Biotechnology for developing countries in developing countries
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CTA. 1989. Biotechnology for developing countries in developing countries. Spore 23. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/45130
Luxembourg from June 26 to 30 1989 symposium on 'Plant Biotechnologies for Developing Countries' organized by CTA with FAO
Biotechnology has an important role to play in helping developing countries feed themselves and this science is already used to improve the staple crops of their regions. But the effectiveness of scientific effort is reduced by lack of coordination, legal constraints and poor exchange of information. That was the verdict of more than 50 Third World biotechnologists who met in Luxembourg from June 26 to 30 1989 with 100 First World scientists, policymakers and representatives of donor agencies for a symposium on 'Plant Biotechnologies for Developing Countries' organized by CTA with FAO. The symposium addressed the problems of why tropical crops are left behind temperate ones in the advances made by biotechnology, and proposed ways in which international organizations, such as CTA and FAO, could and should help the developing world to benefit more from the improvements biotechnology can bring. One of the difficulties of any action plan is the wide range of research that the term 'biotechnology' encompasses. The delegates all plant biotechnologists, ranged from molecular biologists, working in the laboratory, to plant breeders, in the field. Although the broad objectives of their various researches are the same, the resources and support they need are very different. Traditional farmers of the developing countries will not only benefit from this new science, but they can also play a vital role in making it possible. Over the generations their careful use of seeds has made them the custodians of much of the genetic material that biotechnologists need. When a genetic engineer wants to make a particular improvement to a crop, he looks for another plant which has the property he requires. This plant can be used as the source of the gene that determines the desired property. Today, many of the best sources of this valuable genetic material are the old varieties of crops, that small-scale local farmers still grow. Another rich source of useful genes is the many millions of species of wild plants of the Tropics. This is less widely recognized in the commercial world. There is a race between many of the top international companies to patent naturally-occurring genes which they have identified. Then, anyone who uses these genes will have to make some form of licence-payment to the patent-holder. This system is the subject of much controversy around the world, but feelings are especially strong in the countries from which the genetic material comes. African and Asian scientists can see little reason why they should pay a North American or European company for the right to use plant material that originated in their own country. Despite these legal technicalities, scientists are concerned that the benefits of their research are felt as quickly as possible. In Luxembourg, tuber breeders from Peru, date palm experts from Morocco and tea specialists from India met with many other fellow-biotechnologists from the developing countries and advised international agencies how they can help speedup the pace of the biotechnolony revolution. The scientific capability is often already present, but scientists need help to coordinate their efforts and to avoid duplication, and assistance with training and transfer of genetic materials. The delegates left Luxembourg encouraged that both CTA and FAO have made firm commitments to ensure that biotech nology has its place as an important science for the Third World in the Third World. The proceedings of this conference will be available in due course from CTA. Their publication will be announced in SPORE as soon as the detailed work of assimilation and checking is done. SPORE will be covering more aspects of biotechnology in future issues.