|Biotechnology and the Future of World Agriculture (GRAIN, 1991)|
'The high yielding varieties have to be better adapted to my soil,
technology and local conditions and not the other way around.'
(Bishnu Thapa, farmer in Nepal)'
'That's all very interesting, but my constituency is more on Wall
Street than it is in the farmer's field '
(P. S. Carlson of Crop Genetics Int'l Company) (2)
In the previous chapters we have shown that the big-revolution will have a profound impact on global agriculture, in developed and in less developed countries. It will affect the position of the Third World, both as exporter of agricultural commodities, and as importer of agro-chemicals and seeds. It will also affect their capability to produce their own food. It is clear that biotechnology, as it is being developed now, is likely to have mainly negative impacts on developing countries. But we have also pointed out that the technology itself could be, at least in principle, a tremendous help in resolving some of the pressing problems that developing nations currently face.
Central to the whole question of the impact of biotechnology is the context in which it is developed. At the moment the technology is progressively falling under private control, mainly to large TNCs. The direction of the research is strongly biased towards a high-tech type of agriculture and the vested interests of industrialized nations. As it stands now, the implementation of the big-revolution is likely to result in a new international division of labour, a decreased value for raw agricultural materials traditionally produced by the South, and an increased dependence of the Third World on the industrialized nations. Also, if patent protection is widely extended to living matter, the existing advantages of the North in trade relations and technology will be further reinforced.
As a response to the potential of biotechnology, several developing countries have initiated national research and development programmes.
The International Agricultural Research Centres (IARCs) are also developing biotechnology programmes. The work on biotechnology in developing countries should be seen in its proper context. As pointed out in an earlier chapter, it is almost negligible compared to the huge investments in the North. In 1985, only 7.5% of global research and development spendings came from outside the USA/Japan/Europe bloc. (3) With Canada and Australia responsible for most of that already limited share, the Third World emerges as a complete outsider in the big-revolution. Still, this does not mean that nothing is being done in the South.
The general line of thinking is that Third World countries need to appropriate biotechnology and develop it towards their specific needs. But, then, what is meant by 'appropriation'? It is a concept as broad and misused as often as 'sustainable development'. In this chapter the possibilities and obstacles for using this new and powerful technology for the benefit of the Third World will be examined. First we take a look at the role of the IARCs, the main forces behind that other giant agricultural modernization scheme, the Green Revolution. Then we investigate the efforts that developing countries themselves are currently undertaking to claim at least a small piece of the biotechnological cake.