Biotechnology in Developing Countries
In recent years, biotechnology
has been considered as an essential tool for socioeconomic
development by an increasing number of developing countries.
Yet, if anything, as the science
frontier of the technology is advancing at an ever accelerating
pace, commercial entry into modern biotechnology for most developing
countries is rapidly moving away.
Globally, biotechnology science
has been profoundly influenced by two factors, namely, the drastic
reduction of public funds for research and the dominant role of
the private sector in biotechnology R&D for health care, agrifood
and other industrial applications.
The compound effect of these
factors has been that technological advancement has remained stagnant
in those areas that have been deemed unattractive in terms of
returns on investment.
These are precisely those
areas that are of prime importance for developing countries (e.g.
orphan crop and infectious disease research) and in which biotechnology
can have a profound effect.
Despite this, donor and technical
support agencies have been reluctant to redirect part of their
investments away from other conventional types of technology assistance
towards biotechnology. The reason that is often invoked is the
lack of an enabling environment in most developing countries which
would translate biotechnology R&D or import products and services
into communitylevel benefits.
However, it is becoming increasingly
evident that conventional programs addressing health care and
agricultural productivity needs in the developing world are becoming
dependent on biotechnology to enhance their delivery prospects
and benefit impacts. Clearly, in developing countries, biotechnology
R&D is not the be all and end all. It needs to be coupled
with actions to strengthen adoptive capacity (i.e., introduction
of information and other key technologies) and to introduce policy
and institutional reforms, conducive to public and private investment.
The reason for this is that
the ability of developing countries to use biotechnology for public
good depends primarily on their capacity to absorb and adapt proprietary
technology to their specific needs. Policies with regard to intellectual
property protection, increasing scope for intervention, and biosafety
are essential in generating an enabling environment for the application
International agencies have
an increasing role to play in identifying areas where the interests
of the private sector and the aspirations of developing countries
are not mutually exclusive and forge public-private partnerships
in these areas.
This editorial is reprinted with kind permission of BINAS News (Vol.3, 1&2, 1997), the Biosafety Information Network and Advisory Service newsletter, jointly published by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB).