Growth of Agricultural Biotechnology in Asia!
In Asia, several governments are committed to the use of modern biotechnology in agriculture. They have devoted significant human and financial resources to this policy over the past two decades. Some illustrations of current activities in selected countries are given below.
The Peoples Republic of China (PRC) accords high priority to biotechnology to increase food production and improve product quality in an environmentally sustainable manner. The PRC has moved quickly to adopt new biotechnologies, particularly genetically modified crops. The country is rapidly increasing its expenditure on biotechnology R&D.
Over 103 genes have been evaluated for improving traits in 47 plant species. New traits have been introduced and evaluated in field tests on rice, wheat, maize, cotton, tomato, pepper, potato, cucumber, papaya, and tobacco. A variety of traits have been targeted. They include resistance to diseases, pests, and herbicides, and quality improvement. Approximately 50 genetically modified varieties have been approved for environmental release, or small-scale field testing in the PRC.
A few new genetically improved varieties have been approved for large-scale commercial production. The most widespread are new pest-resistant varieties of cotton that are being widely cultivated by farmers. These were grown commercially by approximately 3 million farmers on approximately 500,000 ha in 2000. Several new products are in the pipeline for potential commercialization.
India has allocated large public resources toward human resources development and infrastructure in biotechnology. In the early 1980s, the Government of India created a Department of Biotechnology to promote the use of new biotechnologies in industry, medicine, and agriculture. Current R&D efforts in India are directed toward increasing agricultural productivity, bioremediation in the environment, medical and industrial biotechnology, and bioinformatics.
R&D priorities in agriculture include new regeneration techniques for the rapid multiplication of citrus, coffee, mangrove, vanilla, and cardamom. Cardamom yield has increased 40 percent through the use of tissue culture. There is substantial private sector participation in biotechnology in India, for example, in the seed sector, the veterinary products sector, and bioinformatics linked with the booming information technology sector.
Further, organizations like the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation have developed innovative approaches such as the ADB-supported Bio Villages programme that is fostering the growth of new income-raising technologies. Emphasis is on developing small-scale bio-industries for women.
Indonesia has placed a high priority on biotechnology over the past 15 years. The Government has designated three National Biotechnology Centers to coordinate R&D in agriculture, medicine, and industrial microbiology.
Applications of biotechnology to agriculture are primarily the responsibility of the Agency for Agricultural Research and Development (AARD). A National Committee on Biotechnology advises the minister in developing guidelines for government policy in the promotion of biotechnology.
In recent years there has been an extensive training programme within Indonesia and abroad to upgrade skills of scientists involved in biotechnological research. In the 1980s, a major World Bank loan of over $100 million financed the creation of three inter-university centers for agricultural, medical, and industrial biotechnology. More recently, a current World Bank loan is financing facilities for agricultural biotechnology within AARD.
Crop improvement efforts using modern biotechnology started in Pakistan in 1985, when a training course was held on recombinant DNA. Work is now concentrated on chickpea, rice, and cotton. Field evaluation is hampered by lack of biosafety regulations. There is some private investment in R&D of agricultural biotechnology.
The government controls testing, multiplication, distribution, and biosafety issues for genetically modified crops. Pakistan lacks firm policy and regulations regarding intellectual property rights (IPR) and patents involving biotechnology, and biosafety regulations for GMOs (Zafar 2001).
The Philippines began its modern biotechnology programmes in 1980 with the creation of the National Institutes of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology in Los Banos, with a focus on agricultural biotechnology. In 1997, the Agriculture Fisheries Modernization Act recognized biotechnology as a major strategy to increase agricultural productivity. The Act provided a budget for agricultural biotechnology of almost $20 million annually for the next 7 years.
In 1998, the government funded these five high-level biotechnology research projects to develop:
(i) New varieties of banana resistant to banana bunchy top virus and papaya resistant to ring-spot virus,
(ii) Delayed ripening papaya and mango,
(iii) Insect-resistant maize,
(iv) Marker-assisted breeding in coconut, and
(v) Coconut oil with high lauric acid content.
Nongovernment organizations (NGOs) and other groups concerned about the safety of GMOs have been vocal in the Philippines. This is affecting field-testing and commercialization of transgenic crops. Products in the regulatory pipeline include new varieties of insect-resistant maize and insect- and disease-resistant rice.
Thailand is focusing on the applications of biotechnology to traditional foods, fruits, and export commodities such as shrimp. R&D priorities are to increase production and reduce production cost on crops such as rice, cassava, sugarcane, rubber, durian, and orchids.
An early success in Thailand has been the development of new molecular diagnostics for the diagnosis and control of virus diseases in shrimp. These diseases cost the shrimp export industry over $500 million in lost production in 1996. The development and commercial use of the new diagnostics prevents the loss of an estimated 20-50 percent of annual production, a saving of at least $100 million per year.
There are also active agricultural biotechnology programmes in Bangladesh, Malaysia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Singapore, and Viet Nam.