Latin America and the Caribbean

The main challenges in relation to agricultural biotechnology are: management of intellectual property for both major and minor crops; assessment of several research options, not only a molecular approach, in assessing how best to tackle problems and challenges to improve agricultural productivity; identification of beneficiaries; prioritization of work on favoured and/or marginal areas; use of GIOs as indicators of environmental damage; and need to monitor the behaviour of GIOs in the environment after release. The ecological research effort for monitoring GIOs is needed to satisfy public concerns about the behaviour of GIOs in the environment, and needs to focus on the following key questions. What are the specific concerns? How to do it? Who will do it? Who will pay for it?

In Brazil, many lines of R & D are benefiting from the application of biotechnology tools such as marker-assisted plant and animal breeding, genomic mapping of several species including sugar cane, embryo transfer applied to different animal species, genetic resources characterization and conservation, and use of genetic improvement to introduce new traits, such as papaya resistant to papaya ringspot virus and beans resistant to golden mosaic virus. The issues of field testing of genetically improved plants need to be addressed. Tropical agriculture is very different from the temperate fields where most of the new genetically improved products have been tested. Protocols are required for field trials, risk assessment (environmental and food safety), registration of products and public acceptance. The need is urgent, because these are constraints that will intensify as GlOs become an integral part of the research agenda in the region (Sampaio, 2000).

In Costa Rica, there is particular interest in using the tools of biotechnology to characterize and conserve biodiversity (Sittenfeld et al., 2000). Costa Rican institutions have developed some innovative partnerships for bio-prospecting, which could serve as a model for other countries. In agriculture, pesticide use increased threefold between 1993 and 1996 on crops such as banana, coffee and rice. Much of this pesticide is used to control banana diseases, where pesticide use is a health risk to field workers and an environmental risk to land, water and animals. Biotechnology-based solutions are urgently needed to replace chemical control of banana diseases. Recent discoveries in regard to understanding and managing the development of fungicide resistance in the black Sigatoka pathogen are leading to a 10-15% reduction in fungicide use on banana (a potential saving of some US$10 million per year). On rice, new virus-resistance genes are being introduced into local rice varieties.

Coffee continues to be the major export crop for Colombia, though its importance has declined as exports of other commodities (e.g. banana, sugar, beef, cut flowers) have increased. Agriculture now accounts for 19% (estimated in 1999) of Colombia's gross domestic product (GDP). There are extensive national efforts in many areas of biotechnology, which are aimed at delivering benefits to the rural areas while also maintaining a healthy environment and sustainable national agriculture.

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