|Mobilizing science for global food security. Report of the CGIAR Panel on General Issues in Biotechnology (Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research) (1998)|
The CGIAR mission statement emphasizes the alleviation of poverty and the protection of natural resources for sustainable food security. Within these broad aims, the CGIAR makes its contributions largely, but not exclusively, through improved technology that increases productivity while conserving biodiversity, land and water. It is dependent for its success on close collaboration with national research systems in the developing countries.
The CGIAR Centres have progressively invested in biotechnology and applied its tools to their work in furthering the CGIAR mission. However, recent developments, especially rapid advances in the molecular characterization of genes and genetic variation, have given new impetus to the case for greater use of selected applications of biotechnology. It was against this background that the CGIAR decided to look in depth at its future strategy on biotechnology and related activities.
The adequacy of its investment in biotechnology was discussed at the Mid-Term Meeting in May, 1997 and again in October at ICW97. Several documents provided background information and analyses for these discussions. This report does not attempt to summarize these documents nor the proceeding of the two meetings. For ease of reference, however, a few of the salient points are recapitulated from three of these papers in the following paragraphs.
"A Report on the Highlights of a Stakeholders Consultation", convened in April 1997 concluded that the CGIAR was under-investing in biotechnology and conveyed the following "messages":
· recognizing the potentials of biotechnology as an added tool, the CGIAR should proceed with efforts to enhance its capacity for biotechnology research with a special emphasis on such technologies as molecular markers and a strong link to breeding, fanning systems at the smallholder level and ecological considerations,
· investment in biotechnology research will need to be increased by a significant amount, a multiple of the current allocation,
· stronger partnerships and collaboration are required within the CGIAR System as well as between CGIAR Centres and others engaged in biotechnology research,
· the CGIAR should position itself to ensure that advances in biotechnology can be harnessed for the benefit of the poor and for the protection of the environment; it should vigorously promote public awareness of the context in which biotechnology programs are carried out.
A background paper compiled by the CGIAR Private Sector Committee under the title: "Strengthening CGIAR-Private Sector Partnerships in Biotechnology", came (inter alia) to the following conclusions.
· At a minimum. Centres need the capacity to access knowledge and evaluate its potential usefulness for their own or their partners' research.
· Centres need the capacity to use knowledge obtained from the outside and build on it for their own purposes.
· The Centres' in-house capacity in biotechnology is important, but without a strong cooperative research dimension this capacity is not likely to lead to rapid learning and innovation.
Views from a small-farmer perspective were portrayed in a paper by the Chairman of the CGIAR-NGO Committee entitled: "The CGIAR and Biotechnology: Can the Renewal Keep Promise of a Research Agenda for the Rural Poor". The paper drew attention to the importance of maintaining the CGIAR research effort on the agro-ecological aspects of crop productivity. He outlined the potential contributions of biotechnology to alleviating the problems of resource-poor farmers, the limitations of technology promoted by the private sector and the risks inherent in the release of transgenic organisms. He also emphasized the role of participatory research at the farmer level in developing new agricultural technology and improved varieties.
As a consequence of the discussions generated by these and other inputs at the mid-term meeting in May 1997, two expert panels were appointed to advise on the way forward in biotechnology, one focusing on general issues and the other on legal aspects. The two panels were designed to work in liaison, three members being common to both panels. Accordingly, while fully recognizing the importance of proprietary and legal issues for the CGIAR System, the Panel on General Issues has not included them in this report.
Terms of reference. Panel membership and an outline of the programme of work are given in Annex I.
Before meeting to consider its recommendations, the Panel consulted widely among stakeholders and others. In addition. Panel members contacted a range of individuals by telephone. The questions posed are listed in Annex II, together with a summary of the salient points made and a list of those who responded. The Panel is conscious that scientists in the developing countries, as well as NGOs, are under-represented in the list. No attempt was made to include farmer organizations in the survey.