Plant Biotechnology
in German ODA
Markus Heissler
Keywords:  Genetic engineering; Germany; Policies/Programmes; Technology transfer.
Correct citation: Heissler, M. (1996), "Plant Biotechnology in German ODA." Biotechnology and Development Monitor, No. 27, p. 18-20.

Genetic engineering is a controversial issue in Germany. This is one of the reasons why German support for genetic engineering is only included in multilateral aid, and not in bilateral cooperation. Less disputed biotechnologies, however, are part of both bilateral and multilateral aid projects.

In terms of Overseas Development Assistance (ODA)/GNP ratio, Germany ranks ninth in the world. In absolute terms, however, Germany is the fourth largest donor of ODA with a spending of around US$ 7 billion annually. But ODA is decreasing in both absolute and relative terms. The budget of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ, see box), as percentage of the federal budget, declined from 2.4 per cent in 1989 to 1.7 per cent in 1995, while the ODA/GNP ratio declined from 0.42 per cent in 1990 to 0.32 per cent in 1995. The reason is that Germany has been confronted with a variety of other problems that call for attention. More than five years after the reunification of East and West Germany, the country is still working through the consequences of that event. Large financial transfers from West to East Germany (around US$ 80 billion annually) will be required in the coming years. This, coupled with mass unemployment, has pushed  development policy to the background. Nevertheless, the German government recently announced that it is still willing to reach the 0.7 per cent ODA/GNP target. However, no deadline for reaching that target will be given.
The structure of German ODA
The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) formulates the guidelines for development policy. Besides, six other Federal Ministries are involved in development aid activities. For instance, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is responsible for humanitarian help, while the Ministry of Finance deals with debt problems of developing countries. 
Principal responsibility for the implementation of German aid is vested in two large parastatal institutions, the Bank for Reconstruction (KfW) for financial assistance and the Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ) for technical assistance. They both prepare and carry out development projects and programmes on behalf of the BMZ. KfW provides credits and grants to developing countries. The GTZ plans and supervises the implementation of diverse projects in agriculture, education, health, transportation and communications.

General policy
In the 1990s, the key objectives of German development assistance are to include poverty alleviation, with special emphasis on food self-sufficiency, environmental conservation and management of natural resources, promotion of education, and the position of women. In 1991, BMZ laid down criteria for German development aid. It stipulated that the volume of bilateral assistance would depend on: the status of human and legal rights; the degree of participation of the population in political and development processes; the development-oriented actions of the recipient authorities; the liberalization of the economy; and the promotion of private enterprise.
The application of these criteria has in the past already affected the regimes of China, Zaire, Sudan and Haiti. Development aid for these countries decreased and was sometimes terminated. However, Germany resumed  development assistance to China in 1992, which had been terminated for three years after the 1989 massacre. Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International have described this as a double standard approach: countries with little economic relevance for the German economy may face a decline in German aid on grounds of human right violations, while countries with economic relevance seem to be only temporarily or not at all affected by these political measures.
As a response to widening criticism, BMZ has modified its policy. The criteria have been converted into aid facilitating indicators, and countries are rewarded if they meet them. Currently rewarded countries include El Salvador, Ethiopia, Namibia and Zambia.
Although German ODA includes almost all developing countries, two-thirds of Germany’s bilateral aid goes to 19 countries. Currently the main recipients are the states of ex-Yugoslavia, Egypt, China, India and Indonesia. Together they received about 38 per cent of the total ODA (1992/93).
German non-governmental organizations (NGOs) receive about 10 per cent of the BMZ budget for their own development projects abroad and for domestic educational programmes on international development issues. NGOs are prominent actors since they transfer private grants to developing countries (US$ 885 million in 1993), while at home they influence the public opinion on development issues. For example, they criticize the lack of coherence in German development policies and the stagnating aid volume. In their opinion, too little money is being spent on tackling problems like poverty and basic needs.

BMZ policy on biotechnology
Agriculture (including forestry and fisheries) receives between 6 and 8 per cent of German ODA, which is little considering the fact that self-sufficiency in food production is a major objective of German ODA. BMZ has no special biotechnology programme for developing countries, because it is considered an integrated part of production systems. BMZ, mainly through the Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ), implements a few biotechnology projects in developing countries. Within these projects, priority is given to plant biotechnology. Part of the BMZ/GTZ policy is that the introduction of plant biotechnology is only considered when possibilities with conventional methods have been fully explored and judged to be less attractive.
Between 1979 and 1997, the average of BMZ’s total funds for biotechnology research is estimated at about US$ 6.5 million annually. Measured by size/number of projects and funding, development cooperation in biotechnology (including genetic engineering) is dominated by cooperation with the International Agricultural Research Institutes (IARCs). Bilateral cooperation programmes in biotechnology play only a minor role. Although BMZ regards biotechnology as an important tool to solve the food shortage in developing countries, it has pursued a careful strategy, since biotechnology and especially genetic engineering are highly controversial issues in Germany. Therefore, no genetic engineering is included in bilateral agreements. Recently, however, the German Minister of Development Cooperation, Carl-Dieter Spranger, criticized the scepticism in his home country against modern biotechnology. He promotes a positive image of these technologies since he considers their application to be beneficial for ensuring food security in the developing countries. Therefore, the prospects that BMZ will approve genetic engineering in bilateral cooperation have increased.

Research on plant biotechnology
Between 1988 and 1994, Germany funded 108 research projects in plant biotechnology related to developing countries. BMZ funded one-third of these projects, while other donors were Federal Ministries, private foundations and parastatal organizations. Most projects focus on plant genetics and breeding, followed by pest control and plant nutrition. R&D aims at biotic and abiotic stress resistance or tolerance, improvement of qualitative traits, methods of rapid propagation of plants, and at the conservation of plant genetic resources. In 50 per cent of the projects cell and tissue culture techniques were used, in 40 per cent analytical methods (biochemical and genetic markers), and in 10 per cent genetic engineering. One-third was spent on basic research. Projects on biodiversity, forestry and post-harvest technologies play only a minor role.

Multilateral programmes
Germany is the third largest national donor of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) system with an annual funding of US$ 19 million, of which only a small part is reserved for biotechnology. However, obstacles for additional support of the IARCs could arise from a recent decision of the Budget Committee of the German Parliament to put a ceiling on multilateral contributions in the BMZ budget.
There are three different types of funding: (1) unrestricted core, which is allocated to the core budget of CGIAR; (2) restricted core, which is allocated to specific projects at the IARCs, and (3) special projects, which include the cooperation between German research institutions and IARCs. In 1995, German institutes received about US$ 2.3 million to facilitate this cooperation.
The restricted core programme and special projects include for example support to the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA, Syria) for their research on chickpea and barley. Chickpea is highly relevant for food production in West Asia and North Africa. The yield is heavily affected by the fungal disease Ascochyta blight. The application of DNA fingerprinting techniques is used in the development of resistance of chickpea. An inventarization of the different strains of the noxious fungus Ascochyta rabiei allows insight in their geographical distribution and the degree of genetic variability. A second project aims to develop molecular markers (RFLP and RAPD/PCR) for marker-assisted barley breeding. This would allow a more efficient and accurate selection of disease-resistant barley germplasm.
The Asian Rice Biotechnology Network (ARBN) was created in 1992 with the aim of transfering technologies developed at the International Rice Research Institute to the largest rice-producing countries in the region (China, India, Indonesia, and Thailand). BMZ has supported this network from the beginning.

Bilateral cooperation
Biotechnology is also incorporated in a broad range of agricultural projects (from seed production to marketing) which aim to promote rural development in the partner countries. In most projects the partners are national seed and plant programmes in the developing countries. Emphasis is put on obtaining disease-free plant material, rapid plant multiplication and in vitro conservation of germplasm. Currently BMZ/GTZ supports about 14 projects in plant biotechnology and conservation in 11 countries.
For example in Pakistan and Morocco, techniques for diagnosis of viruses in seed potato multiplication programmes have been introduced. The use of tissue culture is supported in China to select fast-growing trees for reforestation. In Algeria, enzyme-linked immunoabsorbent assay (ELISA) tests for pathogen diagnostics are used to produce certified planting material for fruit trees and grapes. ELISA is an immunodetection method that uses an enzyme label on an antibody to detect plant pathogens.
In the field of the conservation of plant genetic resources, BMZ started in 1976 with the sponsorship of the Plant Genetic Resources Centre of Ethiopia for collection of germplasm of wheat, barley, maize, legumes, oilseeds, vegetables and spices. Since 1976 BMZ has also supported the regional gene bank at the Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza (CATIE, Costa Rica). CATIE collects gene material in Central America and the Caribbean. An important part of the collection includes coffee and cocoa. Since 1980 the BMZ sponsors the gene bank at the Kenyan Agriculture Research Institute (KARI), which supports Kenyan agricultural institutes with gene material for plant breeding. Its collections include wheat, barley, millet, legumes and oilseeds.
Additionally, German bilateral ODA includes training programmes for developing-country scientists. GTZ supports for example a post-graduate programme at the University of Zambia in plant genetic resources management. The private German Foundation for International Development (DSE) offers a 4-month course in agricultural biotechnology in Germany. Another project is the International Training Programme at the National Research Centre for Biotechnology (GBF). It offers special training possibilities in the field of industrial biotechnology.

Recently the Technology Assessment Bureau (TAB) of the German Parliament published a report on the impact of biotechnology and developing countries. Although the study does not have the status of an official policy paper and does not evaluate Germany’s current development aid programmes, it was the first time that such a broad study on biotechnology and development has been produced. It describes the state of the art and perspectives of biotechnology research for developing countries. For future development cooperation in agricultural biotechnology, it was recommended that there should be:

Whether these recommendations will find their way into official policy is doubtful, since the complexity of the German development aid system and a stagnating aid budget give little prospect for short term major change. Nevertheless the TAB report stated that BMZ and GTZ have already tried to realize some of the recommendations in the past such as the end-user orientation in their agricultural biotechnology projects. Up to now there is hardly any data on the effects of biotechnology in BMZ/GTZ projects.
Markus Heissler

Ludgeriplatz 21, 47057 Duisburg, Germany. E-mail sb096he@unidui.uni-duisburg.de

BMZ (1994), "Biotechnologie und Entwicklungländer". BMZ aktuell, no. 039. Bonn: BMZ

A. Ebert, M. Müßigmann and K.H. Wolpers (eds) (1994), International GTZ Workshop: Plant biotechnology in technical cooperation programmes. Eschborn: GTZ

C. Katz et. al. (1995), Auswirkungen Moderner Biotechnologien auf Entwicklungsländer und Folgen für die Zukünftige Zusammenarbeit zwischen Industrie- und Entwicklungsländer. Bonn: TAB.

Personal communication with K.H. Wolpers (GTZ)

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