The ISNAR survey of the most relevant public and non-public organizations involved in agricultural biotechnology research in Colombia yielded the following:
• CORPOICA, Biogenesis, CENICAFE and IBUN are using sophisticated biotechnology tools and have highly qualified scientists. The other organizations in Colombia are still in the early stages of developing biotechnology research. Most of the organizations started or intensified their biotechnology research activities in the early 1990s.
• Partnerships with some international advanced research centres and universities (such as CIAT, Cornell University and Texas A&M) and the financial support from COLCIENCIAS accelerated the biotechnology development of these four organizations.
• The private sector focuses on the near-market and low-technology end of biotechnology and on horticultural crops, such as ornamentals and banana. These are high-value crops with a faster payback time. The most prominent private companies are Americaflor, GSL and ECB. The first two have recently been taken over by multinationals, to develop vertical control and integration of crops.
• The financial support from COLCIENCIAS between 1993 and 1996 was significant for the development of the biotechnology infrastructure, equipment and training programmes. Although agricultural biotechnology research expenditures grew annually, the percentage of agricultural biotechnology research to the total agricultural research expenditures in Colombia averaged 2% during 1985-199 7.
• In 199 7, there was a drastic reduction in COLCIENCIAS funding because of the financial crisis in Colombia. This caused bottlenecks in the provision of operational resources to projects that were approved before the crisis. It is critical to implement corrective measures to sustain the biotechnology capacity that some research organizations have generated.
• During 1985-199 7, the number of researchers had grown much more rapidly than the research expenditures. This led to a significant decline in expenditure per researcher (in real international dollars from $60,600 in 1985 to $27,200 in 1997). There is a need for more national and institutional commitment to raise funding for agricultural biotechnology research. The more resources the researcher has, the higher the likelihood that research results and technology products will be achieved.
• Most of the Colombian organizations have a low ratio of technical support to researcher, with only one technical support person per researcher.
• About 50% of the surveyed research organizations showed a low researcher-manager ratio, which reflects a probable overmanagement of staff conducting biotechnology activities. This should be analysed more carefully.
• The public sector accounted for 61% (public research enterprise 34% and universities 27%) of the total expenditures during 1985-199 7. The participation of the private sector (both commercial and non-commercial) is around 39%. Policies and incentives should be developed to encourage private-sector investment and participation in agricultural biotechnology research and development and closer public-private cooperation.
• Government has contributed the highest share of overall funding for agricultural biotechnology research activities in Colombia, representing about 50% in 1997. Donor share of total agricultural biotechnology research expenditures was 13%. These contributions went mainly to CORPOICA, Biogenesis and PUJ, largely to cover infrastructure and operational costs.
• In 199 7, 60% of the researchers involved in biotechnology focused on crop research and 40% on livestock.
• Progress has been made in areas of patent law, plant breeders' rights and biosafety. The purpose of these regulations is to provide incentives for external investors in biotechnology to invest in Colombia.
• Colombia has experienced a lively expansion in biotechnology research since 1985. Despite the recent efforts of COLCIENCIAS in preparing the Biotechnology Strategic Plan, there is still no biotechnology policy in place to integrate and consolidate the research efforts (public organizations, academic entities and the private sector). Given the scarcity of resources, clear biotechnology research priorities should be defined and supported by a sound incentive scheme.
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