than the value of African agricultural output that year.The ratio of the US knowledge stock relative to US agricultural output in 1995 was nearly 12 times higher than the corresponding amount for Africa. If a depreciation rate for Africa of 6 percent instead of 3 percent is used, the gap in American and African ratios is more than fourteenfold.
These measures suggest the immensity, if not the outright impossibility, of playing catch-up, and the consequent need to transmit knowledge across borders and continents.The measures also underscore the need to raise current levels of funding for agricultural R&D throughout the region while also developing the policy and infrastructure needed to accelerate the rate of knowledge accumulation in Africa over the long haul.
Developing local capacity to carry forward findings will yield a double dividend: increasing local innovative capacities while also enhancing the ability of African science to tap discoveries made elsewhere. Not least, this calls for increasing investments in primary, secondary, and higher education, which is essential if the generation and accumulation of knowledge is to gain the momentum required, putting economies on a path to lift people out of poverty.