Improving capability for environmentally sound use of biotechnology in developing countries

In line with awareness of the complexity of agricultural techno-economic relations is a growing concern about the sustainability of developing country agriculture and the contribution of technology in dealing with it. The competences and capacities associated with recent developments in biotechnology are the vehicle most often mentioned in this respect. The potential of plant biotechnology for agriculture includes a range of techniques which appear to offer real scope in solving problems of developing countries, particularly since they provide potential "tools" to solve agronomic problems which may be highly location specific. However, the scope of accelerated technological change associated with biotechnology is so vast and covers such a range of human activity, including the agricultural sector, that conflicts of interest inevitably arise.

One reason for caution from the point of view of capacity-building is that, whereas agricultural research has in the past been in the public domain, much of the applied research in agricultural biotechnology has been undertaken in the private sector, chiefly in developed countries, and often in collaboration with universities. The development of this industry in developed countries is connected with judicial decisions that have granted intellectual property rights to innovators over genetically engineered "forms of life", and it can therefore be argued that access to new information on agricultural biotechnology by the scientific community in developing countries is relatively restricted.

The rapidity with which biotechnology innovations are produced, together with the intellectual property factor, have led to increasing attention to policy options available to developing countries. The policy stance of many major international agencies has been for integration of biotechnology initiatives into existing institutions; bilateral aid agencies have advocated collaborative initiatives with existing "pockets" of biotechnological expertise in developing country research systems. At the national level, a number of developing countries have established centres for biotechnology and genetic engineering. Others argue that these initiatives will still be hampered by the mechanisms and strategies identified as weaknesses in previous agricultural technology innovation and that bridging mechanisms might foster technology capacity-building more directly - suggestions include the targeting of specific "windows of economic opportunity" or exploration of policy lessons from successful experience.

This strategy features in the framework of Agenda 21 as formulated at UNCED (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), now coordinated by the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development and implemented through national and local authorities.

Agenda 21 recommends undertaking an urgent follow-up and critical review to identify ways and means of strengthening endogenous capacities within and among developing countries for the environmentally sound application of biotechnology, including, as a first step, ways to improve existing mechanisms, particularly at the regional level, and, as a subsequent step, the consideration of possible new international mechanisms, such as regional biotechnology centres.

Type Classification:
E: Emanations of other strategies
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 15: Life on LandGOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal