Capacity building for biotechnology and beyond
Keywords:  Policies/Programmes; International organization; Governmental organization; Human resources.
Correct citation: nn. (1999), "Editorial: Capacity building for biotechnology and beyond." Biotechnology and Development Monitor, No. 39, p. 2-3.

Over the last decades, capacity building has increasingly been recognized in its importance for sustainable development. Therefore, national and international donor organizations, governments in developing and industrial countries, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), and the private sector increasingly build policies around capacity building objectives, and include them in programmes and projects. However, there is considerable variation in the definition of the term ‘capacity building’ and, consequently, in the aims and strategies pursued. While some see it mainly as a matter of training and the development of human resources, others would argue that capacity building has to address instrumental issues such as the development of procedures, management, organizational structures, or strategy formulation. Also, it should be specified whether we are talking about capacity building on a micro-level (a particular NGO, an institution or even an individual person) or at the macro-level of a whole state? Nevertheless, insight has grown that capacity building can contribute to sustainable development only if it is integral part of a project and not just another extra activity. On the other hand, there are also critical voices that denounce ‘capacity building’ as being another theoretical concept used by donors to determine how development cooperation should be given shape.

What does this mean for biotechnology capacity building in developing countries? To put it into perspective, it might be useful to have a look at the different modes of knowledge production relevant for this technology. In recent years, the linear (or ‘science-driven’) model of knowledge development has been criticized for not leading to applied technologies that contribute to social betterment. Producing scientific knowledge is one thing, but having it absorbed and applied by society is another. Therefore, the interaction between the research demand and supply has become more prominent and a ‘demand-driven’ knowledge development is increasingly seen as a key feature in successful knowledge policy.
These different approaches towards knowledge are reflected by two contributions in this Monitor issue on capacity building for biotechnology in India. The country has developed considerable capacity in several high tech areas, and especially the information technology sector has become highly competitive in the international economy. For biotechnology products and processes, however, the country still depends on imports, although also in this field scientific capacity is available at a national level. Obviously, there is a gap between the science and the development of marketable products. The article by Jenny makes clear, how a development cooperation programme tries to address this deficit.
Another approach towards capacity building in the same country is outlined by Siva Prasad and Pakki Reddy. In the Andhra Pradesh Netherlands (APNL) biotechnology programme, capacity building aims at the interaction between producers (scientists) and the end-users (small-scale farmers) of technology. The contribution emphasizes that such a participatory development of biotechnology requires its own capabilities, which to a large extent includes also to change the mutual perception of researchers and small-scale farmers.
In Latin America, the Canada-Latin American Initiative on Biotechnology for Sustainable Development (CamBioTec) tries to foster partnerships between Latin American and Canadian institutions and private companies for the commercialization of modern biotechnologies. The article by Verastegui makes clear that for the commercialization of modern biotechnologies, capacities are required that are increasingly transsectoral, including knowledge of biosafety and IPR issues, product development and marketing.
The need for transsectoral expertise is also highlighted in the contribution by Henne and Fakir, which analyses the bioprospecting agreement between the South African National Botanical Institute (NBI) and the US horticultural company Ball. The deficits of the recent arrangement clearly prove that the knowledge of sampling genetic material is not sufficient to achieve a balanced contract, especially if the organization is not backed by a national policy and the capacity in research and development (R&D). It is also indicative of just how far many institutions in developing countries have to go, starting from an even less favourable position than the South African NBI.
Efforts to simply transfer technologies from industrialized to developing countries have a long history of failure, not only in the field of agriculture. Capacity building in biotechnology will not simply be transferable either, and countries and organizations need to develop their own capacity in locally appropriate ways. It remains to be seen how far the different development cooperation programmes that address technology transfer and biotechnology capacity building will be effective in this sense.

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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