|Keywords:||United States of America; US Agency for International Development (USAID); Technology transfer; Biosafety/Foodsafety; Intellectual property rights.|
|Correct citation:||Manicad, G. (1995), "Agricultural Biotechnology Projects within USAID." Biotechnology and Development Monitor, No. 24, p. 810.|
The US Agency for International Development (USAID) is the worlds' second largest governmental donor. However, the annual budget of almost US$ 10 billion amounts to only 0.15 per cent of US GNP. USAID policy on foreign development assistance is a product of diverse interest groups, such as domestic producer organizations. This article explores some of the current programmes of USAID on agricultural biotechnology and looks into the element of mutuality.
In recent years the USAID budget has been drastically cut as a result of economic recession, government deficits and the growing isolationist policy of some opposition groups. The lack of a solid development agenda within USAID also aggravated budget cuts. Since the appointment of the new director Brian Atwood in 1993, USAID has undergone many changes. The goals have been reduced from 33 to 4. Building democracy, stimulating environmental protection, encouraging sustainable economic development and advancing population control are now at the core of USAID's policy. The restructuring affects some regions more than others. For example, the Southern African region receives less aid. As a result of the Camp David accords, most of the USAID money is still allocated to the Middle East.
The allocation of USAID funding is subject to different requirements, including compatibility with US trade interests. In May 1986, the Bumpers Amendment was passed by the US congress. This Amendment sets a legal precedent over the orientation of US aid on agricultural research. The amendment stipulates that "none of the funds to be appropriated to carry out Chapter 1 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1981 may be available for any testing or breeding, feasibility study, variety improvement or introduction, consultancy, publication, or training in connection with the growth or production in a foreign country for export if such export would compete in world markets with a similar commodity grown or produced in the United States."
The Amendment was the result of protest by the American Soybeans Association (ASA) over the USAID research project INTSOY. INTSOY was developing soya bean varieties suitable for cultivation in competing countries such as Brazil and Argentina. ASA, with the help of Senator Bumper, demanded the termination of research and technical assistance to foreign nations that compete with the USA, and asked for a redirection of research funds at boosting US agricultural productivity and lowering production cost. As a result, INTSOY focused on soya bean utilization programme. The strong lobby of ASA and the Bumpers Amendment also inhibit the use of US funds for agricultural research of competing vegetable oil crops such as palm oil and coconut.
Biotechnology at USAID
The total biotechnology research budget of USAID was about US$ 31 million in 1994. Major biotechnology expenditures focus on health (US$ 18 million) and agriculture (US$ 12.7 million), while USAID recently started supporting environmental biotechnology (US$ 0.20 million).
While the overall USAID budget cuts resulted in a reduction of the total funding for agricultural projects from US$ 529 million in 1993 to US$ 406 million in 1994, the budget of agricultural biotechnology has remained at US$ 12.7 million. Of this amount, about 60 per cent is allocated to public institutions, while about 40 per cent is allocated to private companies. Private companies are funded by USAID to prioritize research projects of importance to developing countries, but not of top significance to private companies. The majority of USAID's agricultural biotechnology programmes are implemented through their global bureau in Washington D.C. and their regional missions. The Agricultural Biotechnology for Sustainable Productivity (ABSP) is one of the main programmes of the bureau (see also Monitor No.15). Other programmes include, amongst others, the development of animal vaccines and diagnostic tools.
ABSP began in 1991 as a sixyear programme with a total funding of US$ 6 million designed mutually to enhance US and developing countries' institutional capacity for the use and management of agricultural biotechnology research. It aims to develop improved germplasm through collaboration and exchange of scientists between the USA and developing countries. The transfer of technology occurs through joint research and the training of counterparts in technical research, and the development of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) and biosafety policies.
Within ABSP, different projects are supported on the development of disease resistant crops and crop regeneration, such as maize, tomatoes, (sweet) potatoes, cucurbits, and fruits. ABSP projects include, amongst others, the following projects:
Maize. Collaborative maize research projects involve three countries: USA (USAID, ICI Seeds, Michigan State University); Indonesia (Central Research Institute for Food Crops); and Egypt (Agricultural Genetic Engineering Research Institute). The target insect is the stem borer which causes a yield reduction of 40 per cent worldwide.
Commercial maize lines are being transformed with two insect control protein genes isolated from Bacillus thuringiensis (B.t.). The project explores the possibilities of using both Egyptian and US germplasm.
However, in Egypt recent problems have occurred since insects have developed B.t. resistance. Scientists are developing strategies to overcome or delay the resistance.
Tomato. This joint project of Agricultural Genetic Engineering Research Institute (AGERI), Scripps (USA) and ABSP aims to develop transgenic tomatoes resistant to the tomato yellow leaf curl virus (TYLCVE), and to establish the technology for the diagnosis and control of the disease. So far, two Egyptian isolates of the TYLCVE have been cloned, and one of these has been sequenced. To date, 327 transgenic tomato lines have been produced. Some of these lines have produced seeds which are undergoing characterization, pending transfer to Egypt for further testing.
Banana, pineapple and coffee. DNA Plant Technology Corporation (DNAP, USA) and Agribiotecnologia de Costa Rica (ACR) are carrying out research work on micropropagation for banana, pineapple, and coffee. DNAP has also a similar project for pineapple with Fitotek in Indonesia. The project uses the germplasm provided by Costa Rica and Indonesia to produce superior seedlings (i.e. size and age uniformity, and disease resistance), which are available all year round and in large quantities at a faster rate compared with conventional tissue culture. The increase in the multiplication rate of seedling materials will reduce production and labour cost.
Cucurbit. Michigan State University, Cornell University, USA, the Egyptian Horticulture Research Institute, and AGERI are collaborating to produce virus resistant cucurbit crops through a combination of molecular and conventional breeding. For example, MSU has cloned the Zucchini Yellow Mosaic Virus (ZYMV) coat protein gene and introduced this gene into commercial Egyptian melon varieties.
Currently, melon varieties developed by conventional breeding are being field tested in Egypt to determine potentially valuable resistance combinations (e.g. combinations of resistance to ZYMV, cucumber mosaic virus and watermelon mosaic virus). Meanwhile, similar laboratory experiments are being conducted on squash and cucumber.
The main strength of ABSP is its integrated approach which encourages the collaboration between molecular biologists and plant breeders, and between scientists and policy makers in both public and private sectors. Given the limited USAID budget, and the fact that the commercial sector will continue to be the main producer of biotechnology, USAID aims to use its resources to build partnerships with the private sector to develop technologies for developing countries. At the same time, the ABSP project is still in accordance with the Bumpers Amendment as required by the congressional legislation for USAID. Although maize and tomato are US exports crops, it is anticipated that the technologies developed under the ABSP programme will benefit both the US and the partner countries. For instance, in terms of germplasm exchange as well as public/private technology transfer agreements.
Livestock vaccines and diagnostic kits
Funded by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and USAID, the International Laboratory of Molecular Biology for Tropical Disease Agents of the University of California, USA, is using biotechnology to produce recombinant livestock vaccines and diagnostic kits against rinderpest, bluetongue, and foot and mouth disease. Live recombinant vaccines have advantages over conventional vaccines since the former provide immunity to both the vector and the agent of the disease. It is claimed that this technology is not only safe, but also convenient to use since it requires no refrigeration, highly trained personnel or expensive cell culture facilities.
The rinderpest vaccine research is one of the animal vaccine projects of USAID. It started in 1985 with a grant of US$ 870,000. Contained testing is currently being implemented in Kenya through the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI).
Biosafety and IPR
The official US government policies on Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) and biosafety are promoted through USAID training and internship programmes. For example, ABSP has conducted a series of internships, workshops, consultations on regulation in Asia, Africa and Latin America aimed at helping partner countries to design biosafety policies and IPR legislation. The goal is to promote safety of human health and the environment without restricting innovation or stifling incentives in product development. While IPR and biosafety policies cover a wide range of social, economic and legal issues, only the regulatory issues such as IPR and international trade law, and risk assessment in handling genetically modified organisms, receive most assistance.
USAID requires that before the exchange of transgenic material can take place within ABSP projects, the collaborating countries must conduct a biosafety review and give its approval before any testing can occur.
The politics of mutuality
Although the ABSP project is still in research and/or field testing stage, it is envisioned that eventually better agricultural production in developing countries will mean growing economies that could favour the expansion of American exports. This is illustrated by the testimony to the US House International Relations Committee on Asia and the Pacific, of USAID's assistant administrator for Asia and the Near East, Margaret Carpenter. She argues that technical assistance from the USAID stimulates countries to open their economies to private and foreign investments. Carpenter points out that USAID is increasingly relying on the transfer of ideas and technologies through development assistance. According to her, this produces impressive results at low cost, especially compared with infrastructure projects. Combined with increasing demand in US expertise, USAID helps maintain US influence and increase trade opportunities, even though fewer US development resources are being devoted.
Mutuality of interest in foreign aid is an ideal principle. The contention lies primarily in the representation and definition of mutuality. Even when common interest is determined at national and international levels, this may not necessarily trickle down to all interest groups such as the smallscale farmers and agricultural labourers. From its conceptualization to implementation, there has been no mechanism to involve smallscale farmers in the ABSP project. For example, it is not clear what the social effects of labour reducing technologies such as bioreactors are on the position of agricultural labourers in developing countries.
Given the diversity of farmers' political and economic agenda, or even lack of agenda, consulting farmers' groups could indeed be a logistical nightmare. However, research based primarily on market orientation tends to neglect the specific needs and consequences for farmers in poor communities. ABSP and their collaborators in developing countries should create schemes that actively involve smallscale farmers. Otherwise, these farmers may continue to lose out in technologies generated without their participation.
2543 CA The Hague, the Netherlands
M. Carpenter (1995), Testimony to the United States House International Relations Committee on Asia and the Pacific. Unpublished document.
P. Thompson (1992), The Ethics of Aid and Trade. Cambridge, USA: Cambridge University Press.
USAID (1994), Agricultural Biotechnology for Sustainable Productivity Project. MidPoint Report to the Technical Advisory Group. Michigan, USA: Michigan State University.
T. Yilma (1993), "Transfer of Technologies in Molecular Biology to Developing Countries." In: G. Tzotzos (ed.), Biotechnology R and D Trends. Science Policy for Development. New York: The New York Academy of Science.
Personal communications with Catherine Ives (AAAS fellow and technical specialist USAID) Joel Cohen and John Komen (ISNAR, the Netherlands)
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