Partnership between public funded
organizations and industry is crucial in the science to product chain. Pakistan
by providing necessary science infrastructures like biotech parks may have
strong appeal for firms, with low wages and large amounts of well-educated,
skilled workers. Multinationals in Pakistan may improve their competitiveness by
reducing their costs.
Biotechnology, globally recognized as a
rapidly emerging and far-reaching technology, is aptly described, as the
"technology of hope" for its promising food, health and environmental
sustainability. The recent and continuing advancements in life sciences clearly
unfold a scenario energized and driven by the new tools of biotechnology. The
Pakistan biotechnology sector should gain global visibility and tracking for
emerging investment opportunities. Human capital is perceived to be the key
driver for global competitiveness. Added to this is a decreasing appetite for
risk capital in developed countries, which has led to a decline in the
biotechnology sector in these regions, whereas survival lifelines may be
provided by the lower cost research environment of the developing world such as
For a country like Pakistan,
biotechnology is a powerful enabling technology that can revolutionize
agriculture, healthcare, industrial processing and environmental sustainability.
The Pakistan biotechnology sector is
spread over a number of scattered and sporadic academic and research
initiatives. The time is now ripe to integrate these efforts through a pragmatic
National Biotechnology Development Strategy. Plant biotechnology has largely
been acknowledged as a key strategy for achieving food security and sustainable
agriculture; many countries give high priority to agricultural biotechnology
research and development. Many of these countries focus their biotechnology
research on food crops and crops of high commercial value in the hope of meeting
increasing food requirements and reducing poverty, particularly among resource
poor farming households.
ROLE OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
Science and technology have been the
foundation of the social and economic gains made in agriculture over the 30
years and will continue to underpin any necessary increase in agricultural
productivity. Plant biotechnology is one such technology that has been regarded
as part of the "sustainable productivity equation" in agriculture. The
present applications in agriculture include conventional breeding, tissue
culture and micro propagation, molecular breeding or marker-assisted selection,
plant disease diagnostics, genetic engineering and the production of GM crops,
and the "omics" sciences (e.g. genomics, metablomics etc.).
Unfortunately, harnessing biotechnology
and its applications for the benefit of the poor will require considerable
attention in many areas including: allocation of additional public resources to
agricultural research; appropriateness of, and access to, biotechnology by
resource-poor farmers; improvement in the seed distribution and extension
systems; capacity building of the public sector in biotech R&D; public
education; policies and regulatory frameworks on biosafety, food safety and
intellectual property rights; and stronger public-private links for live
research and provide mentorship and problem solving support in addition to the
grant/soft loan. This scheme may operate in two phases of innovation and product
PHASE - 1:
The funding in this stage should be
provided for highly innovative, early stage, pre-proof concept research.
Preference should be given to proposals that address important national needs.
The maximum amount of funding to an enterprise may be limited to Rs. 50 lakh
with not more than 50 percent of it going as grant and the remaining as an
interest free loan. For projects to be considered at this stage, though a
partner from public R&D institution would be considered important, it should
not be a mandatory requirement for those companies that have good quality
scientists. This should encourage high quality scientists to agree to work in
small and medium biotech companies, a change from our traditions.
It is expected that some of the
proposals funded in Phase-1 will establish the proof-of-concept. At this stage,
the ability of the project to get venture capital funding improves. It is
proposed to provide soft loan at this stage for product development and
commercialization at an interest rate of 2 percent. The role of public R&D
institution at this stage too is critical. The partner in the public institution
at this stage should get the R&D support as grant.
Small and medium knowledge based
industries in biotech should be encouraged to avail equity support from various
Pakistan should enter into agreement
with advanced countries to develop fund.
India has entered into agreements with
several countries like Israel, Brazil and US for cooperation in frontier
sciences like biotechnology and Nan-technology. India and Israel have decided to
create a corpus fund of $ 2 million per year each country depositing $ one
million each. This corpus fund has successfully generated business worth of $ 7
BIOTECHNOLOGY PARKS & INCUBATORS
Establishing biotechnology parks for
the growth of the biotechnology industry is essential either through
public-private alliance or public/private sponsorship. With its human resources
in molecular biotechnology, biochemical engineering, synthetic organic
chemistry, chemical engineering and allied branches of engineering. Pakistan is
well placed to support a number of biotech parks. Biotechnology parks can
provide a viable mechanism for licensing new technology to upcoming biotech
companies to start new ventures and to achieve early stage value enhancement of
the technology with minimum financial inputs. These biotech parks will
facilitate the lab to land transfer of the technology by serving as an impetus
for entrepreneurship through partnership among innovators from R&D
institutions and industry.
Basic minimum components for parks
should include research laboratories for product development, multi-purpose
pilot facility for manufacturing and process development, quality control and
validation of technologies, common effluent treatment plant, human resource
training center, administrative support center, etc.
The biotech parks should be located so
as to be easily accessible to all the stakeholders with connecting toads, water
and power supply and should also attract less administrative clearances from the
The international crops research
institute for semi-arid tropics (ICRISAT) in India has planned partnership with
NGOs, public and private sectors to achieve its objectives. Thirteen private
sector companies have agreed to become partners in ICRISAT private sector
bio-pesticides research consortium. The Andhra pradesh government has approved a
grant of Rs. 3 crore to support development of the Agri-biotech Park in five
years. In the existing Agri-science park ICRISAT has launched commercial
operations in the agri-business incubator with three companies in India.
ICRISAT's hybrid parents research consortium now has 29 seed companies from
India, Indonesia and Egypt and is expected to generate $ 2.3 million in five
years. India will promote and support at least 10 biotech parks by 2010.
It is important that biotechnology is
used for the social benefit of Pakistan and for economic development. To fulfill
this vision, it has to be ensured that research and application in biotechnology
is guided by a process of decision-making that safeguards both human health and
environment with adherence to the highest ethical standards. The legislation,
backed by science based assessment procedures should clearly articulate rules
& regulations that can efficiently fulfill this vision.
Choices are required to be made that
reflect an adequate balance between benefit, safety, access and interest of
consumers and farmers. It is also important that biotechnology products that are
required for social and economic good are produced speedily at the lowest cost.
A scientific, rigorous, transparent, efficient, and consistent regulatory
mechanism for biosafety evaluation and release system/protocol is an essential
for achieving these multiple goals. A competent single National Biotechnology
Regulatory Authority is established with separate divisions for agriculture
product/transgenic crops, pharmaceuticals/drugs and industrial products, and
transgenic food/feed and transgenic animal/aqua culture. The authority should be
governed by an independent administrative structure with a common chairman.
Biotechnology is necessary to maintain
our competitive and remunerative agriculture and to achieve nutrition security
in the face of major challenges such as declining per capita availability of
arable land, lower productivity of crops, livestock and fisheries, heavy
production losses due to biotic (insects pests, weeds) and a biotic (salinity,
drought, alkalinity) stresses; heavy post-harvest crop damage and declining
availability of water as an agricultural input. Investment in agricultural
related biotechnology has resulted in significantly enhanced R&D capability
and institutional building over the years. However, progress has been rather
slow in converting the research leads into useable products.
Uncertainties regarding IPR management
and regulatory requirements, poor understanding of risk assessment and lack of
effective management and commercialization strategies have been significant
impediments. Pakistan owns very few genes of applied value. The majority of
genes under use - about 40 are currently held by MNCs and may be received under
material transfer agreements for R&D purpose without clarity on the
potential for commercialization.
The spectrum of biotechnology
application in agriculture is very wide and includes generation of improved
crops, animals, plants of agro forestry importance, microbes; use of molecular
markers to tag genes of interest; accelerating the breeding through marker
assisted selection; fingerprinting of cultivars, land races, germplasm stocks;
DNA based diagnostics for pests/pathogens of crops, in vitro mass multiplication
of elite planting material. Plants and animals are being used for the production
of therapeutically or industrially useful products, the emphasis being on
improving efficiency and lowering the cost of production. Biotechnology has a
critical role in developing and processing value added products of enhanced
nutritive quality and providing tools for ensuring and monitoring food quality
Bio fertilizers have a potential to
substitute chemical fertilizers. In India projected production target by 2011 is
about 50, 000 tones. In India bio pesticides have market share of 2.5 percent
and an annual growth rate of 10-15 percent. In spite of the obvious advantages,
several constraints have limited their wider usage such as product of
inconsistent quality, short shelf life, and sensitivity to drought, temperature,
and agronomic conditions. Unless there is a policy initiative at the center and
the province to actively promote bio fertilizers and bio pesticides at a faster
pace, there is unlikely to be a quantum jump in their consumption. There is a
need for strategic action in public-private partnership.
There is an urgent need to promote and improve the levels of horizontal
integration between public-public and public-private laboratories.
Institutions that generate knowledge and those that specialize in late stage
field trials are compartmentalized. While support to public-funded innovation
must continue to be strengthened, it is proposed that at least 30 percent of
government funded programmes must have commercial partners, who will be
responsible for directing R&D towards commercialization. Public investment
should also be encouraged in small and medium companies, especially for late
stage trials of transgenic crops. Partnership between public-funded
organizations and industry is crucial in science to product chain.
Priorities for crops and traits should
be set after conducting a need assessment exercise in various farming zones.
However, an indicative list may be suggested.
Priority target traits in crop plants
may be yield increase, pest and disease resistance, a biotic stress tolerance,
enhanced quality, and shelf life, engineering male sterility and development of
apomixes. Crops of priority should be rice, wheat, maize, sorghum chickpea,
moong bean, groundnut, mustard, cotton, sugarcane, potato tomato, banana, mango,
apple and citrus. In priority crops equal emphasis should be given to GM hybrids
and new varieties. The varieties in contrast to hybrids, are preferred by small
farmers as they can use their own farm saved seeds for at least three or four
years. In case of hybrids, research on the introduction of genetic factors for
apomixes would be supported so that resource poor farmers can derive benefits
from hybrid vigour without having to buy expensive seeds every cropping season.
(B) BIO FERTILIZERS AND BIO PESTICIDES
Priorities would include screening of
elite stains of micros-organisms and /or production of super-strains, better
understanding of dynamics of symbiotic nitrogen fixation, process optimization
for fermentor -based technologies, improved shelf life, better quality
standards, and setting up accredited quality control laboratories.
Research and development (R&D)
funds flowing into developing nations rose from two percent to 18 percent
between 1996 and 2002. China, India, Thailand and Singapore have attracted lions
share of R&D money. The high level of foreign direct investment flows to
developing countries is likely to sustained. Developing countries have a strong
appeal for major firm, with low wages and large amounts of well-educated,
skilled workers. Multinationals have been "seeking to improve their
competitiveness by expanding in the fast growing markets of emerging economies
and by seeking new ways to reduce costs.
The author is from Department of
Agronomy, University of Agriculture, Faisalabad.