Methodological and Technological Issues in Technology Transfer

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11.3.3 Genetic Improvements Critical to Climate Adaptation

While yield growth has accounted for over 90 per cent of recent agricultural output growth, scholars credit genetic improvements in crop varieties with half of this yield growth (Duvick, 1992; Byerlee, 1996; Wright 1996). The remainder of the growth is attributed to improved management practices, irrigation, and increased use of fertilisers and other inputs. In the future, genetic improvements are likely to play an even greater role. This is particularly true given other environmental considerations that limit the extent to which higher yields can come from more intensive use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. The efficient conservation, exchange and use of agricultural genetic resources will be critical for future agricultural technology development and transfer. Despite the impressive achievements of the Green Revolution, nearly 1 billion poor people in developing countries still achieve their sustenance from agriculture using their own traditional plant genetic material (World Bank,1992).

Because the performance of crop varieties is sensitive to agro-climatic conditions, much of the transfer of improved crop varieties has been North-North between temperate regions and South-South across tropical or sub-tropical regions. The advances of the Green Revolution may be thought of as "North-assisted" South-South technology transfer. The semi-dwarf wheat varieties now widely adopted in India's Punjab were originally developed in Mexico, while Indian rice yields are substantially higher thanks to infusions of germ plasm collected by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) from other parts of Asia. In the future, biotechnology may offer significant opportunities to address the need for crop adaptation to changing climate across all countries.

However, the cost of grain increases annually, and funding for plant breeding, especially for developing countries, is now decreasing, breeders must decrease the cost per unit of genetic improvement if gains are to continue. Developing countries must look for more efficient operations and for economies of scale through collaboration with breeding programmes in other countries or the IARCs.

For the past 20 years, great hopes have been placed on the benefit to plant breeding from biotechnology. Biotechnology aids to plant breeding often will be used first in the industrialised nations, but will be available for use in developing countries with very little delay. In some cases the improvements will be publicly available; in other cases, the products will be available on a commercial basis.

Local communities manage an important part of these technologies and hold ownership. This is important in the development of systems for integrated gene management (e.g., the CGIAR's programme) that combine modern and traditional methods of genetic crop improvement, and include the interests of all the stakeholders (including the rights of farmers, local communities, breeders, and biotechnology companies). The funding members of the CGIAR were praised for their readiness to invest and their unprecedented successfulness, which so far was probably the most productive non-profit international governmental funding ever.

A major constraint to plant breeding for developing countries is the global reduction in allocation of public funds for agricultural research. Such reductions, originating in the developed countries, have especially strong adverse effects on the developing nations.

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