Click for next page ( 22


The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 21
3 Challenges and Future Considerations in Realizing the Global Potential of Agricultural Biotechnology I f a common theme emerged from the workshop, it was that biotech- nology constitutes only one part of a complex and nuanced set of investments needed to enhance crop productivity, increase yields, and ultimately ensure food security. The movement of biotechnological innovations into farming systems of the developing world faces several challenges, including simply knowing what crop characteristics farmers need. Proponents of genetic improvements in crops do not always appear attuned to the perspectives of poor farmers and have not thoroughly assessed their needs, so they are limited in their ability to forecast how farmers would benefit. In addition, unless developing countries can solve some of their difficult social, economic, and infrastructure problems, they may never realize the benefits of agricultural biotechnologies that could help to improve productivity and align farmers with modern agricultural practices. The difficult question of which investments to address first could not be answered easily by the workshop participants. In fact, as the workshop progressed, participants identified several key challenges that seemed to require simultaneous attention if biotechnology were to be successfully introduced. The interconnectivity of those challenges formed the core of the workshop discussions. 

OCR for page 21
 GLOBAL CHALLENGES FOR AGRICULTURAL BIOTECHNOLOGY CHALLENGE 1: DEVELOPING APPROPRIATE AND AFFORDABLE TECHNOLOGIES There is a need to develop technologies that complement existing farming systems and native crops, to provide them at affordable prices, and that are safe for humans and the environment. Locally-developed applications need to be designed to meet local conditions and user needs. It cannot be assumed that existing applica- tions can simply be transferred: many, if not most, existing biotechnology applications are not appropriate for the conditions in developing coun- tries. For instance, herbicide-tolerant crops have been slow to penetrate Africa and South Asia because the tolerant varieties are not adapted to crops and conditions that are most relevant to developing countries, and more importantly, no-till technologies in small farm production systems have been difficult to develop. Diverse Farming Systems The agricultural landscape in the developing world consists of diverse crops and various types of farming systems that differ depend- ing on locality, geography, and availability of natural resources. Bongiwe Njobe, director general of the Department of Agriculture in South Africa, contrasted the homogeneity of Asian farming systems at the start of the Green Revolution with the diversity of African systems today. She noted that a study by the InterAcademy Council identified four existing farm systems in Africa that have the greatest potential to increase African food security (see Box 3-1) and asserted that the nature of these crop systems needs to drive the choice of biotechnology applications rather than shap- ing agriculture to fit the available applications. Factors that might affect which crops are selected for genetic engineering and which specific traits are modified depend on the systems, some of which are rain-fed and others irrigated, some of which center on growing maize (tropical maize, not the temperate varieties grown in North America), and some of which are focused on root crops or trees. Many workshop participants therefore believed that agricultural biotechnology could be a “rainbow revolution” that would apply a broad array of technologies and innovation systems where they are most needed. Native Crops and Local Needs Orphan Crops Crops with relatively little global commercial potential—which include cassavas, east African highland bananas, cowpeas, and yams—are

OCR for page 21
 GLOBAL POTENTIAL OF AGRICULTURAL BIOTECHNOLOGY Box 3-1 The Most Promising African Farming Systems for Increasing Food Security An InterAcademy Council report examined several farming systems in Africa and concluded that four existing systems showed the most prom- ise for increasing African food security. The selection of the four systems was based on the potential for reducing malnutrition and for increasing agricultural productivity. The maize mixed system is the most important food production system in east Africa and southern Africa and similar systems are found in west Africa, covering 10 percent of land area in sub-Saharan Africa and used by 15 percent of the agriculture population there. Maize is the main crop, and cash sources include cattle, small ruminants, poultry, tobacco, coffee, cotton, migrant remittances, and off-farm work. This system is currently in crisis because of shortages of seed and fertilizer. The cereal/root crop mixed system covers 13 percent of land area and is used by 15 percent of the agriculture population in sub-Saharan Africa. The system shares some characteristics with the maize mixed system, with such cereals as maize, sorghum, and millet as staples; but it differs in that root crops such as yam, cassava, and legumes are present when animal labor is absent. The system is defined by relatively low population density, abundant arable land, poor communication infrastructure, and higher temperatures. The main vulnerabilities are due to drought, decline in soil fertility and structure, and weeds. The irrigated farming system is linked to areas with surface water resources, but it is found across all zones. It covers 2 percent of land area and 17 percent of the agriculture population in middle east and north Africa and 1 percent of land area and 2 percent of the agriculture popula- tion in sub-Saharan Africa. The system is based primarily on rice, cotton, vegetables, rain-fed crops, cattle, and poultry. Crop failure is generally not a problem, but the system is vulnerable to water shortages, scheme breakdowns, and deteriorating input-to-output price ratios. The tree crop-based system relies on the production of industrial tree crops, primarily cocoa, coffee, oil palm, and rubber; it covers 3 percent of land area and 6 percent of the agriculture population in sub-Saharan Africa. Food crops, such as maize, are planted between tree crops for subsistence, and root crops, such as cassava and yam, are the main staples. Tree crop and food crop failures are not common. The main vul- nerabilities to the system are related to population pressures on natural resources, declines in trade and market share, and withdrawal from industrial crop research and extension. SOURCE: InterAcademy Council, 2004.

OCR for page 21
4 GLOBAL CHALLENGES FOR AGRICULTURAL BIOTECHNOLOGY grown in many developing countries for subsistence and are staples that meet local food needs and demands. Some of these “orphan crops” are cash crops, such as the sugar cassava in Brazil, that help farmers to pur- chase nonfood items such as medicine and books. But these orphans have received little attention from biotechnology seed companies in the indus- trialized world. Among the reasons that transgenic seeds have not been successfully adopted by farmers in developing countries is that the avail- able seeds do not reflect their region’s local crops or the natural resources available to grow them. A few workshop participants suggested that a genetically altered toxin-free Lathyrus—a protein-rich legume grown in Asia—might be of more help for small farmers; whereas the split seeds of Lathyrus are soaked overnight to clear them of toxins, the danger of toxicity is not eliminated for all its potential uses. Weeds and Labor Engineering of crops to be herbicide-tolerant reduces the amount of time spent on manual weed control, an activity that in the develop- ing world exceeds by far any other human activity related to agricul- ture. However, as Suman Sahai, a representative of the Gene Campaign, pointed out, India has surplus labor, so herbicide-tolerant crops can take wage-labor opportunities away from rural women. Furthermore, what constitutes a weed is subjective and can differ between cultures. The purported weeds growing among crop plants are collected by women for use as animal feed or as medicinal plants for local human health and vet- erinary care. The potential conflict between labor-saving innovations and job security in developing countries is often overlooked by technology developers, but increased productivity by definition means doing more work with less input, and labor is one input. The question is whether there will be other ways for displaced laborers to spend their time to obtain income. Affordability and Accessibility Workshop participants agreed that technologies and products need to be available at affordable prices especially for small farmers and the poor. If small farmers cannot pay for or sustain a technology or product, it will not be useful, regardless of its potential. Transgenic seed is expensive for a small farmer, and the extra funds expended represent an opportunity cost. Transgenic crops, such as Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) cotton, can pro- vide better yields than local varieties because they are able to overcome specific constraints, such as insect pests, but they may not perform as well as local varieties if environmental conditions—for example, water

OCR for page 21
 GLOBAL POTENTIAL OF AGRICULTURAL BIOTECHNOLOGY availability—are not optimal. Therefore, farmers take a risk in investing in transgenic crops. Benjavan Rerkasem, of Chiang Mai University in Thailand, noted that in addition, there is little incentive for investment if products that are developed specifically for the poor, such as micronutri- ent-enriched grain, cost the farmer more but do not provide greater yield or command higher prices. The challenge will lie in providing incentives to farmers and other components of the production and marketing system to maintain affordable products and create a sustainable marketplace. CHALLENGE 2: DETERMINING PRIORITIES FOR BIOTECHNOLOGY National leaders often need to make decisions about priori- ties with limited financial resources, user input, and scientific understanding. Decision-makers in developing countries who want their agricultural systems to benefit from biotechnology have a difficult task. They try to formulate a strategy to encourage the development of appropriate appli- cations of biotechnology when they have few mechanisms for knowing what is most needed by farmers or wanted by consumers and with lim- ited financial resources to pursue an agenda for introducing transgenic crops from outside sources or developing them internally. In their efforts to define a research agenda that is scientifically sound, decision-makers need scientific advice—something that is often lacking in developing countries. Determining Research Needs Developing a strategy for improving agriculture requires a decision of which research directions to support. Many workshop participants felt that with regard to biotechnology, leadership in setting priorities has not been coming from the governments of developing countries nor has it been determined by the needs of subsistence farmers, as suggested by Bonjiwe Njobe. Rather, leadership has stemmed from the investment, development, and modernization of biotechnologies from the private sector where the emphasis is on market forces to drive the process. The implication of a supply-led market approach is that a product is often created and sold on the basis of its branding by its producer rather than the stated desires of consumers or the quality-assurance pronouncements of the regulatory system. Because of the profit motivation, some partici- pants believe the private sector may move products to market and sell them to farmers before the risks and benefits related to the products are sufficiently evaluated.

OCR for page 21
 GLOBAL CHALLENGES FOR AGRICULTURAL BIOTECHNOLOGY Government officials that want to lead in setting the agenda for agri- cultural biotechnology have little internal guidance in making decisions, a task that is not made easier by potentially conflicting agricultural pri- orities. As Njobe stated, the crop sector may want genetically engineered maize, the livestock sector may want to pursue organic markets, and the two goals may not be compatible. More often than not in developing countries, however, getting input on priorities is rare because there are few mechanisms for engaging farmers, especially small-holder farmers. According to Rebecca Nelson, of Cornell University, the academic research community has traditionally done a poor job in looking at culinary and post-harvest characteristics, properties that help plants to compete with weeds, and other elements that are important in field settings but may not be recognized by laboratory researchers. It is crucial that government leaders keep the bigger picture in mind when determining priorities so that they do not promote a scientific solution to a problem that can be solved more easily by other kinds of investment. Jean Halloran, of Consumers Union, cited a meeting with Mozambique colleagues that illustrated how regional hunger problems could be solved. Her colleagues noted that while some regions of Mozam- bique were experiencing drought, other parts of the country were not affected and were able to produce healthy crops. Although scientists might want to address the problem of drought by engineering drought- tolerant crops, the problem of hunger could be better solved by improv- ing north-south transportation networks. Halloran concluded by stating that “it would probably take a much smaller investment in roads than in scientific research to address the problem.” Don Doering, of Winrock International, added that there are a few good global or regional models for estimating the value of some of the traits that crop breeders have dis- cussed and that such models would be useful in helping decision-makers decide between, for instance, investing in the development of a drought- tolerant crop and funding the installation of irrigation systems. Resource Limitations and Priorities Across Africa, agriculture usually receives less than 5 percent of most government budgets (World Bank, 2008) because support for scientific investment must compete with other urgent political, economic, and social priorities. In the science budget itself, all types of research compete for scarce funding. Workshop participants expressed a concern that in a resource-constrained environment, existing scientific efforts on important agricultural problems will be superseded by an emphasis on modern biotechnology. John Lynam, of the Rockefeller Foundation, observed that the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) has shifted research investment away from methods of soil, crop, and

OCR for page 21
 GLOBAL POTENTIAL OF AGRICULTURAL BIOTECHNOLOGY resource management and toward breeding and biotechnology and that there is also movement away from whole-plant methods toward molecu- lar methods. Nelson added that conventional breeding has delivered remarkable improvements to crops such as Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage and that nothing produced by transgenic tech- nology has been “quite so unbelievable” as the successful transformation of those vegetables by nontransgenic means. Many participants agreed, suggesting that investment in molecular biology has been lopsided over the last few decades and has left many developing countries with a large gap in scientific expertise, ranging from whole-plant physiology to plant breeding. For example, Rerkasem mentioned that rice breeders are becoming “extinct” in Thailand—a situ- ation that will work against the introduction of biotechnology because breeding is still needed to incorporate promising new genes into local varieties of rice. Moreover, Lyman said, priorities have to be established to bring trans- genic innovations and breeding programs together, and this is difficult because current breeding programs are highly decentralized and focus on a multiplicity of crops grown in diverse agroecologies. “The question,” he said, “is how to make decisions on what crop is to be transformed with biotechnology and then on how transformation will be applied in a wide array of breeding programs.” CHALLENGE 3: ENGAGING THE CITIZENRY Public participatory mechanisms are needed to gauge needs and to address concerns. Implementing a democratic decision-making model and soliciting public participation can result in more sound decisions, the development of technologies that are locally adapted and better suited, and a bridging of the rhetorical divide surrounding agricultural biotechnology. Honest public discussions are crucial for moving technologies forward because they may reveal concerns that governments and the scientific commu- nity have not expected. Mechanisms that provide a sense of transpar- ency can aid the public in understanding, accepting, and adopting new technologies. Transparent Decision-Making Processes A decision to introduce transgenic crops may involve economic and environmental risks, and nations need a legal framework for evaluating the risks, communicating them to the public, and justifying decisions. A

OCR for page 21
 GLOBAL CHALLENGES FOR AGRICULTURAL BIOTECHNOLOGY perceived lack of transparency in a government’s decision-making pro- cess will cause citizens to become distrustful of government authority. Without a sufficient process, even the most well-intended efforts of the international research community will be suspect, according to Phelix Majiwa, of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation in Nairobi, because it will not be evident that the efforts are being driven on behalf of local needs. Legal avenues for people to get information need to be created, according to Suman Sahai. The United States has a free press and the Freedom of Information Act, but in many other countries the public has no way to get such information. The public also needs confidence that its own government has the scientific capability to conduct safety assessments of biotechnology prod- ucts. Most developing countries are too small to set up their own biosafety protocols and screening procedures, so their policy-makers look to oth- ers who have already established biosafety programs for guidance and assistance. These countries also rely on regional centers, laboratories, and procedures from more advanced countries in their region for assistance. 1 In 2003, the Codex Alimentarius Commission adopted guidelines, devel- oped over several years by a Codex task force, that describe an interna- tionally-agreed approach for assessing the safety of genetically modified crops for human food uses. The Codex guidelines are intended for use by governments developing food safety oversight systems for foods derived from such crops. Efforts such as the GMO Guidelines Project (GMOERA, 2008) aim to help developing countries to establish approaches and methods for biosafety assessment of genetically modified organisms. The project, described by David Andow of the University of Minnesota, was funded by the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation and it brought together public-sector scientists from all over the world to help local scientists to build that capacity. Processes for Public Participation Even if a regulatory process is in place, products that are approved and introduced into the market may be held in suspicion. Countries that do not broadly consult or involve their citizens in public discourse—espe- cially as it pertains to novel scientific applications, such as agricultural biotechnology—find that their citizens question whose interests deci- 1 The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has also developed guidance for its member governments, especially developing countries, to help them use sound and consistent decision-making frameworks when confronting biosecurity issues (FAO, 2006b, 2007).

OCR for page 21
 GLOBAL POTENTIAL OF AGRICULTURAL BIOTECHNOLOGY sions serve in the long term. Introducing a new product or technology without the public’s consideration can perpetuate the image of ambiguity in decision-making and therefore perpetuate the belief held by many in the developing world that the “biotechnology agenda” is set by the rich industrialized nations to exploit the poor in the developing world. In some countries, consumers have demanded labeling as a way of allowing them to decide whether or not to accept this technology. There is a need for consumers to be aware of the huge differences in degree of possible environmental and human risk from different technologies. Given the enormous difficulties and the cost of labeling in small country food and feed systems, consumers will need to be made aware of both and avoid “blanket” requirements for labeling. Many international agreements—including the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which grew out of the Convention on Biological Diver- sity—mandate public participation in their decision-making process with respect to transgenic technologies. Many workshop participants, however, expressed concern that developing countries have fallen short in that respect. As one workshop participant observed, both the advocates of bio- technology and those who are violently opposed to it may be sponsored by external sources, and the voices of the local populations most affected by the proposals for agricultural biotechnology are often unheard. It is crucial to engage the public in scientific discourse well before the regulatory stage so that citizens understand and sense ownership of their country’s scientific decisions. Public forums can shed light on issues not anticipated by policy-makers and scientists and can provide valuable input into decisions as to the most appropriate technologies to pursue. Farmer Participation One participant described her recent involvement in a consultation workshop in west Africa on millet- and sorghum-based systems. She said that the farmers’ representative told her, “We want a sheep’s head; you bring us a dog’s head.” Because of the mismatch between technology development in agricultural biotechnology and technology adoption by users, a more accurate way to assess needs and challenges is to involve relevant stakeholders directly at various stages of the decision-making process. Matching needs with capabilities is itself difficult. Farmers often have trouble in conceptualizing the sorts of things that biotechnology might be able to accomplish for them. Likewise, scientists may have trouble in translating generic characteristics, such as “improved quality of flour,” into specific traits that research can focus on. Rural and tribal communities are often the most difficult to engage

OCR for page 21
0 GLOBAL CHALLENGES FOR AGRICULTURAL BIOTECHNOLOGY in public participation activities, and some workshop participants argued that not enough attention has been paid to developing structures and methods of communication. Most of the methods used to inform and educate the public about agricultural biotechnology include websites and registers, but most rural communities in developing countries do not have access to the Internet or even print media, and most of the population is illiterate. Illiteracy does not equate to lack of wisdom; many in developing countries who cannot read or write have enormous reserves of knowledge and can be valuable participants in a discussion of crop improvement. Their trust is an absolute necessity if the new technologies are to benefit them. The foremost thing to keep in mind, according to Sahai, is that there is a large information gap to be bridged by communication methods to accommodate not just the local language but the local idiom. Aside from lacking access to written literature and being widely dispersed geographi- cally, farmers are busy—many are women who also have child-care obli- gations—so their daily schedules are a consideration when information is transferred. One method that has been tried with success in Asia and in some parts of Africa, Sahai mentioned, is street theater and roadside theater containing caricature and skits, where information is turned into acces- sible packets that people can immediately respond to. Theater groups, nongovernment organizations, and governments will all need to rise to the challenge of creating space where a formal structure can be used for activities to foster public participation. Sahai added that “there is no point in sitting in a conference room and hoping that tribal communities can come inside and start participating. It’s intimidating.” Cultural and Religious Issues New technologies can be perceived as threatening cultural and reli- gious traditions, according to some participants. For example, it is pos- sible that Muslims or Hindus will not be persuaded that swine- or cattle- derived DNA inserted, for example, into sheep or a plant is merely a generic molecule; Germans will view genetic manipulation from the per- spective of their history; and Indonesians will filter information through lenses shaped by their cultural heritage and cultural preferences. Societies differ in their perceptions of what is natural and unnatural, acceptable or unacceptable. Many workshop participants suggested that it is important for policy-makers to recognize and respect the cultural and religious sen- sitivities of citizens that may place limits on agricultural biotechnology. In India, according to Sahai, “the whole concept of taking part in decision- making” in all sectors of society is becoming important to citizens. At the

OCR for page 21
 GLOBAL POTENTIAL OF AGRICULTURAL BIOTECHNOLOGY end of the day, she said, you cannot simply dispense with the right of choice that almost all nations grant to both consumers and farmers. Biotechnology and the Long-Term Public Interest Developing countries are not alone in the challenge of involving the public in discussions about genetically engineered crops. Researchers in developed nations have faced some of the same issues about trans- parency and inclusiveness. Piet van der Meer, of Horizons sprl Co. in Belgium, noted that it is easy to say that public participation is needed, but it is extremely difficult to implement: “I have had many, many, many hearings over the years on antibiotic resistance and herbicide resistance and so forth. And you can hold one meeting one day, and the next day more people will come and say we have not been consulted.” As another example, Harald Schmidt, of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics in Eng- land, described a website that his organization created to solicit views on genetically modified (GM) crops; 38,000 people (of 60 million in the UK) registered their views on the site, but Schmidt asked, “How representative of the debate is that?” According to participants, the experience of the developed countries demonstrates that a period of public education and familiarization is often needed before people can be actively brought into decision-making struc- tures. And before biotechnology applications are approved and accepted, it is crucial to inform the public about their benefits and risks. There are also likely to be concerns that agriculture will come to be largely controlled by large transnational corporations that produce and distribute transgenic seed, potentially harming small farmers in the developing world and disrupting social structures. Those issues require frank discussion between policy-makers and farmers. Calestous Juma, of Harvard University, noted that in Africa, instead of seeing farmers saving seed, he witnessed a small-market structure of women who grew seed and sold it. That attests to the power of markets, but some participants wondered what will become of those women who rely on the practice of saving seeds when transgenic seeds—some which are self-terminating after one season and many which are protected as intellectual property— are introduced. CHALLENGE 4: BUILDING SCIENTIFIC AND LOCAL CAPACITY Investment is needed to build and strengthen national scientific expertise in developing countries. Scientists are needed to develop, evaluate, and implement advances

OCR for page 21
 GLOBAL CHALLENGES FOR AGRICULTURAL BIOTECHNOLOGY Box 3-2 International Agreements on Biodiversity and Biosafety Convention on Biological Diversity The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is an international agreement that provides a framework for building regulatory systems to protect biodiversity. The CBD, which grew out of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro and began enforcement in December 1993, is a com- prehensive approach to biodiversity conservation, the sustainable use of natural resources, and equitable sharing of benefits of genetic resources. It addresses biosafety through guidelines that protect human health and the environment from the potentially adverse effects of biotechnology and its products while providing for technology access and transfer. The convention was developed through a series of intergovernment negotiating meetings and has been signed by many developing countries. In ratifying the CBD, governments have stated their commitment to devel- oping national biodiversity strategies and action plans and to integrating them into broader national plans for the environment and development. Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety On January 29, 2000, more than 130 countries adopted a supple- mentary agreement to the CBD known as the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. The protocol is designed to protect biodiversity from risks posed by living organisms that have been modified through modern biotechnology. It establishes a procedure for an advanced informed agreement by signatory countries whereby each would be informed of the potential risks posed by living modified organisms before such organisms could be imported into the countries. Recognizing the lack of scientific certainty as to the effects of living modified organisms on biodiversity and human health, the protocol references a precautionary approach and reaffirms Principle 15 of the Rio Declaration on Environ- ment and Development. Furthermore, the protocol provides a Biosafety Clearing-House to facilitate information exchange and to assist countries in implementing the protocol. It does not affect trade in processed foods or pharmaceutical products that contain genetically modified organisms. The protocol entered into force on September 11, 2003. SOURCE: Cartagena Protocol, 2008; CBD, 2008.

OCR for page 21
 GLOBAL POTENTIAL OF AGRICULTURAL BIOTECHNOLOGY ments strive to use the best available scientific and technical information to guide biosafety negotiations, no systematic efforts have been made to compile available knowledge on the subject, so the direct contributions of government delegates are usually the only scientific input (Gaugitsch, 2002; NRC, 2002b). The report mentions that existing studies on the safety of genetically engineered crops for human health, the environment, and socioeconomic systems continue to be a major issue of public concern and continue to be subject to divergent interpretations and conclusions (Gupta, 2000; NRC, 2002b). The report concludes that “the persistence of varied interpretations of the available information illustrates the need for scientific assessment to guide discussions and negotiations on major issues of international interest” (Susskind, 1994; NRC, 2002b). Many workshop participants felt that although the intentions of the convention and the protocol were appropriate, the implementation left much to be desired. Lynam pointed out that different interest groups and government sectors often participate in different components of treaty arrangements but do not interact to discuss their implications fully. As a result, smaller developing countries are unable to respond to regulations in a coherent and consistent way, much less to enforce them. Juma added that it was generally difficult for developing nations to create regulatory frameworks before they have any capacity to be involved in biotechnol- ogy themselves: “It’s almost like trying to design rules and regulations for governing swimming pools in the Sahara.” Majiwa pointed out that in many countries the lawyers do not play a large part in the debates about biotechnology regulations and guidelines. As a result, he explained, their posture is to wait to see whom they can take to court. “I believe this is going to drive very many African countries behind,” he said, “particularly when there is massive introduction of GM products into the market.” He stressed the need to bring the legal com- munity into the discussions that lead to the implementation of regulatory regimes. Van der Meer emphasized the importance of public-sector scientists’ participation in developing national policies on biotechnology: “They should not only be aware of the existing rules; they should be involved in making the rules. They should take a far more active role.” He also urged public-sector scientists to become involved in international negotiations on the biosafety protocol. In the past, he noted, nongovernment organi- zations and the private sector were well represented in the negotiations, but the biggest stakeholders in the outcome—scientists in public-sector research—were not there. “That the protocol is adopted and enforced does not mean that it is over. There will be many, many years of negotiations on how to function in this, and it is crucial that the public sector be part of that.”

OCR for page 21
 GLOBAL CHALLENGES FOR AGRICULTURAL BIOTECHNOLOGY However, the fundamental problem, as was discussed, is the lack of scientific capacity, as a result of which many developing countries are uncomfortable with the effectiveness of their own regulatory and control systems. Participants gave many examples of the illegal spread of geneti- cally engineered crops across Asia, India, and China. Enforcement costs can be high and need to be figured into the cost of regulations. One partic- ipant recommended that the United Nations and other organizations help by monitoring the implications of new regulations in developing coun- tries and comparing the time and costs of particular regulation with their benefits. Such analysis might assist governments in developing policies for the introduction of biotechnology and the protection of biodiversity. Resolving Trade Issues Many groups have opposed the use of agricultural biotechnology, and some nations have responded to the opposition by placing import-market restrictions on genetically engineered crops. The European Union (EU), Korea, and Japan have restrictions on imports of genetically engineered crops and seeds. In 1999, for example, the EU imposed a “de facto mora- torium” on import of GM products from the United States, Canada, and Argentina that had not been approved for sale in the Union. In 2003, the United States and its allies filed a suit in the World Trade Organization (WTO) against the EU for undue delay in the approval of GM products.2 Agricultural commodity trade can be affected by a variety of govern- ment policies, according to Anderson, one of which includes the require- ment to label GM foods. He argued that developing countries are less likely to adopt GM crops out of fear that their access to large foreign markets will be curtailed. For African countries, he asserted, a conse- quence of avoiding the products is that they forgo potential gains by their own farmers and domestic consumers; they produce less food than 2 In 2006, the WTO ruled in a 1,148-page document that the EU had violated WTO rules by the undue delay in the approval of GM products. The WTO also ruled that bans by Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, and Luxembourg violated WTO rules on a number of GM products despite the fact that the European Commission had approved the products as safe. The EU decided not to appeal against the ruling partly because the EU has put in place its own precautionary system and has approved the import of nine GM products since 2004. The nine EU-approved GM varieties include herbicide-tolerant and insect-resistant maize (developed by Monsanto, Pioneer Hi-Bred, and Syngenta), two herbicide-tolerant maize (by Bayer and Monsanto), one insect-resistant maize (by Monsanto), an herbicide- tolerant soya bean (by Monsanto), and an herbicide-tolerant sugar beet (by Monsanto). However, approvals for cultivation still remain highly restricted and only one variety of pest-resistant maize (developed by Monsanto) has been cleared for production. As of March 2008, there were 18 GM varieties waiting for cultivation approval in the EU and another 50 (mainly maize and soyabean) awaiting import clearance for use in food and animal feed.

OCR for page 21
 GLOBAL POTENTIAL OF AGRICULTURAL BIOTECHNOLOGY they could otherwise. The issue of labeling is complex, however, because labeling could also be used to describe the benefits of GM foods, and some would argue that markets perform better when consumers are informed. Anderson pointed to the WTO process as important for reducing trade distortions and improving how natural resources are better used to pro- duce food and fiber. Protecting Proprietary Research Intellectual property (IP) rights affect the ability of public-sector and private-sector researchers to conduct innovative research in agriculture and protect the transfer of knowledge and technology. From the per- spective of some workshop participants, IP rights have recently come to be seen as a major barrier to the advancement of agricultural biotech- nologies. The opportunities and challenges of IP and proprietary sci- ence include issues related to ownership, access, economic benefit, and national sovereignty. Intellectual Property Institutions In the past century, a battery of legal instruments have been used to protect IP, but these were of little direct relevance for public-sector and nonprofit scientists. Agricultural research information was openly acces- sible to all: germplasm was pooled in gene banks by countries around the world, and collaboration and free exchange of cultivars occurred between research centers in developed countries, such as the United States, gene banks in international agricultural research centers, and users in interna- tional agricultural research systems worldwide. As Brian Wright, of the University of California at Berkeley, pointed out, farmers also contributed freely to the pool of agricultural technology—nearly all mechanical inno- vations in the United States came from farmers and blacksmiths who did not patent any of their innovations. The current IP framework has changed substantially since 1980. The University and Small Business Patent Procedures Act of 1980 (the Bayh- Dole Act) provided a U.S. legal framework for technologies developed with public money to be licensed out from the public to the private sec- tor and encouraged researchers to transfer their technologies into the marketplace. Decisions of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office allowed U.S. researchers to patent life forms, which included not only plants but the constituents of plants, genes, and bacteria. A major revolution in the worldwide exchange of IP followed soon after and brought about the signing of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Prop- erty Rights (the TRIPS Agreement) in 1994 (see Box 3-3).

OCR for page 21
40 GLOBAL CHALLENGES FOR AGRICULTURAL BIOTECHNOLOGY Box 3-3 The Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) The TRIPS agreement is an international treaty negotiated in 1994 that sets minimum standards for most forms of intellectual property (IP) regulation in all member countries of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Of importance to biotechnology developments, the TRIPS agree- ment deals with copyright and related rights; patents, including the pro- tection of new varieties of plants; trademarks; undisclosed or confidential information, including trade secrets and test data; and specified enforce- ment procedures, remedies, and dispute resolution procedures. The significance of the TRIPS agreement is that it narrows the global gap in how IP is protected and moves the protections under a common international framework. It establishes minimum levels of IP protection for governments to provide fellow WTO members. IP protection encour- ages creation and invention, especially in the period after the protection expires and creations and inventions enter the public domain. The TRIPS agreement itself introduced IP law into the international trading system for the first time, and it remains the most comprehensive international agreement on intellectual property. The agreement highlighted another principle: that IP protection should lead to innovation and technology transfer, that such protection would benefit producers and users, and that it would enhance economic and social welfare. Developing countries in particular see technology transfer as a great benefit to protect IP rights. The TRIPS agreement includes a number of important provisions, such as one that requires governments in developed countries to provide incentives for companies to transfer technology to least-developed countries. Although the TRIPS obligations apply equally to all member states, developing countries were provided more time to implement applicable changes in their national laws. The TRIPS agreement took effect on January 1, 1995, and developed countries were given 1 year to ensure that their laws and practices conformed to the agreement. Developing countries and transition economies (under specified conditions) were given 5 years, until 2000; and least-developed countries had 11 years, until 2006. SOURCE: WTO, 2008.

OCR for page 21
4 GLOBAL POTENTIAL OF AGRICULTURAL BIOTECHNOLOGY IP rights protections in developing countries are too weak to provide much incentive for private companies to transfer technology or research to parties in those countries, Pray asserted, because they cannot be assured that other companies in the country will be prohibited from capitalizing on their inventions without fair compensation. If technologies cannot be protected, there is a disincentive to investing in developing them further. For investigators who want to develop products that can benefit the developing world, an important consideration is where to patent a new technology. Although the TRIPS agreement requires countries to develop IP protections that innovators can apply for, patents are granted by indi- vidual nations. There is no “international” patent that applies worldwide. Thus the desired outcome by Richard Meagher’s research group when it discovered how to control the electrochemical state of arsenic was that companies in the industrialized world would license the technology and develop it further. However, the group also wanted it to be freely avail- able for use in India, where arsenic poisoning is a severe problem. To accomplish those goals, the group applied for patents in the United States but not in India: if it had not applied for patents in the United States, few companies would have stepped forward to invest in improving the technology. A similar approach was taken in the development of vitamin A– enriched golden rice; material transfer agreements were used to obtain permissions and to incorporate dozens of patents owned by several par- ties. The patents were not filed in places like Bangladesh, so the rice can be freely used and improved in that country where many people suffer from vitamin A deficiency. Yet Wright worried that future IP rights agreements might make it more difficult to allow such tailored arrangements to proceed so that the public sector, nonprofit organizations, or companies in poor countries can have the confidence to use an innovation without worrying about infringement. The UN World Intellectual Property Organization has been working on a Substantive Patent Law Treaty that would institute a world- wide patent system modeled on U.S. patent criteria and management. He encouraged representatives of developing countries to follow the discus- sions closely. Protection of Public-Sector and Collaboratie Research The fact that IP regimes are not robust in developing countries may adversely affect public-sector researchers in those countries. Although IP rights exist to protect artisan discoveries, such as cooking or plowing improvements, discoveries in biology are generally outside the scope of such protection. When public researchers in developing countries collabo-

OCR for page 21
4 GLOBAL CHALLENGES FOR AGRICULTURAL BIOTECHNOLOGY rate with overseas researchers, it is likely that patentable inventions flow- ing from the collaboration are protected under an industrialized country’s IP regime. Developing country investigators might not be aware that because they are co-inventors, their names should be included on patent filings. Majiwa recalled a Kenyan scientist who collaborated with U.S. sci- entists on the biological aspects of extremophiles only to find later that enzymes from the microorganisms, which came from Kenya, were being used in laundry detergents for commercial profit in the U.S. market. No benefits accrued to the African collaborator or to his country, and the pur- ported exploitation made national headlines in Kenya. Majiwa suggested that Africans are discouraged from engaging in research at all because IP protections for innovations that might come out of their research are lack- ing in their own countries, and they are worried that patents on research innovations they have worked on locally may have already been filed by others elsewhere. The existence of very strong IP protections in the United States is hurting public-sector innovation in agricultural biotechnology, accord- ing to Wright. That is due in part to the nature of genetically engineered seeds, which are essentially “little carriers” of attributes that have been built on by many innovators. IP related to those attributes accumulates, and each time someone wants to add an attribute, all the other technolo- gies inherent in that seed “package” must be licensed. In Wright’s view, the costs of licensing and disputes over patents have so slowed the prog- ress of research that they are among the factors driving the consolidation of seed companies to the point where now only a few major players are involved in engineering new crops. That reality is hurting public-sector investigators, who may be freed to work on the seed packages in the laboratory but are at a disadvantage when the time comes to negotiate with the package owners about com- mercializing the improvements they have made. Moreover, the protec- tiveness over IP is spilling over into the public sector. At a time when the world is looking to the public sector to develop innovations in orphan crops and take the technology to the developing world, the public sector is finding itself with more responsibility but less freedom to operate. Intellectual Property May Not Be as Much of a Barrier for Deeloping Countries Many workshop participants felt that IP barriers could be overcome because companies like DuPont, as Kishore pointed out, have been will- ing to make IP available to others, especially when it was related to sub- sistence farming.

OCR for page 21
4 GLOBAL POTENTIAL OF AGRICULTURAL BIOTECHNOLOGY Juma suggested that countries that have been able to industrialize quickly have relied on tapping into technologies that are now in the pub- lic domain because their patent terms have expired. “One of the reasons they are developing so fast is that they are harvesting publicly available knowledge that they don’t have to pay for. And when they come closer to the cutting edge, they are forced to start inventing. By that time, they have accumulated enough capital to pay for the inventive activities.” Workshop participants were encouraged by the existence of nonprofit organizations that provide access to IP rights and benefit agricultural researchers in the public sector who otherwise would not have the means to obtain the rights to IP (see Box 3-4). CHALLENGE 7: ANTICIPATING FUTURE NEEDS AND DIRECTIONS Researchers and decision-makers need to anticipate changes that will affect agricultural production and consumer demand. Climate Change Although climate models are evolving, there is a considerable degree of uncertainty in predicting the future climate of Africa and south Asia and, by association, the environment for farming in the future. Extreme weather events seem likely, but their pattern and extent are not fully understood. Agricultural planners need the help of cross-disciplinary tools to predict how global climate change will affect the natural resource base of farming. Remote-sensing technology, which uses imaging instru- ments mounted on satellites or aircraft, can provide a record of changes in a region, including the locations of human settlements, vegetation, and rainfall. The images can be used to examine environmental trends and human, agricultural, and environmental interactions, including the movement of plant and animal diseases. Such information may ultimately help nations to better understand the characteristics needed in crops and animals in a changing world. Increased Meat Demand As the developing world reaches greater levels of food security and wealth, population growth and rapid income growth leading to changes in lifestyle will increase demands for meat (Delgado et al., 1999). The developing world’s population is projected to reach 3.4 billion by 2020, and its demand for meat is projected to increase by 2.8 percent a year from 1993 to 2020 (Pinstrup-Andersen et al., 1999; Pinstrup-Andersen,

OCR for page 21
44 GLOBAL CHALLENGES FOR AGRICULTURAL BIOTECHNOLOGY Box 3-4 Organizations that Promote Access to Research and Transfer Technology Several initiatives have been developed to bridge proprietary informa- tion and public research. Three such efforts were highlighted in the work- shop: the Public Intellectual Property Resource for Agriculture (PIPRA), the Biological Innovation for Open Society (BiOS), and the African Agri- cultural Technology Foundation (AATF). Public Intellectual Property Resource for Agriculture PIPRA (http://www.pipra.org) is a nonprofit entity based at the University of California, Davis, that supports agricultural innovation for humanitarian and small-scale commercial purposes. Members include over 40 universities, public agencies, and nonprofit institutions. PIPRA helps innovators in developing countries to gain access to new agricul- tural technologies by educating farmers and scientists on international IP law and development and by providing a network to create licensing and material transfer agreements with its members. Biological Innovation for Open Society BiOS (http://www.bios.net) is a relatively new Australian-based effort that helps disadvantaged communities to develop new innovation systems for disadvantaged communities by applying the open-source idea to modern biotechnology research. The goal of BiOS is to enable innovations by fostering a protected commons of biotechnologies that is freely available to the worldwide research community under the terms of an open-source–based license. If BiOS can develop the right kinds of technologies, plant researchers and breeders throughout the world would gain greater access to information. African Agricultural Technology Foundation The AATF (http://www.aatf-africa.org) is a not-for-profit organization designed to facilitate and promote public-private partnerships for the access and delivery of appropriate proprietary agricultural technologies for use by resource-poor small-holder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. AATF engages in technology scoping, interaction with technology devel- opers, and negotiation. It keeps abreast of the latest information about agricultural production constraints and priorities in Africa and is familiar with major national, regional, and Africa-wide policies on agricultural development. AATF devotes the majority of its attention to proven tech- nologies rather than those in the concept stage. SOURCE: AATF, 2008; BiOS, 2008; PIPRA, 2008.

OCR for page 21
4 GLOBAL POTENTIAL OF AGRICULTURAL BIOTECHNOLOGY 2000). However, many developing countries may not be able to meet the demand for meat, given current animal-husbandry practices and con- straints (such as animal diseases and malnutrition) that make increased livestock production unsustainable. Biotechnology might be able to have a considerable effect on livestock production by improving the genetics, health, and nutrition of food animals. An alternative solution, according to Kishore, would be to promote vegetable protein instead of animal protein. In his view, changing the world’s eating habits could enable agricultural systems to conserve natu- ral resources better. Vegetable proteins are superior to poultry, beef, and pork in energy input requirements, protein output relative to land use, and labor requirements. For example, soy is a good source of protein and is also a legume that improves soil quality and could help to increase the sustainability of agricultural resources. If the protein consumption of the developing world continues as projected and matches that of developed countries, soy and other vegetable proteins will need to be explored to create sustainable farming systems. CLOSING THOUGHTS Many discussions and debates about the use of agricultural biotech- nology focus on whether its use brings greater benefits than risks to society. There have been fewer reflections from the perspective of what agricultural biotechnology can do to help developing countries, and it did not take long for the workshop participants to highlight the fact that tech- nology does not exist in a vacuum. Agricultural biotechnology is only one of many potential tools in a complex package of solutions for economic development. Understanding how to build systems that can guide and manage the use of this relatively new technology to benefit developing countries became a central theme of the workshop. Calestous Juma, who chaired the workshop’s steering committee, expressed hope in his welcoming remarks that the workshop might pave the way for a better understanding of how society perceives new tech- nologies and the factors that play into its adoption. Society is quick to consider the immediate safety questions for the environment and human health, but he argued that we need more venues for examining percep- tions of risk, the socioeconomic consequences of new technologies, and policies and processes that encourage adoption and acceptance of technol- ogy and trust in it. The participants in the workshop, who came from both developed and developing countries, contributed a rich set of perspectives to the examination of those issues. Many potential benefits of new agricultural

OCR for page 21
4 GLOBAL CHALLENGES FOR AGRICULTURAL BIOTECHNOLOGY biotechnologies were outlined during the course of the workshop, but it will be a critical exercise that will need to meet many objectives associated with setting priorities for the allocation of resources. There will be many entities playing active roles in addressing those priorities, and global partnerships will be a key part enabling the new technologies to move forward in ways that help developing countries.