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August 7, 2000


IRRI - Scale Impact of Biotechnology


Rick Roush posted this on another list serve. I am forwarding it to
AgBioView not only because of its intrinsic interest to the AgBioView
listserve but also because this IRRI Press Release relates to the recent
thread about the scale impact of biotechnology.

This IRRI press release provides evidence to support Tom DeGregori's
point that biotechnology is likely not just to be scale neutral (as I had
commented in the thread) but to be scale positive for poorer farmers and
the poor consumer. Biotechnology is a further extension of the IRRI crop
germplasm improvements program. I found this press release and Tom
DeGregori's point to be very informative.

Thanks for the post, Rick.


Drew L. Kershen
Earl Sneed Centennial Professor of Law
University of Oklahoma College of Law
300 Timberdell Road
Norman, OK 73019-5081 U.S.A.
ph.: (405) 325-4784
FAX: (405) 325-0389

-----Original Message-----
From: Rick Roush [mailto:rick.roush@adelaide.edu.au]
Sent: Monday, August 07, 2000 9:03 PM
To: gentech@gen.free.de
Subject: reply about IRRI

August 6, 2000
IRRI -- Press Release:
News about Rice and People
Enormous Impact of Rice Breeding Efforts Recognized

Los Banos, Philippines-An international team of researchers led by an
American economist have confirmed for the first time that there is a
proven strategy to help solve three of the most pressing and chronic
problems facing the developing world: poverty, environmental degradation,
and food security.

The breakthrough follows a call by those attending last month's G8 summit
in Japan for more effort to resolve the problems of the developing world,
especially through technology transfer. This new research suggests that
strategies that make a real difference are already available, but until
now it had been very difficult to measure their actual impact.

However, an independent study of the impact of improved rice varieties and
other crops has found that over the past 40 years, they have significantly
reduced prices for poor consumers, saved thousands of hectares of forests
from being turned into farmland, and reduced the number of malnourished
children. The results are especially significant for rice, as it is the
food that feeds half the world.

The research, led by respected American economist Dr. Robert Evenson from
Yale University, is the first major attempt to assess the economic impact
of improved crop varieties, not just rice but also other important food
staples such as wheat, maize, barley, cassava, and potato. Dr. Hans
Gregersen, the head of a panel that reviewed the research, described the
study by Dr. Evenson and his huge team of researchers as a "milestone" and
a "monumental effort."

Dr. Gregersen, a professor at the College of Natural Resources, University
of Minnesota in the United States, said that Dr. Evenson and his team had
been able to bring together a wealth of data that would be crucial in
answering some of the most basic impact questions that concern the
international development community. "No one denies that with better
baseline data and records over time, a more refined set of conclusions
could have been reached. But this study should still be recognized as a
landmark for future, more refined studies that will become possible with
improved monitoring and record keeping," Dr. Gregersen explained.

He added that the project had been a collaborative effort involving impact
assessment experts from many of the centers that make up the Consultative
Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) of which the
Philippine-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) is a member.
"Those who worked on the study were able to get major inputs on specific
crops from experts around the world and this made all the difference," Dr.
Gregersen said.

The breeding of improved rice varieties, known scientifically as crop
germplasm improvement, is considered some of the most important and
fundamental work done in agriculture, but until now it has been very
difficult to assess the impact of such research, especially in the
developing world. "For many years, our breeding work has been generously
supported by many different countries and organizations. Now we can
finally show them what we have really achieved as a result of all that
research," IRRI Director General Dr. Ronald P. Cantrell explained.

Dr. Evenson and his team found that the development of improved rice
varieties between 1970 and 1995 had substantial impact in four major
areas. Their findings indicate that were it not for the development of
improved varieties:

Rice prices for consumers could have been up to 41 percent higher.
Rice-producing nations would be importing up to 8 percent more food.
Millions of hectares of forests and other fragile ecosystems would have
been lost.

Between 1.5 and 2 percent more children would have been malnourished in
developing countries. This seemingly small figure in percentage terms
translates into millions of better-fed children in actual terms.

"It is likely that there will be some debate about some of the conclusions
reached by Dr. Evenson, but the main point is that he has been able to
identify the main groups who benefit from this type of research and
confirm the fact that they really do benefit," Dr. Cantrell said. "The
exact level of benefits gained is sure to be further developed in
subsequent research."

Dr. Cantrell added that another key finding of Dr. Evenson1s team was the
important role that international agricultural research centers (IARCs)
such as IRRI have played in the development of improved crop
varieties. "The focus of Dr. Evenson1s work was the crop improvement
research of the 16 centers belonging to the CGIAR," he said. "I1m pleased
to say that his research has also confirmed that institutions like IRRI
continue to have a crucial role to play in this important area of
international research."

Using data supplied by scores of scientists, Dr. Evenson found that the
work of IARCs has boosted the ability of poor rice-producing countries to
develop new rice varieties by as much as 30 percent. This figure becomes
even more impressive considering that many developing countries face the
law of diminishing returns when developing new rice varieties, unless they
have access to the germplasm of improved varieties made available by the
IARCs. "One of the most fundamental goals of centers like IRRI is to help
build the research capacities of our scientific partners in poor
rice-producing nations. Dr. Evenson1s work has shown that the development
of improved rice varieties directly helps us to achieve this goal," Dr.
Cantrell said.

The regular exchange of genetic material or germplasm needed to develop
improved rice varieties is handled at IRRI through the International
Network for the Genetic Evaluation of Rice (INGER). Since it was
established 25 years ago, more than 21,000 breeding lines and varieties of
rice developed in countries around the world have been exchanged and
evaluated through INGER, crossing political, religious, cultural, and
philosophical boundaries.

By the late 1990s, more than 350 breeding lines had been released as more
than 530 varieties in some 62 countries. The global nature of the
cooperation is confirmed by the fact that varieties made available in
countries as dispersed as Brazil, Burkina Faso, China, Cote d1Ivoire,
Myanmar, Sierra Leone, and Vietnam were bred in nine or more other
countries and organizations.

For example, the breeding line BG90-2, which was bred at the Rice Research
and Development Institute in Sri Lanka, was released in 12 Asian and
African countries. These nations are all covered by INGER and represent an
enormously wide diversity of agroclimates, soil types, cultural practices,
and consumer preferences.

In total, INGER has shared rice genetic material with more than 95
nations. Out of this vast rice germplasm exchange, thousands of lines have
also been used as parents in hybridization to diversify and further
improve rice germplasm in cooperating countries.

It should also be noted that in many cases it is the poorest countries
that have benefited most from varieties introduced by INGER with the
financial value of such sharing and collaboration already clearly

In earlier work, Dr. Evenson calculated the annual net worth of each
variety released via INGER to be about US$2.5 million. In addition, the
290 modern varieties released through INGER and selected for the earlier
Evenson study are estimated to generate an additional $725 million a year.
This is a very large impact indeed, especially in developing countries,
which are the key cooperators and main supporters of the network. It is
clear, therefore, that the genetic material made available through INGER
has contributed significantly to increased rice production in many
countries and, therefore, greater food security.

In addition, worldwide germplasm collaboration has not only accelerated
the development of improved varieties but has also greatly enhanced farmer
access to a much larger range of varietal pedigrees. Dr. Evenson found
that the value of these donor parents was enormous as they helped protect
crops, stabilize yields, save on pesticides and other agrochemicals, and
thus protect the environment and human health. But perhaps one of the most
significant impacts of INGER is seen in how the spread of improved rice
varieties has benefited the poor by contributing to a steady decline in
the real price of rice. The improved varieties supplied by INGER have led
to increased yields, which in turn have lowered the cost per unit of
output. Since INGER was established in 1975, there has been a steady
increase in rice production and a steady fall in price. While INGER cannot
take all the credit for this, there should be no doubt that its network
and the inter-center collaboration have had an impact on poverty.

Dr. Evenson concludes his latest research paper by saying that "Consumers
benefit most, and poor consumers benefit most of all from agricultural
research. Farmers are consumers too and for the world1s
smallest farm producers, the total producer and consumer gains are large."
For these reasons, he says the "continued development of improved rice
varieties has a very strong justification."

IRRI, with its headquarters in the Philippines and offices in 11 other
countries, is the world1s leading international rice research and training
center. It is an autonomous, nonprofit institution that is focused on
improving the well-being of present and future generations of rice farmers
and consumers, particularly those with low incomes, while preserving
natural resources. IRRI is part of the Consultative Group on International
Agricultural Research (CGIAR), an association of public and private donor
agencies that funds 16 international research centers.

For more information visit the CGIAR (www.cgiar.org) or Future Harvest
websites (www.futureharvest.org). Future Harvest is an initiative of the
16 CGIAR research centers and their donor agencies to raise public
awareness of the importance of agricultural research. The Future Harvest
website also features a detailed backgrounder on this story.