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Date:

February 11, 2009

Subject:

Biotech Crops Poised for Second Wave of Growth; Role in Sustainability; Navigating the Global Rift; Making Sense of GM; Increasing Africa's Grain Harvest

 

* Biotech Crops Poised for Second Wave of Growth
* Biotechnology’s Role in Sustainability
* China, Rice, and GMOs: Navigating the Global Rift on Genetic Engineering
* Making Sense of GM: What is the GM of plants and why are scientists doing it?
* Calls for a new GM foods debate
* Emerging Consequences of Biotech: Biodiversity Loss and IPR Issues
* Increasing Africa's Grain Harvest
* India: Research Platform For Transgenic Crops Launched

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Biotech Crops Poised for Second Wave of Growth

NAIROBI, KENYA (Feb. 11, 2009) -- Biotech crops, on the heels of a robust 2008 and bolstered by increased political will to meet food demands, are poised for a second wave of strong adoption that will drive sustained global growth through the end of the second decade of commercialization 2006 to 2015, according the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA).

An additional 1.3 million farmers planted 10.7 million new hectares of biotech crops in three new countries in 2008, according to the ISAAA brief Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops 2008. ISAAA has been tracking global biotech crop adoption trends since 1996.

In its annual study, ISAAA found that 13.3 million farmers in a record 25 countries planted 125 million hectares of biotech crops last year, the sixth largest growth spurt in 13 years of reporting. The 2 billionth cumulative acre of biotech crops also was planted in 2008, just three years after the first billionth acre, a milestone which required a decade to reach.

Most notably, in 2008 biotech farming began in the African nations of Egypt and Burkina Faso. Africa is considered the “final frontier” for biotech crops as it has perhaps the greatest need and most to gain. In 2008, Egypt planted 700 hectares of Bt maize and Burkina Faso planted 8,500 hectares of Bt cotton. They join South Africa, which since 1998 has benefited from biotech cotton, maize and soybean.

“Future growth prospects are encouraging,” said Clive James, chairman and founder of ISAAA and author of the report. “The positive experiences in these new regional footholds in south, north and west Africa will help lead the way for neighboring countries to learn by example. Additionally, political leaders globally are increasingly viewing biotech enhanced crops as a key part of the solution to critical social issues of food security and sustainability.”

For example, G-8 leaders in 2008 for the first time recognized the significance of biotech crops and called to “accelerate research and development and increase access to new agricultural technologies to boost agriculture production; we will promote science-based risk analysis, including on the contribution of seed varieties developed through biotechnology.”

The European Union also has acknowledged that biotech crops “can play an important role in mitigating the effects of the food crises.”

In China, Premier Wen Jiabao has said “to solve the food problem, we have to rely on big science and technology measures, rely on biotechnology, rely on GM.” As a result, China has committed an additional US $3.5 billion over 12 years for continued research and development. Biotech rice alone, already developed and field tested in China, has the potential to increase food availability and net income by about $100 per hectare for approximately 440 million people in the country.

“Biotech crops make two important contributions to global food security,” James said. “First, they increase yields, which increase food availability and supply. Second, they reduce production costs, which will also ultimately help reduce food prices. With 9.2 billion people to be fed by 2050, biotechnology plays a crucial role in helping satisfy the growing demand.”

Further, biotechnology is beginning to identify solutions to the growing challenges with drought being seen in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. Drought is the single largest constraint to increased productivity. For example, Argentina currently faces a drought so severe that farmers have made a loss on their wheat crop. Drought-tolerant crops, maize in particular, are an emerging reality with seeds expected to be commercialized in the United States by 2012 or sooner and by 2017 for Africa.

By the end of the second decade of commercialization in 2015, ISAAA predicts that four billion accumulated acres will have been planted. Further, 200 million hectares of biotech crops annually will be planted in a total of 40 countries.

Other indicators suggesting a new wave of adoption emerging include:

o Bolivia, the ninth biotech country in Latin America and the eighth largest global producer of soybeans, planted 600,000 hectares of herbicide-tolerant soy in 2008, allowing its growers to gain the benefits its neighbors in Brazil and Paraguay have experienced for years.

o There was a sharp growth in trait hectares or “virtual hectares” with 10 countries reporting 22 million additional hectares of biotech crops with more than one biotech trait. Stacked traits will be a strong driver of future growth.

o A new biotech crop, herbicide-tolerant sugar beet was planted in the United States and Canada for the first time in 2008. Nearly 258,000 hectares or 59 percent of the U.S. crop was planted to the herbicide-tolerant variety, the highest launch adoption level ever signaling a strong desire among growers for the technology.

o Brazil and Australia planted new biotech crops previously approved in other countries. Brazil, the world’s third largest maize producer, planted up to 1.3 million hectares of Bt maize in 2008, while Australia grew herbicide-tolerant canola for the first time.

o While France did not plant biotech crops in 2008, the seven other EU countries increased their planting 21 percent to again total more than 100,000 hectares, a milestone reached for the first time in 2007. The seven EU countries in order of biotech hectarage of Bt maize were Spain, Czech Republic, Romania, Portugal, Germany, Poland and Slovakia.

o The number of growers benefiting from the technology may soon jump sharply. Initial reports from China indicate the use of Bt cotton to control the bollworm is also suppressing the pest in other crops like maize, wheat and vegetables, allowing a potential 10 million additional growers to benefit from the technology.
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For more information or the executive summary, log on to www.isaaa.org.

The report is entirely funded by two European philanthropic organizations: a philanthropic unit within Ibercaja, one of the largest Spanish banks headquartered in the maize growing region of Spain; and the Bussolera-Branca Foundation from Italy, which supports the open-sharing of knowledge on biotech crops to aid decision-making by global society.

The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) is a not-for-profit organization with an international network of centers designed to contribute to the alleviation of hunger and poverty by sharing knowledge and crop biotechnology applications. Clive James, chairman and founder of ISAAA, has lived and/or worked for the past 25 years in the developing countries of Asia, Latin America and Africa, devoting his efforts to agricultural research and development issues with a focus on crop biotechnology and global food security.

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Biotechnology’s Role in Sustainability

In addition to aiding in issues of food security, biotech crops have an important role to play in lessening the environmental impact and improving the sustainability of food production. Insect-resistant rice, for example, has the potential to benefit about 1 billion people.

· Biotech crops contribute to increased food availability and affordability, increasing production by 141 million metric tons in the 12 years, 1996 to 2007.

· Biotech crops help conserve biodiversity by saving land. Forty-three million additional hectares of land would have been required to create the production gain of 141 million tonnes generated by biotech crops. With 70 percent of the world’s poorest dependent on agriculture and with income as low as US $1 a day, biotech crops can also contribute to economic sustainability and alleviation of poverty. In developing nations and transforming economies, agriculture is responsible for a substantial part of the GDP. Increases in agriculture productivity from biotech crops are evident, for example:

o Research in India, China, South Africa and the Philippines shows biotech crops have already increased incomes $115 to $250 per hectare. Globally over 12 million resource poor farmers benefited from biotech crops in 2008.

o Approval of insect-resistant rice has the potential to benefit more than 250 million rice households in Asia, or approximately 1 billion people.

o Further, the global net economic benefit to biotech crop farmers in 2007 alone was $10 billion ($6 billion in developing countries and $4 billion in industrialized nations.) For the period 1996 to 2007 the economic benefit was $44 billion, equally divided between developing and industrial countries

· Biotech crops have already substantially reduced agriculture’s environmental footprint by reducing pesticides, saving on fossil fuel use and decreasing carbon dioxide emissions and soil loss through less plowing. In particular, from 1996 to 2007 biotech crops saved 359,000 metric tons of pesticides (active ingredient).

o The development of drought-tolerant crops also has enormous potential to increase yield where water is limiting. Approximately 70 percent of the world’s fresh water is used for agricultural purposes. Importantly drought tolerant maize is expected to be available in the US in 2012, or earlier, and in Sub Sahara Africa by 2017.

· The environmental benefits associated with biotech crops have also helped reduce greenhouse gases. In 2007 alone, carbon dioxide savings were 14.2 billion kg, equivalent to removing 6.3 million cars from the road.

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China, Rice, and GMOs: Navigating the Global Rift on Genetic Engineering

- Ron Herring, The Asia-Pacific Journal, January 12, 2009. Full commentary at http://japanfocus.org/_Ron_Herring-China__Rice__and_GMOs__Navigating_the_Global_Rift_on_Genetic_Engineering

A recent article in Nature [1] asked provocatively: Is China ready for GM rice? The title reflects widely shared anxiety over genetic engineering in agriculture. The use of the term “GM” specifically conjures a politically charged object: “GMOs” or “genetically modified organisms.” Is anyone ready for FrankenFoods? Strawberries with fish genes? Human cloning?

The question has an ominous overtone, though both reporter and venue are identified with science. The question derives its energy from the decision of the Chinese Government to go full speed ahead with genetically engineered rice to confront what the state constructs as a gathering Malthusian crisis of hunger. What the article does not tell the reader is that the farmers are way ahead of the government: ready and able. Transgenic rice – officially unauthorized within China – has for several years been showing up in exports from China to Europe, to Japan, to New Zealand – and probably many other places that simply are not checking.

To ask if China is “ready” for “GM” rice is then doubly loaded. The necessity of getting ready implies threat; “GM” ties a specific cultivar to global anxiety about transgenic crops. The anxiety is multi-pronged: does the spread of transgenics entail threats of corporate dominance? Environmental risk? Food safety? The anxiety is heightened because these crops are spreading faster globally than perhaps any previous agricultural innovation, both through official channels of firm and state and underground, like films on DVDs or business software on CDs.[2] The transgenic genie is out of the bottle.

Then the question of who must be “ready” becomes especially curious. Farmers are clearly ready. As in many countries, cultivators in China risk prosecution to grow unauthorized transgenic crops, including Bt rice. They do so because they are impatient with bureaucratic delays and unwilling to pay corporate technology fees. And in fact, though urban consumers of GM politics think otherwise, there is not a lot to get ready for on farm: all the technology is in the seed, typically with a few altered genes, often only one. There is no more preparation than in playing an illegal DVD of a Bollywood film, once you know how to operate a player.

But is the state ready? Here the construction of transgenic rice as a special category designated by “GM” indicates why the issue carries political freight. Being “ready” implies a state of preparation, alertness, and consequences of not being ready, all of which are bad. No one was ready for the financial meltdown of 2008, most especially pensioners and homeowners. Is China ready for democracy? Open internet? But no one has ever asked -- in Europe, or in China, or in India -- if nations were “ready” for transgenic pharmaceuticals – which have been with us, and thoroughly normalized, since successful production of human insulin via transgenic bacteria began in 1978.

There are no FrankenPills on posters. Useful to urban consumers and endorsed by the authority of medical science, transgenic pharmaceuticals have not drawn protests. Agriculture is different. The category “GM” as site of risk has become so normalized in political discourse about agriculture that no one ever asks: what is especially risky about any particular cultivar? Is China ready for “GM rice” really means: is the state ready to confront the political and administrative complexities of seed surveillance contrary to farmer interests?

The answer is probably “no.”We already know that stealth transgenic rice – and unauthorized Bt cotton as well – are being grown by Chinese farmers without permission of the state. What Jane Qiu’s article highlights is why the state or farmers or anyone else should care.

The Government of China, like many governments in nations with large agricultural sectors – e.g. India, Brazil – officially promotes and invests in biotechnology as a means of responding to what are constructed as urgent crises on the land. Rice stands for the larger problematic of increasing food production. Much of the corporate propaganda for transgenic technologies evokes the Malthusian threat, but here the evocation of urgency is from the Chinese state. This is no small issue: regimes incapable of feeding their populations have not fared well historically. Nor have their citizens. Being dependent on the global economy for fuel and food runs counter to imperatives of statecraft itself, across many ideological gradients. The threat conjured in China is quite explicit: inadequate productive capacity projected into the future. Against this threat is posed a promise: technical change in plant breeding. Genetic engineering – the possibility of rearranging DNA in plants to produce traits that are not in the genome of the plant itself, such as insect resistance, virus resistance, enhanced nutrient content, and on the horizon drought and salinity resistance – has long been official policy of the Chinese government. The controversy implied by the Nature article rests on two changes in the context of biotechnology: first, rice would be the first food crop authorized officially in China, and secondly, rice as a plant raises questions of agro-ecology not presented by cotton, China’s first transgenic. But the same recombinant DNA technology that the state constructs as promise has been constructed as threat in a very powerful global discourse.[3]

read on at http://japanfocus.org/_Ron_Herring-China__Rice__and_GMOs__Navigating_the_Global_Rift_on_Genetic_Engineering

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Making Sense of GM: What is the genetic modification of plants and why are scientists doing it?

http://www.senseaboutscience.org.uk/index.php/site/project/16/

In Making Sense of GM, scientists and agriculturalists are launching a fresh public discussion about GM: one that puts GM back into the context of developing plant breeding and that responds to the public’s questions and misconceptions. Publicly funded work in particular has struggled against misconceptions about Frankenstein foods, vandalism and a costly regulatory burden.
There have been more Google searches on genetically modified crops in the past two years in the UK than anywhere else in the world. While there have been over a trillion GM meals consumed and nearly 120 million hectares of GM crops grown, hardly any of that was in Europe, still less in the UK. It’s not surprising that people have questions about why that is, what GM is, what it does, whether they are eating it and what would happen if they did.

The guide examines the way GM has been debated in the past, and presents commentary from scientists, who say a new perspective needs to take into account:

* The limitations of older selective breeding techniques that GM was developed to overcome.
* Advances in molecular breeding since 2000, which mean GM is even less of a distinct area of plant breeding than before and it makes little sense to talk about it separately.
* Society’s requirements for improvement in plants, ranging from the main commercial crops, where yields must increase to feed people but with less environmental impact, to localised issues such as combating the fungal destruction of banana and plantain crops in Uganda and improving the shelf-life of Kentish apples to reduce imports.
* The importance of assessing a new plant - GM or not - according to what farmers need, where it is to be grown and its likely impact, rather than according to how it was developed.

In the guide, the heads of the independent, public-sector research centres in the UK call for a discussion about GM that helps the public and policy makers to judge what crop technologies could contribute to global food supply and to the management of natural resource and changes in climate. They and other scientists explain what GM is and the research that uses it.

Comments about the guide:

Professor Sir David King, Director of the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at the University of Oxford: “The global demand for food is expected to increase by 50 per cent by 2030. This will be achieved through the development of both biotic crops, resistent to disease, and abiotic crops, resistant to drought, salinity or flooding, using modern biotechnology techniques, including GM. The question is whether or not Europe will be contributing to this process, or hindering it, as it is at present.”

Professor Les Firbank, Head of North Wyke Research: “The GM debate became a surrogate for concerns about other, larger issues of globalisation, food security and safety, intensive agriculture and the sanctity of nature. The growing global demand for food is re-opening the debate in the UK; this time GM should be seen for what it is - one of several ways to develop new crops, each of which should be considered on its own merits and risks. The question is not, do we want GM or not? Rather, what kind of agriculture and food systems can provide the food and environment we need?”

Professor Lord May of Oxford FRS, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford: “This important guide addresses the doctrinaire, and largely fact-free, objections to so-called GM crops (which do not seem to realise we have been genetically modifying crops for millennia). The guide aims to refocus the debate on the really important question of who sets the agenda for the use of these techniques, in order to create the “Doubly Green Revolution” needed to feed tomorrow’s world.”

Professor Ian Crute, Director, Rothamsted Research: “In the last decade, momentum towards publicly-funded improvement of UK crops based on GM technology has sadly been lost. And unless we make changes, the costly framework for regulatory approval that now exists in the EU means that a valuable technology is likely to become the exclusive province of wealthy multinational corporations. However, if we overcome prejudice and misinformation, I fully believe that we can arrive at a discussion that appreciates the role of crop science, including GM, in delivering the increases in yield and quality that society is looking for.”

Professor Chris Lamb FRS, Director, John Innes Centre: “It feels as if we are being given a second chance to explain the potential of genetic modification and as a society we need to get it right this time. Genetic modification of crops is a safe technology. It has the potential to be a powerful tool for improving the sustainability of agriculture and for helping to provide global food security. We are increasingly reassured that plant research will be judged on the products it can deliver, rather than the technology used. For example, blight resistant potatoes, or fruits and vegetables with an enhanced ability to fight chronic disease, such as our purple tomatoes.”

Professor Jonathan Jones FRS, Head of Laboratory, The Sainsbury Laboratory, John Innes Centre: “At the Sainsbury Lab we are interested in plant disease and its control. Wild crop relatives carry an immense diversity of genes for resistance to crop diseases. These genes can be bred into crops - this is either slow or very slow, and the gene you want is usually linked to “bad genes” that reduce crop performance - or the good genes could be cloned and moved into crops with GM methods. First examples with potato late blight resistance look very promising. This approach provides the foundation for a more sustainable agriculture with reduced agrichemical applications, and this document helps people understand why they have nothing to fear from the GM methods involved.”

Professor Peter Gregory, Director, Scottish Crop Research Institute: “The threat of GM crops being destroyed is causing crop scientists in the UK to either stop work on developing disease-resistant cultivars or to look overseas for collaborations.”

Professor David White, Director, Institute of Food Research: “A sensible discussion of genetic modification issues is important to IFR science. Not only is the approach an outstanding research tool but it also offers exciting options for the development of foods to enhance gut health and protect against diseases such as cancer.”

Dr Philip Taylor, molecular biologist and arable farmer: “Darwin would not have been surprised by GM; he showed that all living organisms are inter-related. GM technology uses this fact and enables genes to be moved across species boundaries in what may seem like an astonishing manner but DNA is DNA, no matter where it originally came from. We need to ensure that this technology is put to use for the whole of mankind and not rendered inconsequential by powerful lobbies who have thrown a plethora of objections in its path, none of which really stack up.”

Dr Wendy Harwood, Strategic Research Scientist, John Innes Centre: “Agricultural associations, teachers, local U3A and other groups regularly ask us to give talks. Their main interest is in what GM is, and the work going on here at JIC.”

Ellen Raphael, Director UK, Sense About Science: “Farmers and governments want plant research to come up with many answers: from finding bigger yields in shrinking environments to addressing multiple-resistance to weed-killers. They want answers that work in less predictable climates and for more people. Looking at the debate so far, we don’t seem to have much of that picture, particularly on the use of GM. Sense About Science is pleased to publish Making Sense of GM, which talks through some of the shrill debates and misinformation of old, but leaves them for a much more useful look at where GM fits into the development of plant breeding.”

Professor Joyce Tait, Scientific Adviser, ESRC Innogen Centre: “Past discussions about genetically modified plants have led to sterile confrontations that haven’t got across the science surrounding the development of genetically modified plants. A wide and open discussion in the public domain will contribute to the more accurate framing of these technologies in the public mind.”

The guide Making Sense of GM is published by Sense About Science with the kind assistance of the BBSRC, Genetics Society, Institute of Biology, Institute of Food Research, John Innes Centre and The Lawes Agricultural Trust

--
Download the Making Sense of GM guide (pdf) at
http://www.senseaboutscience.org.uk/PDF/MakingSenseofGM.pdf

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Calls for a new GM foods debate

Listen at http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_7878000/7878326.stm

Leading agricultural scientists are claiming that it is vital we take another look at genetic modification if we are to cope with food security issues raised by population growth and climate change. Science correspondent Tom Feilden explains what is in the report, Making Sense of GM.

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New Book "Emerging Consequences of Biotechnology: Biodiversity Loss and IPR Issues", Author: Krishna Dronamraju, With a Foreword by M.S. Swaminathan, New Jersey: World Scientific Publishing Co., 2008. pp. xxiv + 460, $58.00

- Reviewed by Ananda M. Chakrabarty, AgBioView, Feb 11, 2009 (Distinguished University Professor, University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago )

This is an exceptionally informative and lucidly written book on modern day biotechnology approaches to plant and agricultural sciences and the potential loss of biodiversity. Not everybody will agree with all the conclusions that may often appear to be one-sided and anti-industry. Nevertheless, the author, a well-known geneticist trained under the internationally-renowned British scientist Professor J. B. S. Haldane, has conducted extensive literature survey and provided ample documentation in some areas of genetically-engineered plants and foods having an adverse impact on the environment and on the lives of poor farmers in developing and least developed countries.

A foreword by the internationally-acclaimed agricultural expert, and the Father of Green Revolution in India, Professor M. S. Swaminathan, provides the important elements that the international community must ask in promoting agricultural biotechnology for sustainable development while safeguarding any misuse and harm both to the ecology and the traditional way of life for farmers and common masses. The book is full of selective quotes, anecdotes, charges, counter-charges and complex issues of intellectual property generation and its effect on high drug prices, lack of access to benefit sharing and alleged incidence of biopiracy and bioprospecting.

While innovations and patenting in new drug development through scientific research are certainly laudable, the efforts to patent plant extracts or purified chemicals from plants known for years for their medicinal values and used widely by indigenous people are the most controversial examples of innovation and the patent granting system. The author cites many such well-known attempts to patent turmeric, basmati rice, neem, etc, or their variants, as examples of exploitation of traditional knowledge by academic or industrial people motivated by greed.

As an outsider to the contentious and divisive world of GM crops and foods, and the continuing and relentless debates on the pros and cons of the advancing agricultural biotechnology, I was fascinated by the extensive quotes, evidence, and newspaper/magazine/personal excerpts provided in this book, both pro and against GM crops. I would recommend this book to all who want to learn about the negative consequences of agricultural biotechnology, the issues on alleged biopiracy in poor countries with rich biodiversity and the potential effect of GM crops on the loss of biodiversity leading to ecological damage, while reserving judgments on some of the conclusions and recommendations drawn.

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Increasing Africa's Grain Harvest

- Editorial, Voice of America, Feb 10, 2009

Maize is the most widely grown food crop in Africa. It is the main food source for 300 million Africans. It is severely affected by drought, and Africa is a drought-prone continent. The effects of drought are especially devastating to small–scale farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, where crop yields diminished by inclement weather are common.

The need to alleviate the devastation caused by frequent droughts led to the formation of a public-private partnership known as Water Efficient Maize For Africa, or WEMA. WEMA is an organization dedicated to reducing crop failure and alleviating hunger and poverty by developing drought-tolerant, high-yielding maize varieties that are adapted to African conditions.

At the head of WEMA stands the African Agricultural Technology Foundation, an African-run organization. It is supported by Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda. Other partners include Monsanto, a U.S.-based crop biotechnology company and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, a Mexico-based non-profit institution dedicated to the development of improved varieties of wheat and maize. The project is in large part financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Howard Buffett Foundation, who pledged a total of $47 million to fund the effort.

"This project, conducted mostly in Africa and for Africans, will result in improved maize hybrids, yielding an additional 25 percent more grain under moderate drought conditions, compared to the best African seed currently available," said Vanessa Cook, Monsanto's WEMA project lead.

The new, less thirsty corn varieties will be developed using a combination of traditional plant breeding as well as molecular techniques, also known as biotechnology or genetic engineering. WEMA hopes to develop the new maize varieties in the next 5 years.

Rajiv Shah, director of agricultural development at the Gates Foundation, said: "Our long-term goal with this project is to give farmers access to crops that can protect them from frequent drought, so they can feed their families, increase their incomes and build better, healthier lives."

"Governments and nations are more likely to become unstable when their populations are hungry and underfed," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said. "We are committed to building a new partnership among donor states, developing nations, UN agencies, NGOs, the private sector and others to better coordinate policies to achieve the Millennium Development Goals," she said.

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India: Research Platform For Transgenic Crops Launched

- The Hindu (India), Feb 9, 2009

The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Government of India, have together launched the project for establishing a Platform for Translational Research on Transgenic Crops (PTTC). The foundation stone for the PTTC was laid by M.K. Bhan, Secretary, DBT, and William Dar, Director General of ICRISAT, at the Patancheru campus of ICRISAT, near Hyderabad, on Monday.

The DBT-funded Platform is a $6.2 million project that will translate transgenic technology and harness its products to meet the needs of agricultural growth and serve as a facility of reference to strengthen national, regional and international linkages in transgenic R&D, exchange of materials and information, as well as support training, consultation and technology commercialisation.

The PTTC will provide an opportunity for public sector research institutes and private sector biotechnology companies to work together for translating transgenic research into products.

Speaking at the foundation stone laying function, Dar said that research breakthroughs in agri-biotechnology hold the potential for increasing crop productivity and the resistance of food crops to pests and diseases, thereby helping solve the food crisis. The future food demand cannot be met merely from incremental gains from conventional plant breeding. A quantum change in yield improvement is needed, such as that which occurred during the Green Revolution.

Finding solutions to major crop productivity constraints, developing new technologies that raise yields in low-potential areas and creating opportunities for diversification in agricultural value chains are some of the major present day agricultural challenges, Dar added.

Agri-biotechnologies are a further step in an evolution that extends from the dawn of agriculture. These technologies offer a new set of tools to enhance crop productivity and profitability.

In 2008, another 40 million people were pushed into hunger due to high food prices! A majority of the world's undernourished, over 900 million, live in developing countries alone! The world hunger crisis may further deteriorate as the financial crisis combined with the energy crisis, and emerging climate change issues threaten livelihoods. Hence combating the food crisis will require much greater investments in agriculture.

ICRISAT believes that biotechnology can contribute to global food, feed and fiber security; improve health and nutrition; use less external inputs for a more sustainable agriculture and environment; conserve biodiversity and help improve economic and social status and alleviate poverty in poor countries, Dar said.

Transgenics offers a powerful tool for nutritional enhancement that may save lives or help farmers adapt to climate change through faster integration of genes for drought and flood tolerance, in the process generating social, economic and environmental benefits for resource-poor farmers.

According to Bhan, the PTTC will bring together the expertise of DBT and ICRISAT and build partnerships to strengthen the conceptualisation, development and delivery of agri-biotechnological research products that will ultimately benefit the Indian farmers in improving their incomes.

By financially supporting the PTTC, the DBT wants to fund research and provide infrastructure for innovation, so that transgenic technology can strengthen agricultural productivity, Bhan said. The PTTC will add value to research by strengthening trust and reliability. The Platform will also bring together the unlimited creative strength of partnerships for strengthening agricultural research.

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