|Indian farm research sector opened to U.S. companies (17/11/2005)|
1.Indian farm research sector opened to U.S. companies
EXCERPTS: India on Saturday opened its public sector agriculture research sector to U.S. private companies enabling the private sector to "help identify research areas" that have the potential for "rapid commercialisation" with a view to developing new and commercially viable technologies for agricultural advancement in both countries.
The agreement said the Initiative might consider areas for joint research using biotechnology for harnessing genetic potential of agriculturally important plant and animal species. (item 1)
A public private partnership between Mahyco [Monsanto's partner company in India], academic institutions and private sector seed companies in India, Bangladesh and Philippines aims to make transgenic crops affordable to more farmers in the region. Under the USAID-supported project... (item 3)
1.Indian farm research sector opened to U.S. companies
This public-private partnership was described as a key feature of the U.S.-India Knowledge Initiative on Agricultural Education, Research, Service and Commercial Linkages. The objective of the Initiative is to re-energise the Indo-U.S. partnership by promoting teaching, research, service and commercial linkages to address "contemporary challenges."
Areas of collaboration are expected to include research on sustainable agriculture and marketing systems, the use of new information and communication technologies commercialisation, and implementation of international food safety and sanitary requirements.
Witnessed by the Union Minister for Agriculture and Food, Sharad Pawar, and the U.S. Trade Representative, Robert Portman, the Knowledge Initiative Joint Declaration was signed by Director General of ICAR Mangala Rai and Under-Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services of the U.S. Department of Agriculture J.B. Penn.
The agreement flows from the Joint Statement signed between U.S. President George Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during the latter's visit to the U.S. in July and is a precursor to Mr. Bush's visit to India next February. After signing the agreement India and the U.S. announced the setting up of a Knowledge Initiative Board comprising eight members from either side drawn from academia, government and the private sector to recommend specific projects and funding sources. Foreign Agricultural Service Administrator Ellen Terpstra will co-chair the Board along with Mr. Mangala Rai. The first meeting of the Board will be held in December in the U.S.
"The goal of the agreement is to re-energise the agricultural relationship between the two nations through collaborative efforts in agricultural research, education and commercial linkages," Mr. Penn said.
The declaration said a "key feature" of the Initiative would be the public-private partnership between the U.S. and India. When asked whether there would be dual ownership or co-ownership of the collaborative research under an Intellectual Property Rights regime, Mr. Penn said, "Both countries will benefit mutually. We have a system in place to protect intellectual property rights."
In his response to the question, Dr. Rai said: "The Board will meet and identify areas of mutual interest. The intellectual property ownership would be decided on a case-to-case basis depending on what is the tangible research, what have been the inputs and what would be the outcome." The joint declaration said agriculture itself had become more global in its reach, more complex in trade and exchanges, more technologically grounded and ever more challenged with balancing sustainability, productivity and social responsiveness.
On collaborative research the joint declaration said the possible focus areas would include improvements in biotechnology, bio-products, sustainable management of water and natural resources, pest management support systems, food safety systems, wastage free food storage, and value added food products. The agreement said the Initiative might consider areas for joint research using biotechnology for harnessing genetic potential of agriculturally important plant and animal species. The Joint Working Group on Agricultural Biotechnology, a USAID supported effort, is likely to coordinate with this initiative to promote these objectives. It will also consider research that has potential for rapid commercialisation, which can develop new and commercially viable technologies for agricultural advancement in both countries.
2.Indo-US agriculture research board formed
The first board meeting to will be held in the US next month. The members will be from the Government, academia and private sector for specific projects and funding sources. The board will develop its findings in a report that will be delivered to both the Agriculture Ministry and USDA in 2006, after meeting first in the US and later in India, said an official statement.
It will also initiate a public-private partnership where the private sector can help identify research areas that have the potential for rapid commercialisation. The initiative may consider areas for joint research by using biotechnology for harnessing the genetic potential of plant and animal species.
"The board will have its first meeting in US in December, followed by a meeting early next year in India in advance of President Bush's expected visit to India in February," the Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services, USDA, Mr J. B. Penn, said.
The agreement was signed by the ICAR Director General, Mr Mangala Rai, and Mr Penn in the presence of the Agriculture Minister, Mr Sharad Pawar, and the US Trade Representative, Mr Robert Portman.
3.Private-public partnership to make transgenic crops affordable
Under the USAID-supported project, a number of varieties and hybrids of genetically modified eggplant (brinjal) resistant to fruit and shoot borers are being developed. Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Co Ltd (Mahyco) is providing the technology to the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University ; University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad; Indian Institute of Vegetable Research, Varanasi; University of Philippines, Los Banos; Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute and a private sector seed company, East West Seeds, Bangladesh.
They are all members of the public-private partnership, Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project II, led by Cornell University of the US. It seeks to make the transgenic crop accessible to a wider section of farmers in this region. The coordinator for the project in India is Sathguru Management Consultants Pvt Ltd, Hyderabad, which is Cornell's representative in India. The University of Philippines will handle the implementation in the South-East Asian region.
Addressing newspersons, on a tour of the project sites organised by Sathguru, Mr K. Vijayarghavan, its Director, said through the partnership, the transgenic eggplant developed for different regions would be available to farmers at an affordable cost. The public institutions would aim at cost recovery, while the private players will price it on a benefit-sharing basis. More than 30 members were partners in the project, under which work is on in 10 transgenic crops across the region.
The eggplant was selected based on extensive consultation, which identified that this crop would benefit several farmers in the region over 25 million.
Dr Usha Barwale Zehr, Joint Director of Research, Mahyco, said in India alone, over 5.1 lakh hectares were under brinjal cultivation and the annual production was estimated at about 8.2 million tonnes. The fruit and shoot borer, an insect pest, affects over 50-70 per cent of the crop even after continuous insecticide application.
Using transgenic technology will prevent such wastage and increase marketable yield. Apart from the varieties under development by the public sector institutions, Mahyco itself is developing four transgenic hybrid brinjal varieties.
There would be enough varieties and hybrids to cover most of the brinjal-growing regions in India, she said.
The limited trials, in its second year now, and statutory safety tests had been completed. Once the appropriate clearances were received, they would be able to go in for large-scale trials, which would be followed by commercial sales. Work on the crop started in 2000, she said.
While the benefit to the public institutions is obvious, what value does Mahyco derive from this partnership?
Mr Raju Barwale, Managing Director, Mahyco, said it was in the wider reach of the technology and the increased level of awareness of biotechnology and transgenic crops. This would lead to increased acceptability if more farmers directly experience the benefits of the technology.
The company was targeting release by late 2006 or in 2007, once the authorities gave the approvals. The tests were positive and there was a basis for optimism, he said.