Keywords:  Hybridization; Apomixis; Policies/Programmes; Small-scale farming; Seed.
Correct citation: nn. (1994), "Editorial." Biotechnology and Development Monitor, No. 19, p. 2.

Over the last decades, public agricultural research centres have increasingly focused their breeding activities on hybrids in a wide range of crops. The FAO recently emphasized the "tremendous potential" of hybrid technology to realize a growth in agricultural output which could be compared with the Green Revolution. Hybrids are also considered to be an instrument to stimulate private initiative in breeding, seed production and distribution.

But hybrids may also have a negative impact especially on farmers, being, by nature, protected against seed saving: On­farm seed saving of hybrids is practically impossible without the loss of its superior qualities. As a consequence, farmers have to rely on the seed industry for their seasonal seed supply. In this respect, the impact of hybrids even exceeds the consequences of intellectually property rights. For this reason, we address the potential socio­economic and environmental impacts of an agricultural production increasingly based on hybrids in this Monitor issue.

Although more and more effort is put into hybrid research, not all people are willing to accept this development easily. In India and some Latin American countries, for example, non­governmental organizations are trying to focus breeding efforts towards landraces instead of hybrids and high­input requiring varieties in general. In their view, seed improvement should contribute to farmers' independence.

A very different initiative to redirect the impact of hybrids is the use of apomixis: A genetic characteristic of plants to asexually produce seed identical to the maternal plant. Apomixis could facilitate the application of hybrids without restricting seed saving. Despite the scepticism in the agricultural community about the potential of apomixis, ORSTOM in co­operation with CIMMYT expects to produce apomictic maize in about three years.

In his contribution, Jefferson suggests that apomixis will have a revolutionary impact. He gives high priority to genetic engineering to transfer the apomictic trait from wild plants to crops. But Jefferson expects that apomixis could finally become available as a simple breeding tool, to be used by breeders and farmers themselves. It would not only enable new breeding strategies, but also place farmers back in the role of innovator, independent of the seed industry.

It remains to be seen whether these promises will be realized. The apparent low priority of apomixis on the agricultural research agenda makes quick advances in the near future uncertain. But even if the technical promises come true, it is unclear to what extent farmers will benefit. The central issue is how to judge changing dependence relations due to the introduction of a new technology. Apomixis makes farmers less dependent on nature, and on seed supplied by the industry. Instead they resume their 'role as innovator'. This, however, entails the risk of a new dependence but now on the genetic engineers of the public institutes who set the limits of apomixis.

Contributions to the Biotechnology and Development Monitor are not covered by any copyright. Exerpts may be translated or reproduced without prior permission (with exception of parts reproduced from third sources), with acknowledgement of source.


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