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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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If sorne biotechnologies offer brceders options th a t were previously inconceivablc to them, need s assessmcnt s that avoid discussion of research a pproaches may ignore these option s. Con versely, if farmers choose products tha t imply the u se of biotcchnologies but r emain unaware that they are doing so, they m ay also fail to a pprecia te the other implications (hat biotechnology m ay h ave fo r the outcome of the researc h process (biosafety co n sideration s, research time and cost implica ti ons, and so on). If these shortcomings a re not recognized and dealt with, it may be because of an implicit assumption that farmers exhibit no preferences for one technologieal approach over anolher, or that they s hould be the passive objects of technological priorilization by other decision makers or interest groups. Farmers familia r with the debate on biosafe ty issues may become concerned if they learn accidenta lly or from sources other than th e PPB program that bioteehnology solutions are an option under consideration by researchers.

The ab ility of biotechnology lo allow the development of enLirely new tra its and plant types implies lhat farmers and researchers m ay need to participa te in brainstorming or sorne othe r activity designed to identify these new options, wh ich may represent opportunities rather than m ere solutions to existing problems. Methods are needed that go beyo nd 'wish lists' to the realm of the entirely new departure or venture (such as adding value to cassava through the syn thesis of plasties precursors in the plants' roots). These methods may be considcred exp loitative by purists, but they may also expose res ource-poor farmers to new sources of income and new routes out of poverty.

Biotechnology-Ass is ted PPB: Complemenl or Contradíction?

The cha llenge is how to inform farmers about biotechnology options withou t influencing th em towa rds the choice of such options and withou t rai sing false expectations lhat products \ViII be easy to develop when they may not be. (Sorne forrn s of biotcchnology research are lo nge r term and less certain of technical success than others.) Conversely, wh en participatory r esearch practitioners do not inform fa rm ers abou t a11 the a va ilable technological optio n s, they may be accused of biasi n g th e outcorne of the nee ds a ssessrnent process by deli bcrately kee ping cer tai n technological options off th e a genda (Lu k es, 1974).

How to supply intelligible, rele van t info rmation abou t biotechnology to farmers objective ly is no t irnmedia tely evide n t. The more marginalized or poorer farme rs are, the greater the challenge posed by the information gap. CBN and th e Dutch Ministry for Developmcnt Cooperation (DGIS) have experimen tcd with ways of closing it. A possible method for presenti n g alterna tivc tcchnology approach es to farmers ha s also been developed through work on the establish ment of small-scale micro-cnterpri ses su pported by the German Bundcsministerium fü r Zusammenarheit (B MZ) and GeseUschaft für Tech nische Zusa mm enarbcit (OTZ). This method wa s origi nally developed lO h el p farmers visu a lize an d com pare potential n ew products from their farms (Os tertag an cl Gracia, 1997; R. Best, J.

Ashby, pers. comms.). These efforts are only a begi nnin g, however, a nd mu ch more work is needed.

The au thors kn ow of li ttlc experience in n eed s a ssessmen t or priority sctting with resourcc-poor farmers specifically fo r the purpose of biotechnology rescarch. Two groups with sorne experience a re CB N an d th e DO IS Specia l Prograrnme fo r Biotechn ology and Developmen t Cooperalion.

Wh en CBN began priority seltin g for far mer-oriented biotechnology re search in 1988, it firs t consulted nati onal ru~ d international scientists experl in cassa va production and processing. Th is provided global coverage and was rap id and re1a tively inexpensi ve. Howeve r, it was reaJ ized th at the results were conditioned by th e perceptiveness and imaginati on of th e scientists and limited by the la ck of in teraction with farmers.

In 1992, in search of direct interac lion with farmers, CBN turned to rapid participatory needs assessment methods, which it appli ed in several cou ntries (Henry and Howe1cr, 1995; Thro et al, 1994, 1997). In each counlry, farmers were visited in their fields and villages over a 1- to 4-week period and asked about their experiences, opinions, and wishes concerning their eassava erop. Al this stage, no rcferen ces \Vere made to the technologies that could be u sed to deve10p solutions tú

problcms. The priorities that emerged from thesc exercises \Vere:

Needs Assessment and Priority Setting

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Sometimes, the specd with which farmers can obtain ncw material s lurns out to be more important to them th a n the high priori ty traits they h ave identified. For cxample, cassava farmers in Colombia requested varieties having locally preferred cooking qualities combined with resista n ce to bacterial blight, their number one disease priority, a nd to stem borers, an inseet pest with lower but n evertheless signficant priority. Because cooking qual ity is a complex trait with low h eritabili ty, this combina tion h ad preved unobtain able using conve n tional breeding. After heari ng the fa rmers' views, research er s presented two options: the fi rst was lo use MAS followed by tra ditional breeding to combine cooking qu a lity with bacterial blight re sistance, wh il e the second was to deve lop a transge nic variety with inseet resi stance only. The research er s might havc prefe rred th e MAS option, wh ich wou ld h ave y ielded new infor matio n an d m aterials fro m which to d evclop n ew varieties. However, the fa rm ers unh esitatingly chose the tra n sgen ic optio n, evcn though the r esu lting product would not mce t their top pri ority. Th ey ch ose this op tion becau se, at that time, ir seemed th e faster and the more cer ta m to lea d to the desired outcom e.

Th eir choice overturned mon th s of careful participatory priority setti n g following all thc orthodox recommended procedures ('fhro et al, 1997).

How Much Interaction Is Neces sary to De t erm in ePriorities?

Despite th eir cost advantages, rapid participatory n eeds assess ment me th ods in evitably provide only a s u perficial 'sn apshot' of a farming system. As such they may reflec t far mer s ' preoccupations at the time of the survey, but [a il to capture ch a ngin g needs over time. Th e priorities identified by farmcrs often rerIect recen t expe rience. For cxample, cassava farme rs in Tan zan ia, \Vho had opted fOT re sistance to mcaly bu g as th eir p riority, switched to drought tolerance when a new survey was carried out in a dry year ('fh ro et al, 1994 ). Changing market opportunilies may also alter farm ers ' prioriti es.

Thcse methods also fa ll s hort of providing the farmers ' fuIl perspecti ve on potential solutio ns to problems. For example, in the CBN exercise, farm ers in Tanzania identified 'poor soil fertility' as a problem in cassava cultiva ti on (Thro et al, 1994). Wh at is th e best a pproach lo overcoming th at problem? Applying eommereial fertilizer or a n im al manure? Switching to crops more lole rant of poor s oils? Or tran sge nic a pproaches d esign ed lo improve our underslanding of nu trien t use efficiency as a basis for breeding superior varieties?

Further d iseu ssions with farmers and experienced nalional program staff are n ced ed to answer these que stions.

In another example, a 1987 survey of \\lomen farmers in Malawi ra nked the following criteria, in desce nding orde r, as most important for th eir sclection of bean varieties: (i) yield, (ii) taste, (iü) eooking quality, (iv) m a rketability, (v) d ate o[ma tu rity, (vi) health-rela ted Needs Assessment and Priority Setting issues, (vii) in sect and disease resistance, and (viii) ability to withstand environmental stresses (Ferguson et al, 1997). But is such information specific enough to guide biotechnology or breedin g rcscarch ? This is a key issue that should be addressed when training research ers in farrner participatory techniques. It is also worth noting that farmers' knowledge of the underlyi ng biology of their farming systems may be limi ted, as also may that of outside rcscarchers rrrutmann, 1996).

AH this m ean s that neec!s assessme n t will neec! to be continuous, or at least periodic, ra th er than a one-stop s hop. To provide opportunities for extended dialogue between researchers, farmers, and the public, DGIS has used the paniclpatory technology developmcnt (PTD) meth od (ETC, 1992; ILEIA, 1989) ancllhe 'bottom-up a pproac h ' (Bunders and Broerse, 199 1). 80th a pproaches were tcsted in Kenya, India, Colombia, and Zimbabwe th rough the DGIS Special Prograrnrne on Bioteehnology a nd Developrncnt Cooperation. With ¡ts emphasis on participalOI)' dialogue, this program seeks lo go beyond RRA/PRA methods to define the optimum approach or techn ology that rnight be applied. In each cou ntry, biotechnology options were introdueed and discu ssed with farmcrs, after whieh priorities were se t. The process, which took 2-4 years, involved farm visits, reporlS, an d rnee tings a l which farmers, researchers, policy makers, and the general public were all widely represented. The crop improvement priori tic s determined to

dale are:

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CBN took a difTerent approach. Instead of initiating an independenl dialogue with farmers, it developed links with existing panicipatory projects whieh already had sueh dialogues. Thesc projects eovered intcgrated pest ma nagement (IPM) in nonh-easte rn Brazil a nd West Afriea, in tegrated erop m anageme n t in five South east Asian countries, and hum a n heal th in Mozarnbique. Links were a lso forged with sorne essential participants not represented in thc projects, including biotechnologists, research directors, and poliey makers, who were brough t in through mechanisms s uch as site visits to the projects and CBN's biennial technieal meetings.

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problem-solving context, and (iii) maximum use of comparative advantages of each spedalization. Dialogue in problem-solving conlexts has proved especial1y fruitfu l, since it can be tightly focussed on what is practical1y achievable. For example, farmers and researchers in Brazil and Colombia are currently devcloping descriptions of cassa va quality preferences (W. F'ukuda, C. Iglesias, pers. comms.) to h elp national and CIAT brecders and biotechnologists retain locally preferred qualities wh en breeding for yiel d, drought tolerance, and other tra its.

After 5 years of work with far mers, CBN in vited eigh t reprcsentatives of resource-poor cassava farmers and processors to attend a meeti n g with biotechnologists, other researchers, and representatives [rom other cassava stakeho lders in La tin America, incl uding industrial processors. A farme rs-only session was arranged the day before the fu ll meeting. Following a half-day briefin g on biotech nology method s, the farmer represen ta tives together discussed the ir needs and prepa red a statement of their views (Box 3) for the su bsequ en t interdisci plinary mee ting.

The priorities subsequently agreed on by the full meeting we re similar, though not identical, to the li st initiaUy presented by th e farmers. Planting material was in first pla ce on both lists. Marked differences between lhe fu ll group a nd th e farme r sub-group were the priority afforded lo drought tolera nce and to how vari eties fi t into cropping systems, whi ch carne high on the farmers' list and lower on the plenary list. (A subsequent meeting of Latin American cassava researchers added the conservation and characterization of cassava genetic resources, whi ch they considered fundamental to all other objectives.) How Can Resource-Poor Farmers' Needs Be Translated Into Research Activities?

Effective problem transfer Between participatory priority setting a nd research implementation lie the hurdles of prob1cm transfer (Jefferson, 1993a, 1993b) and control over research decisions. The term 'problem transfer' cxpresses the idea that problems identified in participatory prio rity setting must not only be communicated to biotechnology researchers but also taken up by them in their research proposals and fu n ding requests, leading to 'shared oYo'nership' of the problem. Sorne commentators feel that problem transfer may be more of a constraint than technology transfer in the development and delivery of technologics taHorcd to the necds of resource-poor farmcrs (Jcfferson, 1993a, 1993b). Merrill-Sands el al (1991) argue that institutionalizing feedback from clients or users to upstream researchers is especial1y difficu lt in public-sector agricultural rescarch.

Needs Assessment all.d Priori1y Settíng

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In many cases, biotechnology research is sull ool considered a realistic oplion in the communication oCmosl needs assessments lo researchers. The results of assessments are typically communicated to agronomi sts, extensionists, even IPM s pecialists-bu t seldom lo biotechnologists. How can problem transfer to the biotechnology community be improved ? It is not rea listic to condu cl needs assessments and lhen expect sorne scientist, somewhere, to take on a technology developrnent or dissemin atio n role spontaneously. There is a real danger lhat needs will constantly be reassessed and never aClually rnel, since no one is prepared lO take responsibility for doing so. Institutional frameworks that separa te needs assessment from

–  –  –

extension and extension from technology supply and development are likely to be ineffective (Sutherland et al, 1998). Yet most public-sector plant biotechnology research is separated in just this way from extension and needs assessment.

Who decides what research is funded?

ProbJ ems have to be transferred nal just to upstream researchers but also to th e agencie s that fund them (and to the individu als who advise the agencies). Can the participatory process rcach back this far? If partici patory priority settin g is to do more than educate researchers and ra is e farmer expecta tions, attcnlion must be paid to these links.

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