Today in AgBioView from www.agbioworld.org : October 6, 2004
* The Next Green Revolution
* Biotech's Growing In S Africa, Conference Hears
* Europe Closes Ranks on Bioengineered Food
* Throw Precaution to the Wind
* Workshop on AgBiotech in S. Korea - Travel Grants Available
* Science Alone Is Not Enough...
* India Focusing on Genetic Improvement of Rice
* Consumer Knowledge and Acceptance of AgBiotech Vary
* Regulatory Challenges Reduce Opportunities for Horticultural Biotech
* Remember to Sign the Open Letter to FAO
* Radio Program on Gene Drift
The Next Green Revolution
- Pedro Sanchez, New York Times, October 6, 2004, NYTimes.com
Africa is hungry and Americans would like to help. But we've been helping the wrong way - by providing emergency food aid rather than enabling African farmers to produce more food. Last year the United States generously gave $500 million of emergency food aid to Ethiopia to help people survive the drought year. And how much did we provide to African farmers to help them be more productive over the long run? A small fraction of that amount - $4 million.
As a result of the Green Revolution in the 1960's, 70's and 80's, crop yields soared in India, China and Latin America, enabling them to break free of extreme hunger and recurrent famine. Indeed, these agricultural changes allowed countries like China and India to become the emerging markets they are today.
Tropical Africa - which stretches from the southern edge of the Sahara to the Limpopo River on the border of South Africa - is finally ready for its own Green Revolution. Crop yields there are miniscule, an average of 1,500 pounds of cereals per acre compared with 2,300 pounds in India and 4,900 pounds in China.
For better harvests, Africa's farmers need four things: nutrients for the soil, which can be provided by both mineral and organic fertilizers; small-scale irrigation and technologies for collecting rainwater; sturdier, higher-yield seeds; and a corps of master farmers, trained in up-to-date agricultural techniques, who could be posted in villages and would be able to provide advice. By introducing these measures, Africans could triple food production by 2015.
Unlike the Green Revolution of the 60's, an African Green Revolution doesn't have to be based on technologies and practices that hurt the environment. Land can be reclaimed not only through appropriate fertilization but through more environmentally sensitive techniques. For starters, there's agro-forestry, which involves planting trees that replenish the soil with nutrients like nitrogen. Farmers could also learn low-till or no-till farming techniques and be encouraged to plant pest-tolerant crops, which would cut down on insecticide and pesticide use.
What's more, small-scale irrigation projects like ones under way in northern Ethiopia can bring water to parched areas more effectively and economically than the large, expensive dam projects of old. Finally, after soil and water are taken care of, biotechnology can help, by fortifying African food crops against droughts and pests, and by increasing the nutritional content of staple foods.
A rise in crop yields would do more than end hunger. Raising the productivity of Africa's villages would also raise the status of the women on the continent. Women do much of the farming in Africa today, growing 80 percent of the food there - and they work mostly without tools or modern technologies. If farming was easier, women would be freer to find work off the farm, more girls would be able to stay in school and children would have better food to eat. History has shown that women's empowerment in turn leads to lower population growth and to advances in children's health and education. In addition, using locally grown foods in feeding programs for infants and children will generate additional demand, helping African agriculture to strengthen itself.
Given the possible rewards of African renewal, the price tag is small. Key investments on the order of $50 per person per year in tropical African villages would put the continent on the path to long-term sustainable development. Additional annual aid from the developed world might therefore be around $25 billion, a small fraction of what we spend over the long run on emergency food aid, disease epidemics and fighting terrorism and violence in failed states.
If we take these simple steps - and promote good governance in African countries - the continent has the potential to go from basket case to trading partner. A sign I saw at a Florida bait shop says it all: "Give people a fish and they will eat for a day; teach people how to fish and they will eat for their lifetime and ...they will buy fishing equipment."
Pedro Sanchez, a 2004 MacArthur fellow, directs the Tropical Agriculture Program of the Earth Institute at Columbia University.
Biotech's Growing In S Africa, Conference Hears
- Graeme O'Neill, Australian Biotechnology News, Oct. 5, 2004
A leading South African biosafety expert has told a Brisbane conference that the biotechnology revolution is beginning to roll across Africa, with small-scale farmers clamouring to grow genetically modified crops.
Muffy Koch, of consultancy Golden Genomics, said biotech-developed cutlivars of bananas, maize and cotton are delivering enormous yield increases and big profits to small farmers, who have been the biggest beneficiaries of the revolution.
Koch told delegates to the 4th International Crop Science Congress that seven African countries are now running field trials of GM cultivars of African staples like cassava, sweet potato, sorghum and white maize, and exotic crops like soybeans and potatoes. But their commercialisation was being impeded by misinformation spread by anti-GM activists in some African nations, she warned.
In South Africa, the government was "under tremendous pressure" from anti-GM activists to impose a moratorium on GM crops, and to rescind approvals for existing GM crops like Bt maize and Bt cotton, she said. Anti-GM activists had launched a series of unsuccessful legal actions and appeals against Monsanto, aimed at forcing it to quit South Africa.
Koch said the NGOs did not mind that they had lost all of these cases, because they were succeeding in delaying the introduction of new GM crops. Zambia, which had rejected US food-aid shipments this year because they contained GM maize, had had excellent results from trials with GM cotton four years ago, but had not proceeded with the technology because of misinformation spread by anti-GM NGOs.
Mauritius, a small country with "superb biotechnology capabilities", had developed several promising biotechnology crops by 1998, but had still not released them because it had not passed its biosafety laws until January this year.
Koch said that the experiences of those African nations that were growing biotech crops, like South Africa and Kenya, or which had trialled them, had all been positive, despite claims by anti-GM activists. "If the activists don't get their way, we're going to see biotech crops spread right up through Africa," Koch predicted.
Not just GM Koch, who played a key role in developing South Africa's regulatory protocols and legislation governing GM crops, said not all the successes involved genetic manipulation -- tissue culture and marker-assisted conventional breeding were also contributing.
In Kenya, researchers had employed tissue culture to eliminate black sigatoka disease and other microbial pathogens from a range of popular banana cultivars. Farmers who had bought the pathogen-free plants at $1 each had achieved "staggering" yield increases.
South Africa has approved five genetically modified crops, of which two -- Bt maize and Bt cotton -- are being grown by small farmers. Bt cotton, released in 1997, was an instant success with small-scale cotton farmers; the uptake of Bt maize, introduced in the same year, had been slower because the first varieties were yellow maize, not the white maize preferred throughout Africa. A GM white maize had been released two years ago.
Farmers had achieved huge yield increases, and there was still only enough seed to meet about half of the demand. Golden Genomics' analysis confirmed that the success of GM crops was independent of the scale at which they were grown. In fact, smaller farmers who had been unable to afford the cost of pesticides to spray their conventional crops were now reaping proportionally greater yield increases and profits than larger enterprises.
South Africa's next GM crops would be drought-tolerant soybeans and maize, Koch said -- not developed by multinational agbiotech companies, but by South Africa's Agricultural Research Council and the University of Cape Town, using public germplasm resources.
But the largely Western, urban-based anti-GM movement had driven up the costs of regulatory approval to the point where a range of GM crops developed by local agencies over the past decade were still sitting in cold storage, awaiting field trials.
Koch said she considered the actions of anti-GM activists immoral, because they failed to consider the impact of not allowing the technology to proceed. "If one were to quantify those costs, it would be astounding," she said.
After seeing the success of South African farmers, small-scale farmers in nations like Mozambique, Zambia, Botswana and Namibia, also wanted to grow GM crops, but their governments had rejected the crops after massive disinformation campaigns by anti-GM NGOs like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth.
Paradoxically, most of the African nations that had publicly rejected shipments of unsegregated US maize to alleviate famine during this year's drought, had actually been importing GM maize from both the US and Africa for the past six years.
"It's not a health and safety issue, it's a control issue," Koch said. "It's a case of, 'We import it because we want it, but don't tell us we have to take it'."
In developing African nations, the arguments were all about risk assessment, rather than the technology's potential benefits, she said, claiming the debate ignored the socio-economic impacts on communities, and the impact on food security, in nations that did not grow GM crops.
Europe Closes Ranks on Bioengineered Food
- Elisabeth Rosenthal, International Herald Tribune, Oct. 5, 2004
Geneva - Some are smokers. Some drink too much. Some admit they love red meat. But virtually all shoppers here at the Migros Supermarket on the bustling Rue des Paquis are united in avoiding a risk they regard as unacceptable: genetically modified food.
That is easy to do here in Switzerland, as in the rest of Europe, where food containing such ingredients must be labeled by law. Many large retailers, like Migros, have essentially stopped stocking the products, regarding them as bad for public image.
"I try not to eat any of it and always read the boxes," said Marco Feline, 32, an artist in jeans, getting onto his bike (with no helmet). "It scares me because we don't know what the long-term effects will be - on people or the environment."
The majority of corn and soy in the United States is now grown from genetically modified seeds, altered to increase their resistance to pests or reduce their need for water, for example. In the past decade, Americans have happily - if unknowingly - gobbled down hundreds of millions of servings of genetically modified foods. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says there have been no adverse effects, and there is no specific labeling.
But here in Europe - where food is high culture, if not a religion - farmers, consumers, chefs and environmental groups have joined voices to loudly and stubbornly oppose bioengineered foods, effectively blocking their arrival at the farms and on the tables of the continent. And that, in turn, has created a huge ripple effect on trade and politics from North America to Africa.
The United States, Canada and Argentina have filed a complaint that is pending before the World Trade Organization contending that European laws and procedures that discriminate against genetically modified products are irrational and unscientific, and so constitute an unfair trade barrier.
U.S. companies like Monsanto, which invested heavily in the technology, suffered huge losses when Europe balked. As part of a public relations effort, the U.S. State Department enlisted a Vatican academy last month as a co-sponsor of a conference in Rome, "Feeding a Hungry World: The Moral Imperative of Biotechnology."
In response to such pressure, the European Union has relaxed legal restrictions on genetically modified foods. In May the EU approved for sale a genetically modified sweet corn, lifting a five-year moratorium on new imports. Last month the European Commission gave its seal of approval to 17 types of genetically modified corn seed for farming. But no one expects a wide-open market.
"We have no illusion that the market will change anytime soon," said Markus Payer, spokesman for Syngenta, the Swiss agribusiness company whose BT-11 corn got the approval in May. "That will only be created by consumer acceptance in Europe. There is currently no inclination among European consumers to buy these things. But the atmosphere of rejection is not based on facts. That is a political, cultural and media-driven decision."
Indeed, the battle lines between countries for and against genetically modified foods seem to be hardening. Several African countries have now rejected donations of genetically engineered food and seeds, following Europe's lead.
In Asia, reticence appears to be spreading. While countries like China and India are enthusiastically planting biotech crops like cotton, genetically modified food crops are having trouble winning approval.
Opponents of genetically modified foods "suggest that it is better for thousands to die than for hungry people to risk eating the same corn that Americans have been eating every night for the last nine years" Jim Nicholson, U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, said at the conference there last week.
Africa's rejection is based partly on health and local environmental concerns, but also on economic interests: Zambia and Mozambique have discovered a good market in selling unmodified grain and soy to Europe, supplanting the United States as European suppliers.
"In the U.S., genetically modified foods were a fait accompli; here in Europe we succeeded in preventing that," said Mauro Albrizio, vice president of the European Environmental Bureau, a policy group based in Brussels.
Genetically modified foods arrived on America's dinner plates with little fanfare in the mid-1990s as large-scale farmers in the United States enthusiastically started planting the seeds, which increased production and reduced the amount of pesticide required. Convinced that bioengineered food was "as least as safe as conventional food," the U.S. Food and Drug Administration declared that a bioengineered lemon was the same as an ordinary lemon, and did not require special labeling or regulation.
Today, nearly two-thirds of the genetically modified crops in the world are grown in the United States, mostly corn and soybeans. "In the U.S., a large part of the diet is actually bioengineered," said Dr. Lester Crawford, acting commissioner of the FDA. "The first thing other nations want to know is how many illnesses or adverse reactions we've seen," he added. "But we haven't actually had any problems at all with bioengineered foods."
Vast amounts of money are at stake. Believing that genetically modified foods would quickly catch on throughout the world as they had the United States, large biotech companies like Monsanto invested billions of dollars. At the same time, industry analysts said, companies turned a deaf ear to Europeans' love affair with food, as well as their food fears in the wake of mad cow disease.
Since the late 1990s the European Union has required that all food containing more than tiny amounts of genetically modified materials be labeled, and that all genetically modified products be submitted for approval before sale in Europe. No products were approved during an informal moratorium from 1998 to 2003. In the past five years, many parts of Europe have enacted local bans on growing such foods.
In fact, most scientific panels have concluded that "foods derived from the transgenic crops currently on the market are safe to eat," in the words of a recent report from the UN's Food and Agricultural Organization. But the report also cautioned that crops must be evaluated case by case.
And low risk is not no risk. The 87 member states of the UN-sponsored Cartegena Protocol on Biosafety this year required labeling of all bulk shipments of food containing genetically modified products. The United States has not signed the pact.
More important, though, is that the assessment of risk depends largely on the degree of proof that a country's consumers demand.
"In their personal lives people take lots of risk - they drive too fast and bungee-jump - but for food their acceptance of risk is very low," said Philipp Hübner of the Basel-Stadt Canton Laboratory in Switzerland, which tests products in that country for contamination with genetically modified organisms. But Hübner sees his work as detecting fraud in labeling rather than as public health.
"For most scientists it is not so much a safety issue, but an ethical and societal question," he said. "This is what the public here has chosen, like Muslims choosing not to eat pork."
In a survey conducted by the European Opinion Research Group in late 2002, 88.6 percent of Europeans listed the "quality of food products" as an environmental issue with health implications.
But health fears, which can move markets, are not always consistent. In some parts of Europe, like Bordeaux, which have declared themselves freed of genetically modified organisms, energy is supplied by nuclear power plants.
To sell Sugar Pops cereal to European consumers, Kellogg's imports unmodified corn from Argentina and spends extra money to make sure that the entire transportation and processing chain is free of bioengineered products, said Chris Wermann, a company spokesman. The same cereal contains genetically modified corn in the United States. Both varieties contain all the usual sugars, artificial colors and flavors.
European advocates defend their right to be finicky. "This is not ideology - it's a pragmatic stand because of potential risks to health and the environment," Albrizio of the European Environmental Bureau said, noting that there is some evidence that genetically modified crops may trigger more allergies.(Ha?..CSP)
In terms of agriculture, there are some very clear-cut effects, since genetically modified seeds tend to spread in the environment once they have been planted, making it hard to maintain crops that are organic and free of genetic modification. Scientists call this phenomenon "co-mixing."
But to environmentalists and especially to farmers, it is potentially devastating "contamination." That is why the farmers of Tuscany and 11 other regions of Italy have declared themselves free of bioengineering.
"Here in Italy every area has its own dishes that are tied to the local farming," said Andrea Ferrante, a small, serious man with a black beard who owns an organic vegetable farm in Viterbo. "So for us this is about food sovereignty, about the right of a community to decide how its food its grown. "We don't know if genetically modified seeds are bad for health. What we do know is that it will kill our farming." (How? By improving your productivity, cutting down your pesticides, and conserving your soil?....CSP)
In fact, European farmers and consumers have so far created a firewall against genetically modified organisms, one that the changing laws and World Trade Organization challenges may not breach easily.
"In theory you could sell GMO products here, with labeling," Hübner said. "But I'm not aware of any products that are now being sold, because no store wants them on their shelves."
Throw Precaution to the Wind
- James K. Glassman, National Post, Oct. 5, 2004 (via Vivian Moses) http://www.canada.com/search/story.html?id=9d39849a-3bed-4351-9204-14f3522d7f34
We're too scared of taking risks. Something called the Precautionary Principle, which is a political idea, not a scientific theorem, is slowly coming to dominate public policy, especially in Canada and Europe, but in the United States as well.
The Precautionary Principles has no official definition, but the Wingspan Declaration by a group of environmentalists in 1998 will do: "When an activity raises threats of harm to human health and the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause-and-effect relationships are not established scientifically."
In other words, forget the science, and forget the benefits that flow from taking risks. Just ban it. As Mick Hume, who heads the British Web site and think-tank Spiked-online.com puts it: "The Precautionary Principle is humanity's most powerful self-imposed constraint."
Two years ago, famine swept through Southern Africa. The United States sent huge amounts of basic foods to feed the starving. Much of the corn was grown through methods involving genetic modification, a proven process in common use in growing U.S. grains. But European groups, ruled by the Precautionary Principle, persuaded the president of Zambia and other leaders of affected countries to reject the aid -- to let their people starve in order to avoid an imaginary risk.
Another example is the Kyoto Protocol, the treaty signed in 1997 (but, so far, unratified), which requires enormous reductions in the use of energy in order to meet targets for limiting emissions of greenhouse gases. Kyoto is the soul of the Precautionary Principle. Its "cause-and-effect relationships are not established scientifically," yet its strictures threaten to plunge the world into recession.
It is economic growth that, in a Kuznets Curve effect, improves environments. Wealth makes health, and developing countries, especially, need low-cost energy to power their economies to levels of prosperity where they can afford cleaner air and water. "Poverty," said the late Indira Ghandi of India, "is the worst polluter."
It may seem a trivial example, but consider fast food and soft drinks. Yes, some folks overeat, and it imperils their health, but, to the food police of the Nanny State, the solution is to limit choices. Without an ability to choose for themselves, people can't learn which risks to take and which to avoid.
Imagine the historic achievements that would have been thwarted to the obsession with risklessness embodied in the Precautionary Principle: the airplane, blood transfusion, high-voltage power grids, nuclear power, the discovery of America. In fact, writes Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen, editor of the journal Energy and Environment, "Virtually all scientific and technological discoveries" would be deterred or prevented "because all create, initially at least, powerful losers who can activate ideological and political systems against the new."
In other words, fear of risk-taking can be mobilized by interest groups that fear innovation. Automobile dealers in the United States, for instance, have managed to restrict direct car sales to consumers over the Internet, raising false fears of electronic exploitation. Free trade, which brings newer and cheaper products and services, has been under assault by organized labour for raising risks of environmental degradation and poverty.
Europe has become a profoundly conservative society, nearly paralyzed by the Precautionary Principle, but Canada and the United States are not far behind. In the wake of the accounting scandals involving Enron and other firms, U.S. politicians enacted a raft of new regulations. The clear results: adding new costs and discouraging managers from taking risks, thus harming investor returns. Risk-taking is at the heart of the animal spirits that have made free-market economies prosper.
Technology has the potential to increase prosperity and liberty -- which may be why government and interest groups want to limit biotechnology, revolutionary software, new drugs, vigorously competitive businesses and the Internet itself.
Even in the best of cases, we can't know for sure about the extent of every danger. But we take reasonable risks. It is part of our humanity. To deny the ability to take risks is to crush basic freedoms.
James K. Glassman is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and host of the Web site TechCentralStation.com. He will be speaking on these issues Oct. 7 at an upcoming Toronto conference Risk: Regulation & Reality. www.techcentralstation.com /images/riskconf.html
Workshop on AgBiotech in S. Korea - Travel Grants Available for Select Countries
- Write directly to Dr. Wan Soon Kim,
The RDEAB Workshop on Technical Cooperation, Capacity Building, Risk Management and Emerging Issues in Agriculture Biotechnology will be held on November 8 - 17, 2004 in Seoul and Suwon, Korea.
The sponsorship is available for up to two persons (active participants) from the following travel-eligible member economies: Brunei Darussalam, Chile, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Russia, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Please contact (no later than October 9 ) Dr. Wan Soon Kim, International Technical Cooperation Center, RDA by e-mail: or Fax (+82-31-293-9359) for application form and registration details.
Ministers at APEC Ministerial Meetings have recognized the important contribution biotechnology can make in expanding agricultural production, and have affirmed the importance of transparent and science based approaches to the introduction and use of biotechnology products. In order to address this issue, the Ministers have assigned to the APEC Agricultural Technical Cooperation Working Group (ATCWG) Sub-Group on Research, Development and Extension of Agricultural Biotechnology (RDEAB) the task of exchanging information on the new technology and capacity building, taking into account consumers' interest in food safety and environmental quality while facilitating the realization of the potential benefits of biotechnology.
In order to achieve these goals, during the 7th APEC RDEAB Biotechnology Workshop held in China, December 2003 RDEAB delegates agreed to establish a Working Group, led by Korea, Australia, Canada, Mexico, Philippines, and the United States. This Working Group was formed to organize a scientific workshop that will explore the issue and provide a forum for questions relevant to the agricultural biotechnology among APEC member economies.
I am very proud to formally invite you to attend the Workshop on Technical Cooperation, Capacity Building, Risk Management and Emerging Issues in Agricultural Biotechnology. This workshop has the following objectives:
* Technical cooperation and information exchange, in particular on member economy’s experiences on how to create a more transparent environment for the regulation of biotechnology
* Capacity building for the safe use of agricultural biotechnology
* Discussing food and environmental risk assessment/management leading to transparent and science-based approaches to the regulation of the newest products of agricultural biotechnology
* Addressing the challenges on emerging issues and on member economy experience in dealing with the challenges
* Linking the work done in APEC with other international organizations
Please refer this invitation to representatives who can contribute to a scientific and socioeconomic discussion of the workshop on agricultural biotechnology.
Science Alone Is Not Enough...
- David Dickson, scidev.net, Oct. 4 2004
The latest World Development Report is a timely reminder that innovation has a key role in alleviating poverty. One implication is that effective mechanisms for putting research into practice are essential for achieving the UN's Millennium Development Goals.
Microsoft founder Bill Gates had a simple message when he addressed students at the University of California in Berkeley last week. Technological innovation, he said, was not a 'zero-sum game' in which the rich get richer while the rest of the world drops behind. Rather, it was the prime motor of economic and social development for all — as evidenced by the extent to which the strength of the US economy is largely due to the strong links between the country's research universities and its industrial corporations.
Gates's comments were aimed at critics of the recent growth of developing country economies, particularly China and India. He described as "a little scary" those who expressed fears that the economic success of such countries risked undermining the economic strength of the United States: "It is not like a war where you have one winner and one loser," said Gates. "China and India are the big change engines for the years ahead, and as we embrace that and understand our new role in that, that's the path forward."
The same message, even if expressed in less colourful language, lies at the heart of this year's World Development Report, published earlier in the week by the World Bank under the title A Better Investment Climate For Everyone. The report — which focuses on the importance of encouraging innovation as a route to economic growth — admits that mistakes in this field have been made in the past (for example, by governments that have sought to build an industrial strategy around 'picking winners').
But -- like Gates's comments -- it also highlights an essential message for all those concerned about the role of science in the development process. Namely, the most effective strategies for achieving this goal are not those that assume governments and their agencies have the best or most appropriate answers about how this should be done. Rather, they are strategies that provide a supportive environment for individuals, institutions and enterprises that are dedicated to finding the best ways of putting research results into practice.
Innovation and poverty alleviation
Achieving this, of course, is much more of a challenge than its sounds. For the 'supportive environment' has many dimensions, and achieving it can therefore involve major political challenges. A survey carried out for the report, for example, found that one of the biggest barriers to innovation was a lack of confidence that governments would respect their own laws protecting investments; in Bangladesh, such a concern was expressed by more than 80 of those interviewed.
Another significant worry is the level of corruption that continues to operate in many developing countries. Leave aside the moral (or even economic) dimension of a situation in which, according to the report, "the majority of firms in developing countries expect to pay bribes when dealing with officials". Equally concerning is the fact that the mechanisms by which corruption operates can distort technological priorities, for example by skewing investment towards large-scale projects such as dams (for which official permission can require large pay-offs), rather than small-scale initiatives that may often be more directly appropriate to local needs.
But there are two specific dimensions of the report's argument which, although only referred to briefly in the document itself, should be of central concern to all those engaged in promoting the role of science in development. The first is that fact that -- as most industrialised nations have come to recognise in recent years -- the existence and availability of relevant scientific and technological knowledge is one of the most important components of the supportive environment that successful innovation requires. However obvious it may appear, this is a message that still has to be acknowledged by many developing countries in their domestic priorities.
The second dimension, equally essential (but equally often overlooked), concerns the mechanisms needed to ensure that scientific knowledge is put to effective use. Economic and social development not only requires a physical infrastructure, such as the roads and telecommunications needed to transport goods and information to where they are needed. Equally important is a parallel 'virtual infrastructure', linking universities, corporations and policy-making bodies in ways that ensure scientific results and technological information also reaches its targets effectively.
There are many development-related debates to which these arguments are directly relevant. But perhaps none are currently as important as that over the strategy needed to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. As the draft summary of the report of the Millennium Commission -- which is currently being made available for public comment -- points out, substantial extra investment in the research that underpins such the goals is essential if they are to be achieved (See 'Ending poverty requires US$70 billion in research aid' NW1635).
The draft summary also pinpoints the need for the necessary infrastructure to support scientific and technological efforts in developing countries. However, the main examples that it calls for remain in the physical sphere (such as investment in science, technology and engineering institutions). Hopefully the final version, perhaps drawing on the message of the World Development Report, will also underline the need for governments to do more to link research to practice in this field - or, to put it another way, to take policy initiatives specifically designed to promote pro-poor innovation.
Learning from the past
If there is a major weakness on the World Bank's report, it is the relative neglect of any detailed consideration of how this pro-poor innovation might be achieved (beyond just providing an environment in which it can take place). History already shows us that it would certainly be wrong, for example, to believe in unbridled innovation as the answer to alleviating poverty.
Furthermore, as countries like China and India are already finding to their cost, rapid industrialisation can have unwanted side effects -- from scarcity of resources to health-destroying pollution. Governments continue to have a major responsibility to ensure that innovation takes place within a regulatory framework that is sufficiently strict, and sufficiently rigidly enforced, to avoid the costs outweighing the benefits.
Linked directly to this is the danger of formulating innovation policy around a one-dimensional view of human progress. Not all technological products are, by definition, desirable (even those for which a market exists). And modern technologies developed in advanced scientific laboratories are not always the most appropriate solutions to local needs and problems. Technological innovation must be seen as a social process, in which the social factors play as important a role as the market in formulating user demand.
Such caveats, however, should not be allowed to undermine the central message of the World Bank report, namely that human ingenuity, whether in farmers or small-scale entrepreneurs, lies at the heart of the development process. The most effective thing that governments can do if they wish to promote development is to provide an environment in which this ingenuity can flourish, while ensuring that it does so to the benefit of the whole community.
Only if policies for the support of science and technology can be formulated on that basis -- and if policies in other areas recognise the central role of science and technology in achieving their objectives -- does the elimination of global poverty stand a chance of becoming a practical proposition.
Related links: World Development Report 2005: "A Better Investment Climate For Everyone"
Draft summary of UN Millennium Report
India: ICAR Focusing on Genetic Improvement of Rice
- Business Line (The Hindu), Oct. 5, 2004
Hyderabad -- The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) is moving forward in functional genomics and has already formulated a Rs 32-crore project that would initially focus on the production of transgenic rice variety, which would be resistant to yellow stem borer, according to ICAR Director-General, Dr Mangala Rai.
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of an international symposium, "Rice from Green Revolution to Gene Revolution", on Monday, Dr Rai said the project would subsequently focus on other aspects of transgenic rice like salinity, development of drought-resistant varieties, improvement of yield and quality, reduction of crop duration and efficient use of inputs like water and fertilisers.
"Our endeavour is to enhance productivity, reduce input costs and increase the profit margins of the producers so that we are competitive in cost as well as quality, locally and globally." Dr Rai said ICAR research trends on rice were currently associated with genetic improvement with a special focus on conservation technology.
The three-day symposium is being held by ICAR with the participation of the Directorate of Rice Research (DRR), Hyderabad and the Central Rice Research Institute, Cuttack on the occasion of the International Year of Rice.
Stating that ICAR has also initiated work on organic farming, Dr Rai said there was a need to conduct a mass campaign for the production of vermicompost. "Whether it is organic or inorganic farming, the plant will accept nutrients only in ionic form. Hence, there is a need to check the source of the organic matter."
Dr Gurdev S. Khush, Professor at the University of California and former Head of Planting Breeding at the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute said organic farming could be adopted in limited areas for production of small quantity of agricultural products for the purpose of export. "We can't think of feeding the entire population of India with organic agriculture."
He added that several new technologies were coming up for increasing productivity and improving the nutritional quality of rice. Currently, research is being conducted for enhancing photosynthesis process in rice plants. In this regard, genes from maize and sorghum - which have higher photosynthesis - are being injected into rice. This is expected to increase the rice yields by nearly 35 per cent.
He said the 'Golden Rice' genes have been now put into commercially grown rice varieties like IR 20 and Suvarna in India. Meanwhile, tests are being made on the digestive capability food safety and environmental safety aspects of the transgenic 'Golden Rice' that contains betacarotene and thus would be useful in eliminating Vitamin A deficiency problems among rice consumers.
A humanitarian board comprising several scientists and organisations is also looking into aspect of whether people who are used to consuming white rice would prefer to eat 'Golden Rice'. On the other hand, Dr Khush said research was also being conducted through conventional methods for production of high-yielding rice varieties that would have high iron content. "These varieties are non-transgenic and may be available for commercialisation in 2-3 years."
Earlier, inaugurating the symposium Dr Rai said rice was probably the only crop in the world that was grown in most fragile ecosystems adding that a 'Gene Revolution' was possible if pursued persistently.
Consumer Knowledge and Acceptance of Agricultural Biotechnology Vary
- Jennifer S. James, California Agriculture, April - June 2004
Results from consumer surveys reveal some basic conclusions about consumer attitudes toward agricultural biotechnology.
* First, consumers do not agree about whether biotech foods are good or bad.
* Second, a small group of people strongly opposes them.
* Third, the majority of consumers are uninformed about the technology and how food is produced.
Relatively small but vocal anti-biotechnology activist groups are successful at influencing public opinion because of consumers’ lack of knowledge, creating a role for universities and government agencies to provide clear, objective and accessible information.
Full article at http://californiaagriculture.ucop.edu/0402AMJ/abstracts.html#4
Regulatory Challenges Reduce Opportunities for Horticultural Biotechnology
- Keith Redenbaugh and Alan McHughen, California Agriculture, April - June 2004
Development of transgenic horticultural crops has slowed significantly in recent years for several reasons, including the European Union’s moratorium on biotech approvals, lack of tolerance levels for adventitious (accidental) presence in food and seed, significantly increased regulatory costs and decreased acceptance by food wholesalers and retailers.
While progress in the United States has slowed and approvals in the European Union stopped, some countries such as China continue to develop biotech products for their internal and external markets that will affect the U.S. and California industry. Within a few years, China will emerge as the leader in biotech horticultural crops.
Full article at http://californiaagriculture.ucop.edu/0402AMJ/abstracts.html#4
Do Not Forget to Sign on to the Open Letter to FAO
If you have not yet done so already from yesterday's posting, please sign on to the Open Letter to FAO Director General in Support of SOFA 2003-04 - Biotechnology Report" at:
Radio Program on Gene Drift
Michael Olson, host of the radio program FOOD CHAIN, announces that Drew Kershen, Earl Sneed Centennial Professor of Law will be his guest on Saturday October 9 to discuss gene flow/gene drift.
Named California’s "News Show of the Year," the 8 year-old Food Chain is an hour-long live news-talk program syndicated on commercial AM radio stations throughout California and the Midwest, and two radio networks. The program will also be archived as a sound recording (MP3) on the Food Chain page at www.metrofarm.com.
The Food Chain airs on Saturdays from 9:00 to 10:00 am Pacific (12 to 1pm Eastern).
Who & What: The Food Chain with Michael Olson
Where: 831-477-1029 / 831-477-1340 (Call-in numbers)
When: 9:01 Pacific (12:01 Eastern), Saturday, October 9, 2004
Topic: Gene Drift – guest Drew L. Kershen, Earl Sneed Centennial Professor of Law, Oklahoma
Website: Food Chain page at www.metrofarm.com
Contact: Michael Olson 831-566-4209, firstname.lastname@example.org