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The introductory chapter to the book sets the scene by explaining the need for increased agricultural production in developing countries to meet the needs of a growing population. One of the technologies that could help achieve this aim is the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) as well as some other new breeding techniques that are now challenging the definition of what is meant by a GMO. However, the introduction of appropriate regulation and governance of GMOs in developing countries is in many cases proving challenging and preventing their successful introduction. The chapter outlines some of the regulatory issues at international level that are impacting on the situation in developing countries.
The introductory chapter outlines the structure of the book, which is divided into four main sections: Risk analysis methodology and decision making; Diversification of expertise; Risk analysis based regulatory systems; and Case studies from developing countries. A brief introduction to each of the following chapters in the book is provided.
Transgenic organisms, also known as GMOs, were first created in for agricultural applications in the 1980s and the first GM crops were grown commercially in the early 1990s. GM crop cultivation on a wide scale started in 1996 and they are now grown on about 108 million hectares worldwide, with just over half of this area being in developing countries. These crops can be regarded as constituting the 'first generation' of GM technology that normally relies on gene transfer via Agrobacterium or biolistic methods. Since the 2010s, a new generation of technologies such as gene editing have started to be introduced for the more rapid and precise manipulation of both crop and livestock genomes. These new technologies are already leading to a reconsideration of current regulatory processes in Europe and North America that may result in less onerous procedures and easier pathways to market for such organisms. Inevitably these developments will impact on developing countries and may mark a watershed for the introduction of improved crop and livestock varieties over the coming years.
The concluding chapter starts by contextualizing the GMO debate within the context of the need for sustainable agricultural intensification and the challenge of meeting the Sustainable Development Goals. It discusses some of the key messages that arise from the preceding chapters. These include the fact that genetically improved crops that are locally important for developing countries have not yet been successful in reaching the market place, in considerable measure due to strict risk-averse legislation founded on the Precautionary Principle on which the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety is based. While there is excessive focus on risk, the benefits of the technology are generally not being considered by regulators, and are not being adequately communicated to the public. The situation is not helped by the focus on process-based legislation (focusing on the genetic modification) rather than on the nature of the resulting product. Developing countries continue to need appropriately focused capacity development to enable them to adequately deal with these issues.The chapter concludes with a set of recommendations for scientists, government officials, donors, the media and international bodies, which we believe would help to break the current impasse in the introduction of GMOs.
Bringing together the ideas of experts from around the world, this incisive text offers cutting-edge perspectives on the risk analysis and governance of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), supporting effective and informed decision-making in developing countries. Comprised of four comprehensive sections, this book covers: integrated risk analysis and decision making, giving an overview of the science involved and examining risk analysis methods that impact decision-making on the release of GMOs, particularly in developing countries; diversification of expertise involved in risk analysis and practical ways in which the lack of expertise in developing countries can be overcome; risk analysis based regulatory systems and how they can be undermined by power relationships and socio-political interests, as well as strategies for improving GMO policy development and regulatory decision-making; and case studies from developing countries providing lessons based on real-world experience that can inform our current thinking.
Weak institutions and feeble contracts constitute the
most important challenge to the agricultural sector
Decio Zylbersztaijn (2005) Economist
In the previous chapter, we saw that there will be significant challenges to global food production over the next half century, but that a combination of enhanced economic development and improved land use can go a long way to meeting future food demands. In this chapter, we will survey some of the other important strategies that can be used to enhance food production. Such options include improved management at all levels, from on-farm organisation of crops, through the entire transport and processing chains, and including any related physical and fiscal/legal infrastructure. Another important factor stifling food production in many developing countries is the rampant subsidy/tariff-led overproduction of agricultural commodities in many richer countries. We will examine ways in which the reform of this iniquitous system could greatly stimulate global agriculture. Finally, we will look at the prospects for improving crop production via plant breeding, using all available strategies, including transgenesis. Here, we will see that the outlook for continued increases in crop yields is more promising than many scientists and other pundits believe. Finally, it will be concluded that, while transgenesis may give breeders a few additional options, it is no panacea for the many challenges that confront twenty-first century agriculture.
Habemus publice egestatem, privatim opulentiam (We have public want amidst private plenty)
Sallust (86–34 BCE) Conspiracy of Cataline
The public sector paradigm of crop improvement has been spectacularly successful in feeding the unprecedented growth of human populations over the past century. The immense achievements of the Green Revolution during the 1960s and 1970s were largely built on the public-good breeding efforts of the previous half century. But just as these achievements were coming to fruition, a new, and superficially attractive, private sector paradigm of crop improvement emerged. The timing of this renaissance of private enterprise could not have come at a worse time for public sector plant science, especially in those industrialised countries that so vigorously privatised many state assets, including centres of scientific research, in the 1980s and 1990s. In no country were the resulting cutbacks in public sector plant breeding more far reaching than in the UK. In a period of a little over a decade, the UK lost virtually all of its public plant breeding infrastructure and much of the related scientific expertise. This process was duly exported to other nations and has even engulfed some developing countries. In December 1989, I was appointed as Head of one of the three departments of the former Plant Breeding Institute (PBI) that stayed in the public sector while the rest of the organisation was privatised.
Whoever could make two ears of corn, or two blades of grass, to grow upon a spot of ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind, and do more essential service to his country, than the whole race of politicians put together.
Jonathan Swift (1667–1745) Gulliver's Travels, Voyage to Brobdingnag (pt. II, Ch. CII)
Eaque est scientia, quae sint in quoque agro serenda ac
facienda, quo terra maximos perpetuo reddat fructus.
It [agronomy] is as well a science, which teaches us what crops should be planted in each kind of soil, and what operations are to be carried on, in order that the land may regularly produce the largest crops.
Marcus Terentius Varro (116–27 BCE) Rerum Rusticarum de Agri Cultura
Dreams are nothing but incoherent ideas, occasioned by partial or imperfect sleep.
Benjamin Rush (1746–1813), American physician and Congressman
In the next three chapters, we will take a critical look at the past performance and future prospects of that putative emblem of twenty-first century agriculture: namely agbiotech. In Part 1, we saw how this technology has come to dominate the thinking of many scientists, business people, policymakers, and others with an interest in plant breeding. The technology helped to spawn a dramatic resurgence of private sector interest in the commercial exploitation of crop breeding. But are the revolutionary claims of the agbiotech boosters really justified, or is this just another technology that has been artificially assisted by a fortuitous congruence of favourable patent protection and an ongoing decline in public sector breeding? Is the current agbiotech paradigm really a globally appropriate method of crop improvement? And are agbiotech strategies entitled to an ever increasing share of the limited resources available to international breeding programmes? In Part 1, we will examine these issues in detail, beginning in this chapter with a brief overview of the evolution of the agbiotech concept and development of the industry until the present day.
Agbiotech, or agricultural biotechnology, can be defined as the use of DNA-based technologies for crop improvement. Agbiotech is normally regarded as the development and use of transgenic crops.