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 REDBIO and FAO's Global Programme on Plant Biotechnology
By
Peter Commandeur
 
 
 
Keywords:  Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO); Policies/Programmes; Latin America/Carribean.
Correct citation: Commandeur, P. (1994), "REDBIO and FAO's Global Programme on Plant Biotechnology." Biotechnology and Development Monitor, No. 21, p. 20/22.

The symposium on Plant Biotechnology for Developing Countries, organized by FAO and the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Co­operation (CTA) in Luxembourg 1989, recommended a catalyst role of the FAO in the application of biotechnology to solve dragging problems in food crop production. This resulted in the establishment of the Technical Cooperation Network on Plant Biotechnology (REDBIO) and FAO's Global Programme on Plant Biotechnology.

During a planning meeting on appropriate biotechnology for crop production organized by the FAO Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean in Brazil, November 1989, the foundation was laid for the establishment of the Technical Cooperation Network on Plant Biotechnology (REDBIO). A recommendation was made to FAO to analyze the basis for establishing a regional technical co­operation network among plant biotechnology networks. Therefore, the FAO Regional Office organized a survey among 173 plant biotechnology laboratories (public and private) in 17 countries of Latin American and the Caribbean in 1990. On the basis of the survey it was concluded that equipment and infrastructure were not felt to be the main constraints but that the most decisive factors for the development and application of plant biotechnology in food crops and plant protection were:

Based on the results of this survey, REDBIO was officially established in 1990 under the sponsorship of FAO and with the co­operation of the International Agricultural Research Centres (IARCs) active in the region. REDBIO is a non­crop­specific horizontal network aiming at the acceleration of the generation, appropriation, transfer and application of plant biotechnology in order to contribute to the solution of constraints affecting regional plant resources and crop production. Following a recommendation by the FAO's Regional Conference held in Uruguay, 1992, REDBIO's future activities will also include animal biotechnology.

REDBIO activities
One of the first concrete activities of REDBIO was the preparation and distribution on paper and on computer disk of CATBIO, a catalogue of the surveyed laboratories. An update was published in 1994, comprising more than 350 laboratories in the region, which can be used for the exchange of germplasm and other materials, selection of candidates for courses, project formulation, technical advice and commercial advertisement. At the moment, data from laboratories in Anglophone Caribbean countries is collected to be included in CATBIO.

In the coming years, REDBIO aims at crop genetic improvement for biotic and abiotic stress tolerance through genetic engineering, gene mapping, and biotechnologically assisted selection; integrated pest management through disease diagnostics and biological control assisted by molecular biotechnology; and policy issues, intellectual property protection, biosafety regulation, and socio­economic impact of biotechnology. In June 1995, the network will organize its 2nd Latin American Meeting on Plant Biotechnology (REDBIO Ô95) in Argentina.

Organizational structure
The Regional Co­ordination Committee, responsible for the preparation and execution of the activities of REDBIO, is constituted by representatives of those plant biotechnology programmes that have a co­ordinating role in one of the five sub­regions. The technical secretariat of REDBIO is administered by the Regional Plant Production Officer of the FAO Regional Office in Chile. On a national level, REDBIO has established focal point institutions. The network has established a Technical Advisory Council to set priorities and policies, supervise effectiveness and promote fund raising.

Global Programme on Plant Biotechnology
Although the FAO has actively supported biotechnology on request for around 20 years, it did not start its Global Programme on Plant Biotechnology before 1992. The results of a symposium on plant biotechnology and internal discussions within the FAO encouraged the start of this programme. In these discussions, it was noted that many biotechnology projects collapsed after the special programmes to finance them were discontinued. New ways were sought to improve the sustainability of the investments in other countries.

The Programme aims at providing co­ordination for FAO activities on plant biotechnology. In March 1993 in Rome, a panel of experts confirmed the major orientations and functions of the Programme on Plant Biotechnology:

In collaboration with the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI), the Programme on Plant Biotechnology aims to support research on medium­term (in vitro) and long­term (cryopreservation) conservation methods for vegetatively­propagated and recalcitrant­seed­producing species. The Programme also intends to promote the application of molecular biology to the assessment of genetic diversity and to the increase of genetic variability in breeding programmes.

Regional activities
At national level, the concrete programme activities focus on the execution of projects and follow­up activities on plant biotechnology in several countries so far. At regional level, the Programme supports regional networks in Latin America (REDBIO), and Africa (African Plant Biotechnology Network, APBNet). REDBIO serves as a model for similar regional networks to be established in North Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe. Once the networks are set up, the Programme expects to focus more on information exchange between the regional networks and shift from ad hoc to middle term project support.
The FAO programme currently assists the creation of a network on plant biotechnology for Eastern Europe which started with a state­of­the­art study of existing research and networks in the region. In October 1993, the initiative was presented at the Slovenian Symposium of Plant Physiology. FAO and UNESCO will organize a follow­up meeting, planned for May 1995 in Bulgaria, in order to identify partners, discuss other networking initiatives in the region, and define the Networks' scope.
The FAO programme Farmer­Centred Agricultural Resource Management (FARM) contains a sub­programme on biotechnology and biodiversity involving China, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam. This sub­programme, which started in 1993, aims at the establishment of an information sharing network Asian Bioinformatics; the assessment of the potential of new biotechnologies to contribute to integrated pest management, biological nitrogen fixation and micropropagation for reforestation; and, the assessment of biotechnologies to support characterization of biodiversity for conservation by farming communities.
Peter Commandeur

Contacts:
REDBIO, Dr. Juan Izquierdo, Technical Secretariat
FAO Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean (RLAC)
P.O. Box 10095, Santiago, Chile
Phone (+56) 2 218 5323; Fax(+56) 2 218 2547
E­mail FAO­RLAC@CGNET.COM
E­mail discussion list redbio­l@cenargen.embrapa.br

Global Programme on Plant Biotechnology
Dr. Victor Villalobos, Plant Biotechnology Officer
Crop and Grassland Services, FAO
Vialle delle Terme di Caracalla, 00100 Rome, Italy
Phone (+39) 6 5225 3705; Fax (+39) 6 5225 3152
E­mail Victor.Villalobos@fao.org



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