Until a few years ago, “agricultural technology” was a topic guaranteed to empty the lecture hall. Today the press is filled with stories of the new agriculture—genetically engineered plants, robot farms and cattle bred by computer. The public is fascinated by frontier biotechnological research and the promise of a filled cornucopia future. But for those concerned with the Third World, at least two major questions about agricultural research have not been answered.
Will agricultural innovations make any real difference in the ability of poorer countries to provide themselves with food? And who will benefit from agricultural research? In the Third World, where two out of three people still live by farming, food shortages and malnutrition are common. If research and service programs for large-scale farming are given priority and small farmers and landless workers ignored, social and economic problems can only worsen.
Neither question has an obvious answer. At the technical level, biologists argue that gene-splitting will lead to major improvements in crop yields. A known gene with a desirable quality can be inserted into a rice plant and the time, tedium and errors of the old breeding techniques avoided. But the new system may still require years, maybe decades, of chromosome plotting before a project such as increasing drought tolerance of plants can be successfully tackled.
Nonetheless, frontier research using DNA technologies has already created improved animal vaccines, diagnostic tools and growth promotants. Among those important to the Third World is a vaccine to combat the tse-tse fly virus, which decimates cattle in much of eastern Africa. Improved vaccines for aftosa (hoof-and-mouth disease), malaria and other tropical animal diseases are also on the horizon.
The promise of great benefits has focused attention on the cost and control of technologies. Many Third World countries are concerned about an apparent shift in control of agricultural innovations from the public to the private sector. Until about 1970, university and government scientists in Europe and the United States led a highly efficient farm production research enterprise. After the technological breakthroughs in computers and biology during the 1960s and 1970s, prospects for commercial innovations increased dramatically and entirely new industries appeared.
The U.S. Office of Technology Assessment recently counted 92 firms in the United States and another 50 in Europe and Japan—including most of the top pharmaceutical and chemical companies—actively engaged in the agricultural biotechnology industry. Major poultry and animal breeders already control the basic pool of genes for improved animal production; it is only a question of time before they enter the gene manipulation business.
Pharmaceutical companies bought major seed companies in the 1970s and are also investing in biotechnology, searching for new sources of therapeutical substances or commercially interesting production processes. Chemical and fertilizer companies are putting resources into biotechnology to cover developments that would take away their historic markets. Such developments might include engineered plants that fix their own nitrogen or have built-in pesticides.
The issue of who controls agricultural technology was sharply put in the November 1985 meetings of the Food and Agriculture organization. Mexico led a coalition of developing countries in opposing extension of patent protection laws to seeds and genetic stock. Cases were cited in which seeds of plants found in the wild in a developing country had been taken elsewhere and given patent protection. The country of origin then had to pay to gain access to its native stock. Developing countries also expressed fear that their national development priorities would be subject to foreign commercial control.
Unfortunately, the development of new products and technology for Third World agriculture is already on two tracks. This “duality” between programs mainly for large-scale commercial and small-scale agriculture has sparked fierce debate advocates of peasant-based strategies and “appropriate technology” have faced off against “green revolution” scientists and boosters of high-tech agriculture.
There is a trade-off between the blank check to commercial farmers and attention to the problems of small-scale farmers and landless peasants. Failure to include the rural poor in the priority mix means ever deeper poverty for most of them, accelerated migration into urban slum sand polarization of governments and political options.
Researchers can favor Third World small farmers (and consumers) by favoring the subsistence-type crops upon which these people most depend. While it was still oil-wealthy, Mexico intensified programs to provide improved varieties of basic food crops—maize and beans—to the campesinos. Most frontier agricultural research for the Third World, however, is conducted by institutes coordinated and financed through a World Bank-led Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research.
The modification of energy-conversion technologies represents perhaps the greatest unexploited potential for the rural Third World. If harnessed, latent energy in biomass, wind and solar energy sources could quintuple energy available to Third World villages. Research teams could develop simply designed, low-cost equipment as the United Nation’s has done for water pumps and other essential technology.
Special effort is needed if small farms and landless rural people are to gain priority in research and services. The U.N. FAO and some international agencies have recognized the need, but if results are to reach the farmers, Third World governments must deliberately choose to assist politically impotent rural poor.
楼主发言：1次 发图：0张 | 添加到话题 |