(STAR) By Rudy A. Fernandez - The "biotechnology revolution" continues to sweep developed and developing countries, bringing boon to millions of farmers who have chosen to produce genetically modified (GM) crops.

"Biotechnology is potentially the most powerful technology ever developed," asserted Dr. A.H. Zakri, director of the Tokyo, Japan-based Institute of Advanced Studies of the United Nations University (UNU).

"Its possibilities," he continued, "are only just beginning to be understood. Understanding its full impact on our lives, our economies, and our use of the planet is many years away."

Dr. Zakri was keynote speaker at the Asian conference billed "Pathways to Agricultural and Rural Development: Intellectual Property Rights and Implications" held recently at the New World Renaissance Hotel in this city.

The top-level conference was sponsored by the Los Baños-based Southeast Asian Regional Center for Resources Institute (IPGRI), and International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAA).

Attended by intellectual property rights (IPR) experts from various parts of the world, the conference highlighted the state of IPR in Asia, its benefits to society, policies and governance issues, constraints and opportunities in international platforms in biodiversity, capacity building, and conservation and sustainable use of genetic resources.

Opening program speakers included SEARCA director Dr. Arsenio Balisacan, IPGRI regional director Dr. Percy Sajise, ISAAA global coordinator Dr. Randy Hautea, and former Department of Education (DepEd) secretary Dr. Edilberto de Jesus, now director of the Bangkok, Thailand-based SEAMEO (Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization) secretariat.

Six papers on IP biotechnology, biodiversity, and IPR were presented by Dr. Tanit Changthavon of Thailand, International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) deputy director general Dr. William Padolina, Dr. Sajise, lawyer Silvia Salazar of Costa Rica, Dr. Surendra Bhandari of Nepa, and Lim Bing Eng Siang of IPGRI.

In his keynote address,Dr. Zakri discussed the complex relationship of IPR and agricultural biotechnology.

There are numerous types of IPRs relevant to this relationship, such as patents, plant variety rights, licenses, trademarks, and sui generis systems such as farmers’ rights, he explained. They support, and sometimes hinder, the numerous technologies that underpin agricultural and rural development in many ways.

"Undoubtedly, the most significant impact of biotechnology in the developing world to date has been with regard to biotech crops," he said.

Citing ISAA data, he said that 11 developing countries now use GM crops.

Although the United States has remained the main grower of GM crops, Argentina, Brazil, China, Paraguay, India, South Africa, Uruguay, and Mexico are now significant growers of such commodities.

More than one-third (33.9 million hectares) of the global biotech crop area in 2005 was grown in developing countries. The increasing collective impact of the five principal developing countries (China, India, Argentina, Brazil, and South Africa) is an important trend with implications for the future adoption and acceptance of biotech crops worldwide, Dr. Zakri said.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has also concluded that Argentina, Brazil, China, Cuba, Egypt, India, Mexico, and South Africa now have well-developed agricultural biotechnology programs.

In addition, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand now have medium-scale biotechnology programs.

As also documented by ISAAA, biotech crops, as of 2005, had been grown by about 8.5 million farmers in 21 countries. Most (90 percent) of these farmers were resource-poor from developing countries.

"The increasing use of biotech crops by the poor and their contribution to the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) is an important development for the second decade of commercialization from 2006 to 2015," Dr. Zakri stressed.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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