The impact of biotechnology in the next 30 years will depend largely on the strategies that countries adopt to improve their technical capital and, thus, capture the benefits of biotechnology. Although biotechnology cannot by itself stimulate economic growth and alleviate poverty, the new innovation certainly provides an additional tool in the fight against hunger. Theodore Schultz showed more than 30 years ago that poor farmers are effective business people who use resources and technology at their disposal to obtain maximum return to their investments. The problem is that they reach equilibrium at a very low level. To bring this equilibrium to higher levels, new innovations are needed.
In the GR, many small producers were left behind due to lack of access to the inputs required, as well as inappropriate policies. The "gene revolution" may finally provide the opportunity for them to share in the benefits of technology, provided appropriate enabling policies and investments are in place. Indeed, since the last version of this paper published in the joint FAO-World Bank publication, there have been initiatives to help developing countries to access proprietary technologies such as the African Agriculture Technology Foundation (AATF) to facilitate access to proprietary technologies on behalf of resource poor farmers in Africa (Terry, Monyo, and Matlon, 2002). In addition, the recently launched Public-Sector Intellectual Property Resource for Agriculture (PIPRA), supported by the Rockefeller and McKnight Foundations, is also a positive development to bring proprietary technology packages royalty free or at low costs to poor countries (Atkinson et al., 2003).
It is important to note that except for Bt corn approved for commercial cultivation in the Philippines and in South Africa, the current GM crops have not targeted staple crops consumed in many developing countries such as cassava, millet, and tef, to name a few. Furthermore, the size of the commodity seed market (except for China, Brazil, and India) and the ability to pay for the seeds by developing countries do not attract developed countries' private sector's investment whereas the private sector is almost nonexistent in many developing countries. This leaves the public sector and public-private collaboration critical for the development of GM crops for resource poor farmers.
While investment in biotechnology is considered as out of the reach of many developing countries, the reality is that developing countries can benefit from biotechnology innovation, particularly GM crops, if they have developed some capacity in traditional breeding and if they have regulatory frameworks such as biosafety and intellectual property rights (IPRs) in place. A simple plant-breeding program would allow the transfer of engineered genes from GM crops developed elsewhere into their local varieties. Furthermore, the seemingly insurmountable barriers of IPRs and biosafety can be addressed properly by collective efforts by all concerned, particularly developing countries themselves through a regional approach. This will help to reduce the cost of testing and maximizing the use of regional experts while waiting for the developing of critical mass in individual nations.
The prospect of not meeting the millennium goal of halving the number of malnourished people by 2015, i.e., only 11 years from now, is looming. The global community needs to use all the means at our disposal, including GM crops, to combat hunger and poverty. Although John Maynard Keynes pointed out that "In The Long Run We're All Dead", it is not acceptable that in our contemporary time with great advances in biotechnology, including biomedicine, the developed countries' citizens have a "longer run" than that of the developing countries' poor and hungry people. Strategic applications of biotechnology, including GM crops, will help to improve crop productivity and food quality while conserving the environment. Import-antly, this will help to bridge the longevity gap between developed and developing countries and the existing genomics divide, leading towards a more equitable world.
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