Home Page Link AgBioWorld Home Page
About AgBioWorld Donations Ag-Biotech News Declaration Supporting Agricultural Biotechnology Ag-biotech Info Experts on Agricultural Biotechnology Contact Links Subscribe to AgBioView Home Page

AgBioView Archives

A daily collection of news and commentaries on

Subscribe AgBioView Subscribe

Search AgBioWorld Search

AgBioView Archives





November 12, 2000


Biotechnology's Greatest Challenge


Biotechnology’s Greatest Challenge

Can the great potentials of biotechnology be directed towards ensuring
food security and economic development in the developing world?

By Nigel J. Taylor and Claude M. Fauquet
ILTAB / Donald Danforth Plant Science Center
University of Missouri St Louis, CME - M307, 8001 Natural Bridge Rd.,
MO63121-4499, USA

(appeared in Forum for Applied Research and Public Policy ; Fall 2000
issue; http://forum.ra.utk.edu)

The human race recently passed two milestones which caught brief
international press coverage drawing public attention to an issue of
growing concern. Late in 1999, the world’s population passed the 6
billion mark, having doubled in only 40 years. A few months later the
billionth Indian citizen was born.

Presently, 80% of the world’s population live in what are considered the
Lesser Developed Countries (LDCs). Despite declining birth rates, world
population will continue rising, reaching between 8 and 10 billion persons
by the year 2050. Almost all this increase will occur within the
developing countries, adding an extra 2 to 4 billion people to the nations
of the LDCs. Described in another manner, population density in the
developing countries will increase from approximately 55 persons/km2 at
present to 90-100 people/km2, or nearly one person per hectare, by 20501.
These statistics highlight a reality that has far reaching consequences,
and in the opinion of many, constitutes the single most important
challenge facing mankind for the coming decades. How can food supplies,
health and economic well-being be secured for all the world’s citizens and
how can this be sustained without destruction of the remaining forest and
wilderness regions?

Article 25 (1) of the Declaration of Human Rights states "Everyone has
the right to a standard of living adequate for health and wellbeing for
himself and of his family, adequate food, clothing, housing and medical
care....". Despite these brave words, approximately 800 million people in
the developing world do not have enough to eat. A population equivalent
to North America and Europe combined do not have access to sufficient food
to maintain their body weights and perform light activity. Their children
are overly susceptible to disease and have inadequate daily nutritional
intake to reach full physical or mental development. Somewhat
surprisingly, the recently announced figure of 800 million seriously
undernourished people is viewed as a partial success. It actually
represents a drop in real numbers, and a significant reduction in the
percentage of the LDC population suffering from malnutrition as compared
to the situation in the early 1970s. Nevertheless, the rate of progress
in addressing food insecurity in the developing countries is below that
set at the World Food Summit in 1996, which demands that 20 million people
per year be removed from the trap of persistent hunger. Regional
inconsistencies such as that for in sub-Saharan Africa where the actual
number of people suffering from insufficient nutritional intake in that
region has increased since 1992, are also cause for concern.2

Access to sufficient food is known to depend not just on crop yields, the
so-called "Malthusian optimism", but on a complex interaction of factors,
the most important of which are the price and availability of agricultural
products, access to employment and the income or purchasing power of any
given individual. These in turn are determined by macro and
microeconomics factors, international trade policies and also
uncontrollable parameters such as weather patterns. The present attitude
held by some commentators in the industrialised North, that there is
enough food in the world and that it only needs to be redistributed
better, is in our opinion dangerously misleading. It is a delusion to
seriously consider that the surpluses of the North can, or will be,
sustained on an indefinite timescale in order to feed present and future
populations in the South. Agriculture is both the foundation of human
nutrition and health and the major economic activity within most LDCs.
Reliance on subsidised food imports from the North would undermine the
stability and integrity of one of the most important wealth generating
systems in the tropical and subtropical regions. Furthermore, it
distracts from the central issue, which is how and where investment must
be made within the LDCs to ensure that they are able to support their own
populations. Even in regions where access to food may not be a problem,
increased yields from staple food crops, frees land, time and resources
for small farmers to invest in cash crops or other income generating
activities. Although increasing crop production in the LDCs will not by
itself mean an end to poverty or malnutrition, it will be an essential
contributing factor for ensuring the future well-being of the vast
majority of the world’s population.

Further Challenges
It is widely accepted that agricultural systems within the developing
countries will have to meet most of the growing food and industrial needs
of LDC populations over the coming decades. It is estimated that for rice
alone, a 70% increase in productivity is required by the year 2025 to keep
pace with growing demand. The scale and urgency of the situation is
compounded by several addition factors. Increased crop production in the
LDCs has traditionally been achieved by bringing more land under
cultivation. For example, the area committed to cultivation of the
tropical root crop cassava has increased 43% since 1970, while production
per hectare has risen by only 20% over the same time. Such activities are
unsustainable and undesirable as they will result in severe depletion of
the world’s remaining natural ecosystems. The tropical and sub-tropical
regions contain approximately 80% of the world’s biodiversity, the loss of
which would have disastrous consequences for future crop production and
pharmaceutical developments. In fact it is now considered that most of
the world’s high quality farmland is already under cultivation, especially
in Asia, where land and population pressure is greatest. In some regions
the amount of available farmland is actually decreasing as prime
agricultural areas are lost to urban sprawl, soil erosion and

Demographic transitions within the developing countries add another twist
to the overal picture. Throughout the LDCs, migration to the urban areas
is increasing dramatically. In the coming decades, it is predicted that
rural populations will remain roughly at present levels and that greater
than 90% of the population growth will take place in the burgeoning cities
of the developing countries3. Thus, not only is increased production
required but significant changes are occurring in the types of demand
being placed on LDC agricultural systems. The major market for
agricultural products will clearly be in the cities. Supplying this
growing demand in a consistent manner requires transport infrastructure,
storage facilities and post harvest technologies which are underdeveloped
in many tropical countries.
It is clear that significantly increased production from the agricultural
systems of the LDCs must be generated and sustained over the coming
decades and that this must be obtained largely from the land already under
cultivation. Achieving these aims on the scales required is a daunting

Improving Tropical Crop Yields
Over the last thirty years the practices of the Green Revolution have
been instrumental in achieving increased crop yields. In this strategy a
combination of plant breeding, agrochemical applications and irrigation is
utilised to maximise yields in the cereal crops; most especially rice and
wheat. By many assessments this has been a successful approach, leading
to a 130% increase in wheat yields in the LDCs since 1970 (Table 1)3.
Food prices have fallen on international markets and the proportion of
chronically undernourished people has significantly diminished over the
last thirty years. Due to these agricultural practices, India, the
world’s second largest and fastest growing country with respect to
population, has been able to greatly increase its food self sufficiency,
to reduce its financial commitment for food imports and to limit
destruction of its natural habitats.

There are also, however, a number of acknowledged negative aspects to the
Green Revolution. Reliance on agrochemicals is environmentally damaging
and overuse of irrigation has resulted in loss of soil fertility and
falling yields in some regions. In addition, the majority of small,
resource-poor farmers, who still constitute 75% of the land users in the
LDCs, cannot afford to purchase the required chemical inputs and so have
not benefited from the Green Revolution. The major beneficiaries have
been the larger land owners whose increased affluence has resulted in
greater divisions between the rich and poor in the LDCs. The Green
Revolution was directed primarily at rice and wheat and failed to address
many of the most important food crops of the tropical and sub tropical
regions. These non-cereal staple food crops have received relatively
insignificant research inputs over the last 50 years and as a consequence
have not attained the resulting yield improvements. Known as "orphan
crops" they include cassava, the plantain and cooking bananas, sweet
potato, taro, sorghum and millet. Figure 1 illustrates how yield
increases for these crops are lagged significantly behind rice, wheat and
maize. For plantain, the fourth most important source of calories in the
tropics, yields have improved by a total of only 3% over the last thirty
years. Hundreds of millions of small farmers cultivate these orphan
crops, relying on them as their primary source of calories and as a source
of income when traded in local markets. Billions more will rely on them
in the coming decades. Lastly, and most importantly, since the mid-1990s
evidence has accumulated which indicates that annual increases in rice and
wheat yields are dropping meaning that the strategies of the Green
Revolution are nearing their limits and will not by themselves be capable
of providing the crop production increases required to supply future

Biotechnology - a "doubly green revolution"?
Scientists, agronomists and policy makers have been looking for the next
revolution in agriculture. This has optimistically been termed the
"doubly green revolution", one which will provide the required increases
in crop yields with minimum impact on the environment and one which can
address small farmer needs as effectively as the larger commercial
producer. For many, it is biotechnology which holds this promise. Here
we refer to biotechnology as the application of DNA or gene technologies
for the agronomic improvement of crop plants. Genetic engineering is the
best known, and the most powerful of these techniques, holding great
promise for improving both crop yields, quality and value of agriculture
products. Biotechnology allows the genetic code imparting a specific
trait, for example resistance to a disease infection or drought resistance
to be identified and isolated from a given organism. Once reduced to a
few microlitres of sticky fluid, this genetic material can be adjusted as
required and introduced into the cells of a given plant to become an
integral component of the crop’s native genetic makeup.

The great power of this technology lies in its ability to take genes from
one organism and insert them into crop plants to impart novel
characteristics. This capability is rooted in the biological reality that
the genetic codes (genes) for all living organisms are organised in a
similar manner and can, with minimal changes, be made to operate in a
non-native genetic background. It is possible, therefore, to transfer
genetic information from algae, bacteria, viruses or animals to plants or
to move genes between sexually incompatible plants species. For example,
crop plants can be engineered to produce their own pesticides, to have
resistance to previously toxic chemicals or to have elevated nutritional
qualities. Technical advances over the last five years have also
demonstrated the ability to simultaneously transfer as many as 12 genes
into a plant genome4. This greatly enhances the potential to engineer
complex disease and pest resistance pathways to produce more robust crop
plants. Biosynthetic pathways can also be manipulated to produce high
value pharmaceuticals and other polymers within the plant tissues. These
are then available for direct consumption or for subsequent extraction on
commercial scales. The ability to transfer beneficial agronomic traits
cross species boundaries, within and out with the plant kingdom, opens a
multitude of possibilities which are limited at this time only by our
imaginations and by ethical and biosafetly considerations. It is now
widely considered, however, that if handled in a responsible manner
biotechnology represents a revolution with immense potential impact for
the well-being of mankind5.

New Products from Biotechnology
As described above the greatest requirement for improved crop production
lies in the developing countries. A major challenge is to ensure that the
huge potential of biotechnology is directed to where it is needed most,
that is to benefit small farmers and the populations of the developing
countries. Recent advances in scientific research and proven performance
of genetically modified crop plants in the field, provide indications as
to how biotechnology could be applied to impact food production in the
LDCs. However, harnessing biotechnology to address issues of food
security and economic development in the LDCs is proving to be
problematic. Working with poorly understood tropical and subtropical crop
species certainly provides challenges, but the major obstacles to applying
biotechnology to developing country requirements are less biological in
nature and more a consequence of economics and politics.

First generation transgenic crops and the LDCs
The production of transgenic crop plants with improved resistance to
pests and diseases and elevated nutritional qualities is making rapid
progress in the industrialised North. If assessed by rate of adoption,
introduction of the first generation of transgenic crop plants has been
the most successful application of a new technology in the history of
agriculture. Plantings have risen from zero in 1995 to 39.9 million
hectares (almost 100 million acres) in 1999; increasing by 44% between
1998 and 1999 alone. Slightly more than 50% of this area consists of
soybeans genetically engineered with a bacterial gene which imparts
resistance to the herbicide glyphosate. Nineteen percent is maize
engineered to be resistant to European stem borer, an insect which is
difficult to control by conventional methods, and which can cause
widespread yield losses in this crop. The remainder is composed of cotton
and oil seed rape, potato, squash and papaya transgenic for the above
genes or for resistance to viral diseases. The present market for
transenic crops is estimated at $2.3 billion per year but is projected to
reach $25 billion by 20106.

At this time genetically engineered crops are cultivated mostly in North
America, with the USA and Canada harvesting 72 % of the planted acreage.
Yield improvements have not been dramatic, but the transgenic crops
described above were designed primarily to improve pest and weed control
and to reduce requirements for agrochemical applications. To this end,
their success has been dramatic. Monsanto Company claim that 2 million
gallons pesticides applications have been saved since the introduction of
Bt corn and cotton. Within the developing world the first generation of
transgenic crops have had less impact. These products were conceived,
developed and marketed specifically for release within the economic
realities of the industrialised countries. They were not designed to
address developing country requirements. Nevertheless, enthusiastic
adoption of transgenic maize and soybean by farmers in countries such as
Argentina, China, Mexico and South Africa show that they can be of
relevance in at least some developing country scenarios. Eighteen percent
of all transgenic crops were planted in LDCs in 1999, with Argentina
embracing this technology on a remarkable scale and committing 90% of its
soybean crop to genetically transformed plants last year.

Directing transgenic technologies at LDC needs
The LDCs will most likely continue to benefit from crop biotechnologies
developed in the North. For example, India will commence cultivation of
transgenic cotton in the near future. However, they do not by themselves
provide the answer to developing country requirements. Application of
biotechnology as a contribution to food security in the LDCs requires that
the specific needs of small farmers in the tropical and subtropical
regions are targeted. As stated above small scale and subsistence farmers
still constitute the majority of the land users in the developing
countries7. If biotechnology is to have a real impact on world health we
must direct resources at producing improved varieties of the relevant
local corn and rice varieties. Genetic engineering technologies must be
developed for the orphan crops such as cassava and plantain on which a
large proportion of the population depend, for which so little yield
improvement has been previously been achieved and for which conventional
breeding is both difficult and lengthy. If the technical hurdles can be
overcome, success is likely as past neglect means that the latter crops
retain a large potential for yield improvement. For example, in Africa
cassava produces on average 7-8 tons/hectare fresh weight harvested
product. Field trails performed under optimised conditions, which
eliminated pressure from weeds, insects and virus infections have
demonstrated that yields upwards of 80 tons/hectare are possible.
Achieving and sustaining production improvements of only a fraction of
this will have significant impact on food supplies in many parts of Africa.
A number of interrelated reasons have combined to make progress towards
the application of biotechnology to the world’s subsistence crops
frustrating slow. DNA technologies and the gene transfer protocols which
are required to find, analyise and then insert transgenes with potential
agronomic interest into crop plants were first developed in research
laboratories in North America and Europe. They are relatively expensive
and capital intensive to develop and require specialist training to
utilise fully. The required investments and high tech nature of these
activities have hindered easy transfer to the LDCs. More importantly,
lack of public investment in agricultural research from the late 1980s to
the present time, has ensured that the majority of research and
development has been, and continues to be, directed at temperate crops or
at tropical cash crops such as cotton, rubber, coffee, papaya and
pineapple, from which a financial return is expected. As a result, the
majority of biotechnology research and expertise resides within the
private sector in the industrialised countries, most especially the USA.
By definition, developing world subsistence crops including cassava, sweet
potato, plantain sorghum and millet have little or no place in these
market driven activities. Commercial enterprises have protected their
significant investments through the application of patents and
intellectual property rights, restricting access of emerging technologies
to developing country applications. Either the genes, technological tools
and expertise are not made available for application to tropical crops, or
release of the genetically engineered products to the farmers in LDCs is
blocked or delayed by unresolved property right issues.

Cause for optimism
Despite the problems highlighted above, recent reports have provided
encouraging indications as to what can be achieved when resources are
focused on applying biotechnology for the improvement of developing
country food crops. These advances include among others:
1. demonstration that a bacterial gene, which, when genetically engineered
into a plant increases its ability to take up phosphorous. Phosphorous is
an essential plant nutrient which can significantly reduce yields when not
available in sufficient amounts. Phosphorous is often chemically fixed
within tropical soils, making it a limiting factor in crop production.
2. the much publicised "golden rice", in which rice plants have been
genetically engineered to synthesis and accumulate vitamin A in the
grains. This product could not have been achieved without the application
of biotechnology and is an excellent example of how the new technologies
can contribute to health improvement in the LDCs.
3. identification and isolation of genes responsible for dwarfing
characteristics in plants. If transferred to millet and sorghum such
traits could have a significant impact on yield enhancement in these
neglected tropical cereals.
4. transfer of a gene from the photosynthetic system of maize into rice,
where it is able to boost productivity in the genetically engineered
plants by up to 30%.
5. a product from our own laboratory, The International Laboratory for
Tropical Agricultural Biotechnology (ILTAB), produced in collaboration
with the University of California, Davis. A gene (Xa21) from an African
wild relative of rice which imparts resistance to a severe bacterial
blight disease, was isolated and transferred by genetic engineering
directly into breeding lines of Chinese rice which are highly susceptible
to this disease9 Transfer of this single gene has resulted in plants
crossed with local Chinese varieties which are highly resistant to the
pathogen seven sexual generations after gene transgene insertion.
6. demonstration at ILTAB of cassava plants genetically engineered to have
increased resistance to African cassava mosaic diseases, the most
important disease of a crop plant in Africa and responsible for the loss
of up to 50 million tons of food each year.

The above examples represent only the tip of the iceberg. Agricultural
biotechnology is a relatively young discipline and has been applied to
address developing world problems for little over a decade with few
resources being directed to this end. With increasing time and investment
much greater and far reaching discoveries are assured. The full genetic
sequences of rice and the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana will be
completed and published of within the coming year. Coupled with vastly
improved, high throughput analysis of how genes control development,
metabolism, defence and all aspects of biosynthesis in plants, new
information will greatly empower the development of biotechnology
applications for improved crop production.

ILTAB, a small player in the bigger picture
ILTAB is one of a relatively small number of research organisations
dedicated to applying biotechnology for the improvement of tropical
subsistence crops and is based at the Donald Danforth Plant Science
Center, St. Louis, MO. Location within a center of research excellence
provides ILTAB with immediate access to cutting edge science, allowing new
technologies to be applied to tropical crops in a manner otherwise
difficult to achieve. Activities at ILTAB are directed towards three
major areas which illustrate what in our opinion is required at scientific
level to advance the application of agricultural biotechnology for
tropical crop improvement. These include; 1. basic research to discover
genes with potential benefits in tropical agriculture, in ILTAB’s specific
case this involves research into the causes and controls of the plant
viral diseases which severely reduce crops yields in the LDCs, 2.
development of the genetic engineering technologies required to insert
genes into tropical crop plants and 3. technology transfer from
industrialised plant species to the orphan crops and from developed
countries to the LDCs.
Technology transfer is central to the ILTAB’s mission and refers to the
training of scientists from the South and the transfer to the tools,
equipment and expertise required to generate indigenous capacity for
biotechnology research and development in the developing countries. A
number of research institute located within the LDCs, most notably the
larger research centres of the CGIAR (Consultative Group on International
Agricultural Research) are well equipped to carry out biotechnology
research and development on tropical crops. However, increasing this
capacity is considered to be essential for the successful application of
biotechnology in the developing countries. For the near future it is
likely that most genetically engineered plants will be developed and
produced in the advanced laboratories of the North and transported to the
LDCs for field testing and evaluation6. However, it is important that the
LDCs do not purely become recipients of finished products, but instead are
full participants in application of these technologies to their food and
cash crops. Each developing country, and even regions within countries,
has its own combination of agricultural constraints to address. They must
be empowered to address the issues of yields, improved post-harvest
qualities or nutrient deficiencies specific to their particular needs and
therefore use these as they see fit. An indigenous capacity will empower
the developing countries to establish their own biotechnology industries
and to negotiate on equal terms with companies and research entities in
the North. In addition, the vast majority of the worlds biodiversity
resides in the forests of the developing countries. As full partners in
biotechnology the LDCs will have increased motivation to protect these
regions in order to reap the benefits of this immensely valuable
One of ILTAB’s successful products, the Xa 21 gene was described briefly
above. Other contributions have included: - the development of highly
efficient genetic engineering protocols for rice, -recovery of the first
genetically transformed cassava plants, -production of rice plants
genetically engineered to be resistance to one of the most severe viral
disease of that crop (rice tungro disease) which are now being tested in
Malaysia, production of rice plants genetically engineered with 12
transgenes -development of promoters for diving the controlled expression
of transgenes in engineered crop plants and - progress towards the
production of cassava plants resistant to African cassava mosaic disease,
a virus infection responsible for the loss of millions of tons of food
each year on that continent. With support from the Rockefeller
Foundation, the IRD (Institut de Recherche et de Dévelopment, Paris), the
Donald Danforth Plant Science Center and a number of other national and
international funding agencies, ILTAB has trained 135 scientists and
technicians from 19 developing countries in the technologies required to
produce genetically transformed rice, cassava and tomato plants7.

Significant effort is required to direct and develop the above
technologies to produce products with potential benefit to farmers and
processors in the LDCs. In addition to development of the technology
itself, they must be adapted to the relevant crop varieties and then
trailed in the field in the LDCs. One attraction of biotechnology is that
it relies on the genetic improvement of a crop plant to a particular
constraint or set of constraints. Increased technological input is not
required by the farmer who receives a self supporting improved cultivar.
However, investments are required at the research and development levels
in order to produce the improved germplasm and the generate the
infrastructures required for field testing and distribution to the
farmers. Unlike the case for North America and Europe the infrastructure
to enable this is not in place in the majority of LDCs. Indeed, many
developing countries do not even have the necessary regulations in place
to allow field testing of genetically engineered crops to take place.
Establishing such structures is a prerequisite to gaining from the

Time for change
Although most encouraging, the successes of ILTAB and other laboratories
involved in similar activities around the world, represent only a small
fraction of the resources required to ensure that biotechnology is fully
employed to meet the needs of the world’s growing populations. For
example, ILTAB is one of only five laboratories actively engaged in
developing and applying genetic transformation technologies for the
improvement of cassava, a food crop which is consumed by approximately 600
million people, twice the population of the USA, every day. There are
more than 1700 cultivars of cassava grown in Africa, South America and
Asia and the crop suffers from severe yield reductions due to virus and
bacterial diseases and insect pests. The story is the same for plantain,
the fourth most important source of calories in the tropics, and indeed
all the other "poor mans" crops within the LDCs. The resources presently
being committed to the orphan crops are clearly out of scale with the task
at hand.

If we consider not just biotechnology but investment to research and
development of LDC food crops as a whole, the picture is even more
dramatic. The CGIAR system which is charged with crop improvement for the
developing countries receives an annual budget around $400 per annum
These resources must support 16 research centres scattered over the
world’s continents and is expected to address the whole spectrum of
conservation, research, development and delivery of improved products and
techniques for upwards of a dozen essential food and industrial crops in
the LDCs across a range of socioeconomic and agronomic requirements.
Further funding is available, especially from the aid agencies and NGOs
from the industrialised countries. However, these are applied in a
piecemeal manner and generally lack the level of support and the
coordination, required to make major impacts on developing country
agriculture as a whole. Quite clearly the resources currently being
committed to the new century’s most pressing problem are insufficient. If
we are at all serious about meeting the basic rights of 4.6 billion people
in the developing countries the situation must be addressed in a more
realistic manner.

We have attempted to outline the urgent need for increased agricultural
output in the LDCs and how biotechnology could be applied to contribute to
this effort. Despite the recent negative public reaction to
biotechnology, we remain convinced that the genetic engineering of crop
plants has a vital role to play in addressing the world’s present and
future agricultural requirements. In our opinion, the scale of the risks
involved if the LDCs are not provided with the opportunity to secure their
own food supplies and economic development, far outweighs the inconclusive
evidence of any environmental damage attributable to genetically modified
organisms. That is not to say that all possible applications of this new
technology are inherently safe. Each new product must be viewed as a
separate case and assessed in context. For example, release of transgenic
cassava in Africa or Asia where there are no naturally occurring related
plant species, carries different risks than in South America which is the
centre of origin for this crop, and where possible release of the
transgenes into the wild by cross pollination with its wild relatives must
be considered.

As for most complex issues there is no single simple remedy.
Biotechnology is not a panacea for world hunger. However, when combined
with traditional breeding, good agricultural practice and sound economic
policies it can be an important factor in achieving improved standards of
health and economic security for all the world’s people. Whether the new
technologies can be effectively directed as those who need it most, or
will only benefit the already affluent North remains a significant
question. It essential that we do not proceed to a situation comparable
to that for the treatment of AIDS where the costs of high technology cures
make them applicable only to the those infected in the North and has
completely failed to address the epidemic as a whole, providing no hope to
victims in the LDCs where the disease is spiraling out of control.

Indeed, we consider that the impetus for successful application of both
traditional methods and biotechnology to address world crop production
must come from the North. The industrialised countries possess the vast
majority of the world’s financial and technological resources. Only the
North has the financial capability to implement the research and
development programmes required. We believe that mobilisation of these
substantial resources to address developing world needs is fundamental to
the future well-being of the world, its natural resources and its people.
The challenge is of considerable magnitude and must be sustained over
several decades. There are no easy answers, no quick fix; instead serious
commitments are required from all entities which have the ability to
contribute. Much greater public funding is required from all Western
governments, most especially from the USA, which currently contributes
less per capita to developing world issues than any of the other
industrialised countries. Private corporations can have a significant
role by releasing products and expertise with application to small farmer
needs in the LDCs, but which will have limited impact on their profits
within indistrialised agriculture. The LDCs must also come forward, as
many are now doing, and make commitments to training their scientist and
providing them with the incentives and support they require to sustain
effective research programmes. They should seek to enter into
collaborations with the public and private research sectors and
development organisations in the North to enable biotechnology to be
directed and applied to their needs. They must ensure than the proper
legislative regulations are put in place to allow genetically engineered
crops to be trailed and adopted within their respective countries.

One final point which is apparent to us, is a conspicuous lack of global
or regional coordination between the entities dedicating resources for
improving developing country crop production. We consider that there is
need for the creation of a coordinating organisations and structures which
would act to facilitate communication and collaboration with all the
organisations capable of making a contribution to this effort, and to
raise public awareness in the industrialised countries as to the issues
involved. In this way the limited resources presently available can be
better focused and maximised to ensure that improved products reach
farmers in the tropical and subtropical regions.
A massive challenge faces mankind for the first half of the new century.
There is no doubt that the resources, knowledge and the tools are
available to address this issues. The question is whether those of us in
the North, those of us who have never faced a day with insufficient food,
are prepared to divert a portion of our wealth towards the benefit of the
majority of the world’s people.


1. Fedoroff, N.V. and Cohen, J.E. 1999. Plants and population: Is there
time? Proc Nat Acad Sci 96:5903-5907. Part of a series of papers
presented at the National Academy of Sciences Colloquium "Plants and
Population: Is there time? held December 1998, Irvine CA.
2. FAO. The state of food insecurity in the world 1999. Available on the
Web at <http://www.fao.org/FOCUS/E/SOFI/home-e.htm>
3. FAO. FAOSTAT Statistical Database, Agriculture Data. Internet address:
Contains an enormous amount of regularly updated
statistical information concerning crop yields, agricultural commodities,
population demographics etc.
4. Chen, L., P Marmey, NJ Taylor, J-P Brizard, C Espinoza, P D’Cruz, H
Huet, S Zhang, A de Kochko, RN Beachy, CM Fauquet. Expression and
inheritance of multiple transgenes in rice. Nature Biotechnology
16:1060-1064, 1998.
5. Serageldin, I. 1999. Biotechnology and food security in the 21st
century. Proc Nat Acad Sci 96:5903-5907.
6. ISAAA. 1999 Global review of commercialized transgenic crops:1999.
International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications.
Brief No.12-1999.
7. Herrera-Estrella, L. 1999. Transgenic plants for tropical regions: Some
considerations about their development and their transfer to the small
farmer PNAS 96: 5978-5981.
8. Taylor, N.J. and C.M. Fauquet. Transfer of rice and cassava gene
technologies to developing countries. Biotechnology International
1:239-246, 1997.
9. Zhang SP, Song WY, Chen LL, Ruan DL, Taylor N, Ronald P, Beachy R,
Fauquet CM. 1998. Transgenic elite Indica rice varieties, resistant to
Xanthomonas oryzae pv. oryzae. Molecular Breeding 4: (6) 551-558.

This document is Donald Danforth Plant Science Center Manuscript No. 00-17