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Agricultural biotechnology and rural development
--priorities for the World Bank

Washington, 2-3 June 1999

"Technologies that may be benign in terms of impacts [e.g. on ecosystems and human health] may not be benign in terms of their introductions to other social, cultural or economic contexts". Peter Matlon, UNDP.
Workshop Recommendations to be synthesised and clustered by the Bank's Biotechnology Task Force for reporting to the Bank's Rural Sector Board.

How long before this changes Bank Policy?
For Full Report by IISD/ Earth Negotiations Bulletin - Click Here


Report by Barbara Dinham, The Pesticides Trust

June 1999

The workshop was called on the basis that there is an underlying assumption that the Bank will be becoming involved in biotechnology, yet there is insufficient awareness


About 80 participants attended the World Bank consultation on biotechnology, (about half) from the Bank. Others were from Agricultural Research Centres (ILRI, ISNAR, IRRI, CIP, IFPRI, CGIAR secretariat) and other agricultural research (Wageningen) and universities. There was representation from UNDP, FAO and the Rockefeller Foundation and from government / development (USAID, DFID [Felicity Proctor, on secondment to the Bank]), Derek Burke of the UK (Chair of UK novel foods committee and the recent Nuffield report on ethics and biotechnology). There was only one direct industry representative, Judy Chambers (Monsanto), though there were a small number of consultants.

A limited number of third world participants attended, but included views from Brazil, Costa Rica, Kenya, India (all research) and the Philippines (Ananias Loza from Pakisama, an organisation of small-scale farmers with representation on the Philippines research for development committee). Other NGOs were: Michael Hansen (Consumer Policy Unit); Doreen Stabinsky (Council for Responsible Genetics/California State University), and myself.

The key organisers from the Bank came primarily from the Rural Development division, but also from ECSSD and other areas). Those who played a prominent role in the workshop: Derek Byerlee, Eugene Terry, Gesa Horstkotte-Wesseler, Klaus von Grebmer (on secondment from Novartis), Ashok Seth, Cornelis de Haan, Graeme Donovan, Rosemary O'Neill, Uma Lele. The Bank participants included those working for a participatory approach to Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and supporting the Global IPM Facility: Doug Forno, Harry Van der Wulp, Tjaart Van Schillhorn.

A full participants list is in the World Bank report.

Discussion paper

In opening the meeting, Alex McCalla, head of the Agricultural Division in the bank, remarked that the draft discussion paper for the workshop, Agricultural Biotechnology and Rural Development: Issues and options for world bank support to research and capacity building, did not sufficiently address social and economic issues, which need to be fully dealt with. The paper forward both benefits and disbenefits of biotechnology, but was weighted towards the former. A major problem was its failure to distinguish sufficiently between the soft and hard ends of biotechnology when addressing contentious areas. It acknowledge four areas of biotechnology: tissue culture, diagnostics, molecular markets and genetic engineering. Most of those present critical of GE would have no problems with the use of the first three and generally agreed that genetic engineering was the issue that primarily needed to be addressed.

The debates

Derek Byerlee reminded the meeting that the Rural Development department was concerned with poverty alleviation and food security and strengthening the resource base. However the meeting often appeared to lose this framework and did not assess GE technology in relation to these aspects.

A number of the participants had formed part of panel which had provided earlier advice to the WB through a report, Bioengineering of Crops: Report of the World Bank Panel on Transgenic Crops (the Kendall Report). Robert Herdt of Rockefeller of this panel made the keynote speech. He favoured the view that GE is essential to meet food supplies of a global population that will double by 2040. This perspective underpinned much, but not all, of the workshop, and its relevance or validity was not dealt with explicitly. Although the point was raised (by NGOs) that the issue was access to food not production, and that there are many other options for addressing food security, the workshop was about Biotechnology and did not stray too far from the technical questions, and related capacity building issues.

The presentations addressed:

There were two sets of small group discussions. Those I attended were: Ethical and social issues (where I gave the discussion opener); and World Bank policies: safeguards and oversight). Both these adopted a more cautious position. The second, chaired by Doug Forno specified there should not be support for GE technology (but other forms of biotechnology recognised as less problematic). Doug Forno explained that 'safeguards' are equivalent to WB law and must be 'obeyed'. A number of existing safeguards could cover GE, but a new one could not specifically be developed until there was a broad policy in the Bank and this had to be endorsed by the governing Board, i.e. governments. Governments are, however, unlikely to adopt a position at present, given the failure to reach agreement in the Biodiversity Convention. Guidance could of course be developed. This workshop urged constraint, recognising that in addressing poverty and food security many other aspects would be of greater sig nificance.

Key points and recurring themes at the workshop:

This is a brief overview, which does not do justice to all the papers and debates, and it is worth dipping into the full report. As a major funder of the IARCs, and lender to developing countries, the Bank has now opened debate and will be developing its own approaches policies and guidance. It needs to hear the concerns about genetic engineering as it undoubtedly will hear the benefits.

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