Generation of biotechnological innovations

Institutional requirements to secure the generation of biotechnologically modified crops and animals with traits favorable to poverty reduction include the following:

i) Participation of poor producers in the setting of priorities for applied research and product development, particularly regarding choice of crops, traits, and farming systems. Effective participation requires proactive information campaigns to empower the poor.

ii) Attention to food consumers when indirect effects are also essential to setting research priorities. Lessons should be taken from experience in MDCs where attention to the demand side of the food system, including acceptance by consumers, seemed to come only as an afterthought in the development of the current generation of agbiotechnology products.

iii) Development of the capacity of LDCs' national academic and public sectors to engage in fundamental research complementary to that of the private sector, to test alternative technological options, adapt technology to their own regional needs, and engage in final product development. The type of national capacity to be developed thus depends on the particular optimum balance between these functions that vary country by country. This should be pursued on a regional basis for the smaller and poorer countries.

iv) Traditional breeding efforts should continue. An increased number of high performance varieties will improve the value of traits introduced by biotechnology. Biotechnology both alters the practice of breeding through the use of markers and tissue culture and increases the payoffs from breeding by providing better local varieties for gene insertion.

v) Enhanced public sector and CGIAR research budgets to work on (1) crops and traits not addressed by private sector research that are important for the urban and rural poor, and (2) a more complete understanding of developing countries' ecosystems in relation to gene flows and biosafety. Declining real budgets for the CGIAR and most developing countries' NARIs should thus be an issue of concern if the potential of biotechnology for the poor is to be captured.

vi) Promotion of collaborative arrangements (partnerships, consortia, contract research, gifts) bringing together corporate, nonprofit, public, and international institutions for the development of biotechnology products favorable to poverty reduction. Experimentation to identify best practice for these arrangements is needed (e.g., as pursued by the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) at Cornell University; see Krattinger, 2000).

vii) Identify opportunities for technological spillovers from industrialized countries that do not threaten commercial markets for private sector innovations. Under these conditions, technology transfers may be handled as gifts (e.g., Monsanto's virus-resistant potatoes for subsistence farming in Mexico; see Qaim, 1998).

viii) Institutions to link public and CGIAR research to private sector product development through offices of technology transfer attached to universities and public research institutes, venture capital for the financing of agbiotechnology companies, and mechanisms for the fair and effective enforcement of property rights (Cohen-Vogel et al., 1998).

ix) An IPR regime that does not hamper further research and downstream product development, particularly for public institutions, international organizations such as the CGIAR, and nongovernmental organizations that are concerned with the poor. Questioning the features of current patent systems and guiding their future evolution should thus be an integral part of efforts to maximize the role of biotechnology for poverty reduction.

x) Use of defensive patents on public sector and CGIAR-research innovations that have high potential for poverty reduction, such as apomixis, site-directed mutagenesis, and homologous recombination, with the expressed purpose of keeping them in the public domain for selected clienteles. Due to costs and legal complexities, patents are likely to be taken in joint ventures with the private sector. Identification of best practices for the delivery of international public goods under defensive patents is urgently needed.

xi) IPR regimes that recognize the legitimate ownership rights of traditional farming communities over biological resources and give them leverage in gaining access to the private products of biotechnology. Experimentation with innovative contracts to reconcile farmers' ownership rights over biodiversity with efficient bio-prospecting is needed (e.g., Shaman Pharmaceuticals in California and INBio in Costa Rica).

xii) Development of markets or other mechanisms for the trading of patented materials. A neutral and efficient IPR clearinghouse, based on publicly available information, for the rights to utilize patented biotechnology processes, materials, and products would play a crucial role in protecting developing country and smallholder interests.

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