Research Focus

In 1997, 60% of the researchers involved in agricultural biotechnology research in the main ten Colombian organizations listed in Table 12.2 focused on crops research. CORPOICA and Biogenesis are the only two research organizations that are applying biotechnology in livestock research. About 40% of the researchers are dedicated to livestock biotechnology research, reflecting the contribution of livestock to the value of agricultural production in Colombia, which was 40% in 1997.

The emphasis of the biotechnological techniques used by researchers is noteworthy. We used the gradient of biotechnologies proposed by Jones (1990), where traditional plant tissue culture is at one extreme requiring less scientific knowledge, time and financial resources. At the other extreme is genetic engineering in plants and animals. The distribution of researchers on the gradient is an indicator of the biotechnology development of a country. In Colombia, about 35% of the researchers are utilizing advanced techniques, including genetic engineering for plants, embryo manipulation for bovines, molecular markers for plants, animals and microorganisms, massive propagation of in vitro plants through bioreactors and fermentation processes to produce biopesticides. The remaining 65% are using less sophisticated techniques such as tissue culture and nitrogen fixation for crop improvement.

CORPOICA, Biogenesis, CENICAFE and IBUN apply sophisticated biotechnology techniques and employ highly qualified scientists. CORPOICA and IBUN have built a good infrastructure and a highly skilled staff. CENICAFE has the best plant genetic engineering research team and Biogenesis has developed strong expertise in the use of molecular markers.

CENICANA and PUJ have achieved an intermediate level of development. CENICANA recently established its biotechnology unit to apply genetic engineering and molecular markers in sugar-cane breeding. PUJ has considerable experience in the application of tissue-culture techniques and recently started to use genetic engineering for local fruit. The other organizations in Colombia are still in the early stages of developing biotechnology research.

In most developing countries, private-sector organizations use mainly less sophisticated techniques, such as tissue culture, biofertilizers and bioinsecticides. These are less costly, less risky and closer to the market. Another factor is the limited enforcement of intellectual property rights. About 77% of the private-sector researchers are applying less sophisticated techniques. The more advanced research techniques, which are more expensive and where the pay-offs are more uncertain, are used mainly by public-sector organizations, involving 41% of public researchers. A significant proportion of public researchers (59%), however, use less advanced techniques.

The division of labour implied by these results between the public and private sector should be taken into account by research leaders and decision-makers in the allocation of resources for the development of biotechnology, to promote partnerships between both sectors.

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