Bioengineered Crops as Tools for International Development: Opportunities and Strategic Considerations

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Abstract or Summary

Crop bioengineering provides unique and dramatic opportunities for international agricultural development. However, we consider the technology not as a ‘silver bullet’ or panacea for crop improvement in the developing world but as an increasingly important tool that can be used to complement conventional methods of crop improvement. The number of bioengineered crops ready for commercial release in developing countries is expected to expand considerably in the next few years. But the multi-national life sciences companies that are leading the research, development and commercialization of bioengineered crops focus primarily on major crops that have high commercial value and extensive international markets. These companies also hold proprietary gene technology for many other crops of extreme importance to subsistence and resource-poor farmers but do not pursue product development and commercialization because of low anticipated returns. Such crops have traditionally been overlooked and are sometimes referred to as ‘orphan crops’ because of the relative lack of research and development applied to them. We propose a strategy for the development and delivery of bioengineered crops, including orphan crops, for developing countries. Consulting local public and private sector stakeholders to determine their highest priority needs for agricultural products is the first step. This ensures local stakeholder buy-in and that we do not invest in technology that is unlikely to be adopted. Next, the feasibility of developing and delivering the product is assessed. If the result is positive, the work is organized into ‘product commercialization packages’ (PCPs) that integrate all elements of the research, development and commercialization processes. The main elements of each PCP include (i) technology development; (ii) policy-related issues such as intellectual property and licensing, as well as gaining regulatory approval by the relevant national authorities; (iii) providing public information to producers and consumers about the benefits, risks and correct management of these new products; and (iv) establishing, or verifying, the existence of marketing and distribution mechanisms to provide farmers access to planting material. Our strategy involves integration of needs based capacity building, socio-economic impact studies and product stewardship into each PCP. Whenever appropriate, opportunities are sought to create public–private partnerships to help leverage public funds, help absorb development costs and provide a broader distribution channel. To illustrate how our strategy is being translated into action we include, as a case study, examples of work by the US Agency for International Development-funded, Cornell University-led Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project II on the research, development and delivery of bioengineered fruit and shoot-borer-resistant eggplantvarieties Solanum melanogena for South and Southeast Asia.

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