CE Pray

Department of Agricultural Economics and Marketing, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA

Rice genetic diversity is the genetic material in improved rices, rice landraces in the field, the rice germplasm banks, and wild relatives of rice. One reason why policy-makers may wish to invest public money in conserving biodiversity is the contribution it can make to future economic growth. For policy-makers to determine whether they are investing enough money in the collection and conservation of genetic diversity, they must have some idea of the present discounted value of diversity and the cost of conserving diversity. Guesstimates of the value of diversity can be derived from estimates of the historical value of rice biodiversity and projections of the future demand for rice, the availability of inputs for rice production, and changes in the technology of breeding new varieties.

Evenson (1996) argues that because the present value of rice germplasm collections greatly exceeds the costs of adding to and maintaining them, near complete ex situ collection of landraces and wild and weedy species is justified. In addition he argues that near complete evaluation of rice genetic resources is justified. This chapter does not attempt to challenge the numbers behind these assertions; rather it concentrates on the question: Will biotechnology greatly increase or decrease the value of rice genetic resources?

This chapter will look at the impact of the new biotechnology. New biotechnology, which is what is meant by biotechnology in this chapter, consists of a group of tools: (i) tissue culture including wide hybridization, protoplast fusion, somoclonal and gametoclonal variation, and doubled haploids; (ii) genetic markers and mapping, cloning genes and studying gene expression; and (iii) genetic engineering - the transformation of plants with new genes.

Based on interviews with a number of key rice scientists our preliminary conclusions are: (i) so far biotechnology has at most caused a small increase in the use of rice biodiversity; (ii) the interaction of biotechnology and intellectual property rights (IPR) has not increased demand through increased private sector use of rice germplasm; and (iii) biotechnology is likely to increase substantially rather than decrease the value of rice biodiversity in the future. This suggests that Evenson's arguments for complete collection and evaluation of genetic resources are strengthened by the changes due to biotechnology.

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