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.