Regional and international Programmes on agricultural biotechnology in Asia are: 1. International Agricultural Research Centers 2. ISNAR Biotechnology Service 3. International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications 4. Activities of Funding Agencies 5. Asian Development Bank 6. Australian Government 7. The Rockefeller Foundation 8. United Nations Agencies 9. World Bank.
1. International Agricultural Research Centers:
International R&D programmes using modern biotechnology are being conducted by the international agricultural research centers (IARCs), particularly the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), and International Service for National Agricultural Research (ISNAR).
The Center for International Forestry Research also uses biotechnology in the characterization of forest diversity in its Asian programme.
The International Center for Living Aquatic Resources Management is using new technologies in the improvement of fisheries and aquaculture systems. ILRI is initiating a programme on Asian livestock improvement. The CGIAR centers invest approximately $30 million per year in modem biotechnology.
2. ISNAR Biotechnology Service:
The ISNAR Biotechnology Service (IBS), with Japanese support, has been assisting selected Asian countries in developing human resources for managing biotechnology research programmes or institutions. IBS has developed specialized courses to enhance the capacity and competency of managers, focusing on strategy building, priority setting, managing biosafety and regulatory aspects, resource generation and deployment, product delivery, and information sharing as well as the establishment and management of linkages.
3. Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications:
The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri- biotech Applications (ISAAA) is brokering public-private sector partnerships to facilitate technology transfer. It has current regional projects to increase the productivity of maize, papaya, and sweet potato. ISAAA is also establishing a new Asian knowledge center for crop biotechnology, based in the Philippines, in partnership with CAB International and the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture.
Its purpose is to make available timely and balanced information on the risks and benefits of crop biotechnology to interested parties in Asia. In doing so, it aims to provide training and study tours highlighting experiences not only in research but also with biosafety and intellectual property issues.
4. Activities of Funding Agencies:
The major external sources of assistance for agricultural biotechnology in the Asia/Pacific region are ADB, Australia, the Rockefeller Foundation, the United Nations, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the World Bank.
5. Asian Development Bank:
ADB has made several strategic and innovative investments in agricultural biotechnology over the past decade.
These investments have been in the form of loans and technical assistance projects:
a. Components of Agriculture and Science and Technology Loan Projects:
Several governments have requested ADB financial support for human resource development, laboratory facilities, and equipment for agricultural biotechnology programmes. These programmes have been integrating new applications of biotechnology into their conventional agricultural R&D programmes.
The applications include the use of new molecular diagnostics for pests and diseases and MAS for crop and livestock breeding. Such components are being supported under ongoing ADB projects in the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. ADB has provided other loans and grants in closely related areas such as in integrated pest management in cotton under the Cotton Development Project in Pakistan.
b. ADB Regional Technical Assistance Projects:
ADB has provided regional technical assistance grants for the development of the three regional crop biotechnology networks over the past decade. The networks are the Asian Rice Biotechnology Network (ARBN), initiated in 1993, the Asian Maize Biotechnology Network (AMBIONET), initiated in 1998 and the recently established Asian Semi- Arid Crops Network.
These networks have been influential in developing capacity to use new techniques in crop breeding for the major cereal crops (rice, maize) and the crops important in the semi-arid regions (sorghum, pigeonpea, and groundnut). The networks are managed by three lARCs (IRRI, CIMMYT, and ICRISAT) that work with national re-search institutes to implement the programmes on rice, maize, and semi-arid crops.
A recent evaluation of ADB’s research investments through the international centers reported favorably on the achievements of the rice and maize biotechnology networks, and recommended further support for this type of research cooperation. The networks provide a platform by which countries and the IARCs can collaborate in the use of the new tools of functional genomics to identify genes that control important traits such as drought and salinity tolerance.
This will speed up the breeding of crop varieties with these characteristics that have been difficult to address through conventional breeding. There will be increasing opportunities for cooperation between the networks, as more knowledge is gained on the commonality of genes between species and their control.
6. Australian Government:
Over the last 15 years, ACIAR has entered into more than 100 biotechnology R&D partnerships with at least 10 Asian countries in support of more than 600 active or completed projects. Most of these projects have been implemented through government programmes, but NGOs are becoming increasingly involved. Molecular marker methods for identifying disease- resistant genes and prolificacy in livestock have also been developed. Several projects on biotechnology for rumen manipulation have been carried out.
Crops and forestry work has focused on development of diagnostics for diseases (viral, fungal, mycoplasma, and bacterial) and contaminants in tropical crops, and the application of biofertilizers, bioremediation technology, and bio-fumigants. Molecular markers have been developed for the improvement of cereals and tree species.
In cooperation with IRRI, attempts are being made to develop apomixis systems for rice. Tissue culture methods for micro-propagation and conservation of several species, including sweet potato, taro, tropical fruits, coconut, green tea, and tree species such as mangrove are being developed.
Eight of ACIAR’s current or completed projects have included aspects of plant genetic engineering, with target crops being cereals and pulses, groundnut, and several tropical fruits. Target characters include virus resistance and quality defects related to ripening processes. These collaborative projects were developed at the request of the Asian countries, which fully approved regulatory procedures. ACIAR also provides core funding to many CGIAR and other IARCs, a proportion of which is applied to biotechnology R&D.
Australian support has been provided through AusAID for an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)/Australia regional biotechnology network, mainly concerned with food, microbial, and industrial biotechnology. AusAID also supports the characterization and conservation of genetic resources of taro and forest genetic resources in the South Pacific.
AusAID has supported several biotechnology seminars. A major seminar in 1989 at the Australian Academy of Sciences on the potential of agricultural biotechnology in international development reported on the outcomes of a joint study cosponsored by AusAID, ACIAR, ISNAR, and the World Bank.
In the area of human resources, the Crawford Fund has sponsored several master classes in biotechnology for senior policymakers over the past decade.
7. The Rockefeller Foundation:
Operational from 1984-1999, the Rice Biotechnology Network sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation was very active and successful in the region.
The programmes two objectives were to:
(i) To create biotechnology applications to produce improved rice varieties suited to developing country needs, and (ii) to train scientists in developing countries to use the techniques and adopt them to their own objectives.
A network of about 200 senior scientists and 300 trainee scientists from all the major rice producing countries of Asia and a number of industrialized countries participated. The programme was funded at approximately $5 million per year for 15 years.
Another outcome of the programme was the development of promising new technologies for the control of rice pests and diseases and improving the nutritional quality of rice. The work is being continued by national governments, ARBN, and IRRI to do the field evaluation and distribute new rice varieties in Asia.
The Rockefeller Foundation presently concentrates its biotechnology programmes in Asia on drought tolerance in rice and maize. It is also examining innovative means of dealing with access to technologies and IP issues.
8. United Nations Agencies:
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is giving high priority to biotechnology within its Asia/Pacific regional programmes. During 1989-1993, the United Nations Development Programme financed the establishment of biotechnology centers in eight countries (PRC, India, Indonesia, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippines, and Thailand) to share rDNA techniques in animal improvement, embryo transfer, and disease control.
In 1994 the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) established an International Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology in New Delhi, India, to assist Asian countries in the applications of biotechnology to important crops of the region.
United States Agency for International Development. The USAID is supporting applications of biotechnology through bilateral activities in several countries, including India, Indonesia, and Pakistan. USAID is also providing specific support for biotechnology applications within the programmes of IARCs.
This includes support for research by IRRI on improving the nutritional quality of rice by increasing its vitamin A and iron content, and support for research by the Tata Energy Research Institute on the development of golden mustard.
9. World Bank:
The World Bank has supported the development of infrastructure and human resource development for biotechnology in several Asian countries over the past 15 years. This support has come through loans in the agricultural sector, science and technology, and education. There are currently substantial components for biotechnology within agricultural technology projects in India, Indonesia, and Pakistan.
The Inter University Centers for Biotechnology in Indonesia were built with a $150 million loan in the 1980s. The Republic of Korea also used World Bank loans to develop its infrastructure in biotechnology. The World Bank is also one of the main financial supporters of CGIAR centers. The centers invest about 10 percent of their total annual budget of $340 million in the applications of biotechnology.