20 Years of Innovation: Reflecting on Successes and Challenges of Biotech Crops

20 Years of Innovation: Reflecting on Successes and Challenges of Biotech Crops

By Craig Richard

In 1996, farmers planted the first commercial biotech crop. The global uptake of plant biotechnology by farmers since has made it the fastest-adopted technology in the history of agriculture. Farmers who have the choice to use the technology have chosen it on an unprecedented level because of its benefits.
However, today those farmers are no longer being provided the choice to utilize a broader suite of technologies on more crops in more places from a diverse set of technology providers. The regulatory hurdle is too high and completely disproportional to any risk presented by plant biotechnology. This needs to change if the world’s innovation is to be used by our farming communities for society’s greater good.
In 2008, the European Union’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) undertook a survey of all the research and development of biotech products taking place in both the public and private sectors worldwide. Then, the JRC predicted that 91 new biotech traits would come to market by 2015. These new products would bring advancements to the world’s farmers: protecting a wider set of crops from additional pests and diseases, resiliency against the impact of climate change, or providing additional nutritional value in staple crops throughout the developing world. The report also predicted that many of these new offerings would be developed and provided by public research institutions.
Fast forward to today. We are, unfortunately, very far off from meeting the JRC’s predictions — in 2014, there were only 16 new traits on the market, a mere 17 percent of the 91 expected products. These traits are still largely agronomic, in the major row crops, and provided by the private sector. What happened to the dozens of new traits that should have improved nutrition, food security and crop health?
A 2012 survey of the technology developers that have commercialized traits for farmers found that, on average, it costs $136 million over 13 years to develop a biotech crop and bring it to market. Although developers in both the public and private sector have become much more efficient at creating new traits, the cost and time involved in the regulatory process has increased by at least 50 percent over the last decade — and in many cases, even more — making the road to commercialization much longer. For example, a decade ago in China, it took about 12 months to approve a new biotech trait for import. Now, the process can take six years. Despite decades of safe use of plant biotechnology, the regulatory processes around the world have gotten so long and arduous that they are effectively stalling innovation from reaching farmers and consumers.
Unfortunately, this failure to deliver innovation hurts farmers and those in the developing world the most, where both yields and livelihoods are stagnant. Many humanitarian-focused biotechnology projects around the world have been slowed, if not completely stalled, by excessive regulatory costs; costs shouldered by governments, foundations, and development agencies. This is despite the fact that much of this technology — such as water efficient maize, Golden Rice and biofortified sorghum — would be provided without royalties or additional costs to the farming community.
Efforts by anti-science, non-governmental organizations and technology critics to demonize biotech crops on ideological grounds affect the world’s most vulnerable populations and, quite often, run counter to the organizational missions of these so-called “consumer rights” groups.
The author is the executive director for plant biotechnology at CropLife International
Craig Richard is the executive director for plant biotechnology at CropLife International.

African Journalists Play a Key Role in Continent’s Blue Economy

African Journalists Play a Key Role in Continent’s Blue Economy

I recently mobilized Kenyan journalists to attend a briefing in Nairobi on Blue Economy. The main aim of the meeting was to expose journalists to blue economy is and why Africa should embrace it for accelerated development in the continent.

A few phone calls later to our members revealed two scenarios; one – there were those who were hearing about the term blue economy for the first time (from me) even though this lot had even done stories on the concept; two – there were those who had neither heard of it and neither had they reported on it. Quickly, I realized that our members would heavily gain from the briefing on this subject.

For those new to this ideology, a short back ground would do.

The world has, for over four years, accelerated discussions on Blue Economy since “Rio+20”. This was the 20th anniversary of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 20-22, 2012.

The “Blue Economy” approach to sustainable growth usually recognizes different use and non-use values of oceans and other “blue” resources. It promotes the coordination of relevant activities and industries to enhance the overall value.

Although the scope of the Blue Economy may differ for different countries, many agree that the appropriate use and conservation of marine, inland aquatic and coastal resources can contribute to food security, job creation, and inclusive and sustainable economic growth, as well as to climate change mitigation and adaptation.

The opportunity and challenge is how all activities and industries can be coordinated and resources managed so that the Blue Economy brings about the maximum benefits to society in an inclusive and sustainable manner.

Journalists therefore need to be on the lookout for the interconnectedness of the issues being addressed within the confines of the Blue Economy. One needs to be aware of the impact that each of these issues could have on each other and specifically on the livelihood of the people occupying these areas. Given the cross-boundary nature of blue economic issues, journalists should take time to study the relevant Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) and other international instruments that regulate resource use. This way, they will strengthen their reporting of the Blue Economy.

In Kenya, for example, the Kenya Coastal Development Program (KCDP) has, to say the least, been touching lives of the coastal people in the country. The program has since inception in 2011, focused on addressing issues of fisheries, natural resource management and sustainable livelihoods.

By delving into sustainable management of fisheries resources KCDP is responsible for the increased benefits from seaweed farming by supporting seaweed drying and linking the artisans to the market/private sector. Approximately USD 9,550 was realized for a small community in 2015. KCDP support of the gated basket trap has shown that fish captured in experimental gated traps are 31% longer and 55% heavier and fewer low value fish are captured thus maintaining coastal fisheries biodiversity.

The project has also supported livelihoods and food security and helped the locals to build their asset base through livelihood projects focused on livestock with an investment cost of USD 330,000.

And so in reporting issues of the Blue Economy, journalists need to be very vigilant on what is really being done vis-a-vis what the governments promise to do. Mere talk about blue economy as the word in vogue will help the cause of Africa.

Article by Aghan Daniel, Secretary of MESHA