The major conclusion of this study is that funding agencies, including ADB, would be wise to continue and increase their investments in the safe applications of biotechnology, as one means to achieving poverty reduction and food security in Asia over the next 25 years. Achieving these goals with presently available technologies will be difficult given present trends and future challenges facing the rural sector in Asian environments. ADB can support biotechnology R&D in Asia through loans and technical assistance to both public and private sector entities. Accordingly, it is recommended that ADB consider the following measures:
Recommendation 1. ADB should assist DMCs in policy and priority setting to enhance investments in the safe application of biotechnology.
(i) Provide information to enable governments to make informed decisions in relation to the use of new biotechnology applications in agriculture. Particular care needs to be taken to select those interventions that impact poor people, either directly by increasing incomes or crop yields and quality, or indirectly by improving their environment and prospects for sustainable productivity.
(ii) Assist DMCs in identifying R&D areas where the use of new scientific developments may help achieve breakthroughs in dealing with previously intractable problems. These may include ways to increase sustainable productivity in rainfed areas, for example by the use of molecular methods to select new crop varieties with higher water use efficiency.
Recommendation 2. ADB should increase dialogue with its DMCs in identifying potential benefits and opportunities in the use of different biotechnologies to address specific targets.
(i) Increase policy dialogue with governments on the importance of the rural sector in underpinning social, economic, and environmentally sustainable development. The important role scientific developments can play in making the rural sector more productive and more sustainable through better management of natural resources is an important issue. Good governance and beneficiary participation will ensure the poor, including women, have access to the new technology.
(ii) Support risk/benefit analyses as a basis for choices on the merits of new technologies to address particular problems relative to existing technologies and other options. An example of where risk/benefit analyses could be undertaken in the short term is on the potential use of transgenic cotton varieties in Asian cotton-growing countries, based on the experience of the use of transgenic cotton varieties in the PRC. The analyses could compare various technology options, including the use of pesticides and integrated pest management systems.
Recommendation 3. ADB should strengthen risk assessment and management capabilities in its DMCs through systematic capacity building.
(i) Assist smaller Asian countries to set up national regulatory systems appropriate to their size and resources, while being consistent with international best practice.
(ii) Support regional harmonization efforts and activities being undertaken through ASEAN and APEC for the development of agreed upon biotechnology standards, guidelines, and regulations.
(iii) Support the development and implementation of protocols to monitor the long-term ecological impact of GMOs in the environment. Initial priorities could be for monitoring the performance of transgenic cotton and rice, since cotton is already under widespread commercial cultivation in the PRC and rice is the major food crop in Asia.
(iv) Facilitate the evaluation of potential new products in the regulatory pipeline in several countries through small-scale trials conducted under international best practice guidelines. These experiments would give data that could guide risk/ benefit analyses and future decisions on the safety of specific applications of new biotechnologies in Asian environments.
(v) Strengthen law enforcement in most DMCs to ensure that the introduction and release of GMOs follow government environmental requirements and procedures.
(vi) Support ex-ante and ex-post studies on the socioeconomic impact of transgenic crops in the region and their impact on the poor, including women.
Recommendation 4. ADB should facilitate access to proprietary technologies and encourage greater private and public sector cooperation in the development and delivery of new products at affordable prices for the poor.
(i) Facilitate negotiations with private companies on behalf of developing countries and the international agricultural research community to access key enabling technologies potentially useful on orphan commodities in Asia (i.e. staple food crops, livestock, and fish consumed locally).
(ii) Act as an honest broker or as a convenor in facilitating more public-private sector partnership in research, development, and dissemination of technologies relevant to the needs of small farmers.
(iii) Examine the feasibility of providing incentives for local private sector development in areas that would develop biotechnology-based businesses in rural areas, with high potential for stimulating income and employment opportunities.
(iv) Examine the feasibility of providing incentives for multinational companies to develop products to benefit poor people. Such incentives may be provided through tax breaks, contract R&D, guaranteeing a base market for a successful product, strategic alliances, or underwriting joint ventures with national companies. There are some experiences with these types of incentives in the health sector that merit closer examination for their applicability to the rural sector.
(v) Support national capacity building in IP management and technology transfer.
Recommendation 5. ADB should support a strategic R&D agenda and associated human resources development in Asia to generate new knowledge and disseminate the results for the public good. It should support and fund national governments and IARCs to undertake important initiatives that will have significant impact on poverty reduction and food security in the long term in areas of market failure where the private sector is unlikely to invest.
(i) Applications of Biotechnology to Orphan Commodities. Support public R&D on orphan commodities by national and international agencies. This may best be done by developing more efficient methods of crop improvement through the use of marker-assisted selection for complex traits such as drought tolerance. In other cases, the most appropriate approach may be the development of transgenic varieties with specific characteristics such as disease resistance or improved nutritional quality.
(ii) Ecological Research. Support national governments and international agencies in developing methods for undertaking participatory field studies on the ecological impact of the first generation of genetically modified crops. For example, insect-resistant cotton and rice are being released for field testing and commercial production in Asia, particularly in the PRC. These assessments should involve local communities in the evaluation of the new technologies, similar to the approaches developed in Asia for integrated pest management.
(iii) Strategic Research on Functional Genomics. Support regional efforts on functional genomics to understand the genetic basis of the agriculturally important crops and livestock in Asia. For example, genomic studies on rice, maize, and sorghum may identify potentially useful genes for drought and salinity tolerance that may have wide applicability across all cereals.
(iv) Exchange of Information. Support the sharing of knowledge and experience among Asian countries on the applications of biotechnology to specific targets, the risk/benefit analyses that underlie particular choices, and the data on food safety and environmental risks that will be acquired as experience accumulates and strategic R&D is conducted.
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