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Biotechnology gap between poor and rich countries widening, UN warns

Biotechnology gap between poor and rich countries widening, UN warns

The promises and potential of biotechnology are not equally shared between developed and developing countries, the United Nations said today.

"The gap between rich and poor farmers, between research priorities and needs, and between technology development and actual technology transfer, is widening," Assistant Director-General, Louise Fresco, of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, warned in a statement issued in Rome.

While vaccines and virus-free plant materials hold great potential, there are currently no serious investments in any of the five most important crops in the semi-arid tropics - sorghum, millet, pigeon pea, chickpea and groundnut, according to the statement.

"This is largely because 70 per cent of the agricultural biotechnology investments are by multinational private sector research, mostly in developed or advanced developing countries," said Ms. Fresco.

To bridge this divide, biotechnological research must be redirected to focus on key challenges facing developing countries, Ms. Fresco stressed, calling for the urgent reversal of the decline in funding to public research and the creation of incentives to harness private-public sector partnerships.

Ms. Fresco also pointed out that biotechnology is only one way to increase food quality and quantity, and choosing the best options to address specific production problems in developing countries should be based on economic, technical, social, trade and safety considerations. She encouraged open dialogue on the benefits and risks of biotechnologies.