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«Biotechnology-Assisted Participatory Plant Breeding: Complement or Contradiction? PPB Monograph No. 3 Ann Mane Thro and Charlie Spillane 1 7 ...»

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The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, finalized in Montreal in Januruy 2000, ¡neludes provisioris for public participation in decision making regarding the use of transgenic craps (Artiele 23) and ror review of their socio-economic implications (Artide 26). The Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biologica1 Diversity, in its draft decision to adopt the protoco1 (UNEP/CBD/ExCOP/ 1/L.6, 28 Jan 2000), proposes a Toster of experts' in fields relcvant to risk assessment and management as one review mechanism. Implementation of these artieles and decisions should provide opportunities for the participation of farmers' organizations.

lt would seem axiomatic that biosafety and risk assessment standards in developing countries should not be lower than standards in the developed world. 8ut the reality is that a very stringent biosafety review system, or the absence of a functioning system, can delay or prevent farroers' access to biotechnology innovations (Nuffield Council on Bioethics, 1999; Spillane, 2000).

The costs and time required for regu latory c1earance are likely to limit the amount of reseArch invested in transgenic tools or products ror resource-peor farmers in developing countries. Fundin-g for biotechnology-assisted PPB research on transgenics targetted at the needs of resource-poor farmers, already difficult to obtain, will become even more so. Wealthier research institutions and projects in developed countries are more likely to be able to ride out the costs imposed by the present regulatory stnJcture than are the under-resourced Biotechnology-Assisted PPB: Complement or Conlradiction?

public-sector institutions of developing eountries. In the long tcnn, as more experienee is gained and regulations beco me more streamlined, it may beeomc possible to move raster.

Older projeets to develop transgenic erops for small-scale farmers in developing countries-those that started in the 1980s-had no budget for the regulatory process. Thanks to dedicated researcher-s andjor understanding donors, several of these projects h ave survived through several funding eycles and have recen tly achieved technical success (e.g., Thro et al, 1999a). The re s ulting tran sgenic prototypes remain in containment greenhouses until mean s are found of entering them into the regulatory process (C. Fauquet, pers. comrn.) (Box 16).

The aption of providing a 'basic set of transgenic donar parents', suggested by sorne cornmentators (M.J. Sampaio, D. Duvick, pers.

comms.) (see Chapter 4), would be one way of addressing tbcse problems, at least partially. The disadvantage of having to work tbrough such a set would be the slowness of the process, which would involve identifying an important new transgenic trait, creating the donors, submitting them to regulatory testing in each country, and clearing the regulatory procedure--all of which would have to be done before backcrossing to a locally preferred variety so that research on farmers' fields could begin. The speed and flexibility with which transgenic tcchnology can respond to [armers' needs is lost in such a process. Moreover, only a very limited number of transgenic traits could be handled, owing to the costs involved. The advantage lies in the fact that at least sorne transgenic innovations would eventually reach resource-poor [armers, rather than none at all. Resources would be focussed on a smaller, more manageable task-that of establishing the environmental and food safety effects of a small set of genotypesrather than on the myriad regulatory protocols that would be required if prima.ry transgenics were crossed with local varieties before the regulatory process.

A broader regulatory ¡ssue is that current risk assessment models from developed countries (e.g., the EU and the USA) are costly in human, fmancial, and other resources. In sorne developing countries, regulations are even more stringent and thus still more costly. Recent biosafety cost estimates from Brazil, for example, are as high as US$4-S miUion for a single transgenic event (Sampaio, pers. comm.). It is orten not clear how biosafety regulatory processes can be paid fOL Their high costs may continue to bias transgenic research towards larger markets or fanners (Spillane, 1999; Nuffield Council on Bioethics, 1999).

Anyone proposing work with transgenic plants in a PPB project will have to factor in from the outset the uncertainty Qver whelher the plants will reach farmers' fields in a given country, and whether the farmers will be able to seU the produce in their target markets.

Box16 BiosaCety and the introduction oC transgenic materials Three examples mustrate [he conflict lhat can arise between the need for effective biosafety regulatory process and the need lO deliver technology to resource-poor


Transgenic cassava Unes are being developed in severa! public-sector ¡abaratarles. Sorne lines will contalO genes la protect the erap against cassava masaie disease, while olhers wiIl carry genes to ¡ncrease vitamin A content Oí to proloog leaí retention duriog drought. AH these traits are critical lo small-scale farmers in Africa and South America. When the projects were initiated in the early 19905. it was planned to field -test the transgenic plants in these regio os, choosing countries where cassava Ig a staple erap and a oatianal priority. National breeding programs in those countries would be able lo take up promising experimental materials rapidly and put them to good use in local PPB. Bul delays occurred in the implementation oC biosafety regulations in these countries. It now appears possible that the first field tests oC transgenic cassava will takc place in collaboration with research institutes in Southcast China, where the target traits are not high priority. At best, the field tests will enablc the researchers lo get a first impression oC the probable suitabiliry oC the new materials. The absence oC biosafety regulations in the target countries-or their high cost, in countries where they do exist-will create a delay, possibly oC many years, in testing the research products and getting thcm ioto the hands oC che resource-poor fanners who need them.

Biotechnology lools Cor aJteriog the cyanogen metabolism in cassava have beco under development for over a decade. Transgeoic plants with a range of variation in the cyanogen mctabolic pathway can now be produced.

Participatory research has shown that the role of cyanogens in cassava is eomplex and that farmers' selection eriteria are nol fully undcrstood, so a broad range of variants needs to be explored with farmcrs. Bul can this be done? In transgenic research, the number of gene insertion events, the ehromosomallocation oC an insertion, and several olher Cactors influence the phenotype and perfonpanec oC transformed plants. Biosafety regulations require precise molecular information about the transformant and a scparate review process for eaeh transformation evento Rcquesting pcrrnits Cor multiple variants is ext.remely costly.

In collaboration with WARDA, scicntists at the John Innes Institute and the Gatsby Foundation havc dcveloped a transgcnic rice variety resistant to rice yellow moltle virus (RYMV). Occurring in devastating epidemics, RYMV can cause a yield gap as high as 330,000 tons oC rice in a single )'ear in West Arrica. PVS may be the ideal way to evaluate the new vaneties with fanners.

However, in the currenl biosafety regulatory climate it is unlikely thal a PVS project involving resource-poor farmer evaluation oC transgenic varieties will meet with a pproval.

SOURCES: C. Iglesias, J. Pounti Ka erJas, L Ekanayake (pers. comms.); Pinto et al (1999); Witcombe (2000b).

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Planning and Providing Resources Ir biotechnologies are to be added to the PPB tool-box, who will initiate a nd plan lhe projects? How will the projects be funded? How will the partners access trained human resources and facilities for biotechnology research? And how can they ensure effective cornmunication with each other?

1'0 date, lh e biotechnology projects in which resou rce-poor farmers have becn involved have usually beco initiated by researchers or donors, and only rarely by NGOs (J. Restrepo, pers. comm.). NGOs and participatory researchers who consider biotechnology as an aptico in PPB often run the risk of being more or less ostracized by the rest of lhe NGO cornmunity, where for th e most par t an anti-biotechnology dogma reigns. Farmer-initiated bioteehnology-assisted projects are extremely rare, but may increase as farmers gain experienee and see what has happened elsewhere, particularly with low-technology too ls 5uch as tissu e culture.

Funding h as come mainly from international donors but also from na tional sourees, and in a very few cases from the private sector, which, for example under the auspices of ISAAA, has made oceasional charitable donations to seetors that do not threalen tts eornmercial interests. The costs of biotechnology-assisted research may decrease in the future, but upstream ' research of this kind is always likely to cost more than the resources of s mall -scale farrners can support on lheir own. What, ir any, dernand puB will sma1l-scale farmers exert on the research community in the coming years (S pillane, 1999)?

Early experience suggests that farmers' participation in project planning for biotechnology-assisted PPB will lead to projects that integrate biological and economic activities and criteria more closely than research er-developed project models (Thro et al, 1999b). Such projects are already in progress with 'on-the-shelf biotechnologies such as tissue culture. However, when a project requires the development of new biotechnology tools, su ch as specific molecular markers or inducible promoters, farmer participation breaks down because projects become too long-term to interest them. If upstream research were develop a repertoire of ready-made tools relevant to farrners' priorities. this would permit the design of participatory biotechnology-assisted projects ttt move beyond tissue culture yet stay within farmers' time-horizons. This will become more likely if farmerparticipatory research practitioners develop strategic alliances with leading public-sector research institutions with the capacity to develop such tools. and if public funding agencies consider such research a priority.

Access lo facilities, human resources, and interdi sciplinary trainmg for both biotechnology and farmer participatory research may be created through links between nalional organizations, farrners' groups, leading research institutes in developed countries, and iotemational centers such as those of the CGIAR. Project proposals. should specify the rcsources nceded to maintain links. Cacilitate communications, and develop research agendas collaboratively.

The level of investment and its conÜnuity will both be critical.

However, dependence 00 donors in the past has more often led to discontinuity: 10ss of support for long-term projects and networks a nd reliance on short-tenn 'impact-oriented' projects, with few or no sustaining mechanisms in place, are problems that are all too familiar to most researchers. Consequently, broad dialogue between local and national representa ti ves, agricultural researchers, and donor-country constituencies is urgently needed, to secure long-term support. And, more than that, it will be vital to infarro public apio¡on in the developed world, as well as the developing countrie s, abou t the importance of biotechnology options for resource-poor farmers.

Infonned, pro-developing country public opinion could do much to right the imbalances in the biotechnology research agenda that so many perceive today.

Dialogue and collaborative research between biotechnologists and farrner participatory researchers is unlikely te happen unless it is actively prometed. Incentive mechanisms such as new funding criteria, n ew fora of cornrnunication, and peer recognition of the value of participatory research are needed. The COlAR centers and other interdisciplinary research institutions could playa major role in promoting such dialogue. Unless the dialogue is initiated, both biotechnology and farmer participatory re search will continue on divergent trajectories and the potential of biotechnology-assisted PPB wiJl be lost.

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7. Conclusions There is a real but as yet unreaJized potential íor synergy between the plant biotechnology and farmer participatory research cornmunities.

Little biotechnology research is explicitIy targetted lo the needs oí resource-poor farmers (Spillane, 1999). Biotechnoiogy-assisted PPB does not yet exist in any real sense or on any meaningful scale, anywhere. Yet, with vision and support, it could.

Biotechnology can strengthen the process of PPB with resourcepoor fanners, [or example, by generating 'enabling tools' that would greatly increase the efficiency of their breeding efforts at field leve!.

Similarly, farmer participatory needs assessments could strengthen biotechnology research, providing it with an essential 'reality ch eck' with which to sharpen its focus on the needs of resource-poor farmers.

In spite of this potential, biotechn ologists and the practitioners of farmer participatory research currently have no fora for exchanging information or interacting with one another. They speak different professionallanguages and in most cases are unaware oC how each other's work could be relevant to their own or to society as a whole.

Although the auth o rs contac ted hundreds of researchers, in both biotechnology and farmer participatory research, only a handful 01' biotechnology-assisted PPB projects were identified. Almost aH involved tissue culture-a mature,low-cost biotechnology that can give good results quickly. This situation stands in marked contrast to that of 3-5 years ago, when it seemed that more projects covering a broader range of technologies would soon be implemented.

Many of the traits currenUy being developed through biotechnology research correspond to farmers' expressed needs. PPB olTers opportunities lO incorporate these traits into varieties in demand by Carmers. For example, biotechnology cou ld be used to reduce the labor requirement of key on-farm processes, as well as to in crease yields and protect against pests and diseascs. Whetber small-scale farmers wil!

h ave access to these traits will vary accordi.ng to the technology that embodies lhem and to a range of other factors.

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