Supply-side Science for the South?

TAC's Biotech Gambit

In recent years, the CGIAR ( Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research) has come under fire for a governance structure that far more reflects the orientation of scientists in the North than it does their counterparts in the South. At the time of the CG's second review in 1981, there were slightly more South trustees in the system than North. During the nineties however, the tables have turned, and the North now dominates the roster with most of the trustees and almost all of the key management positions. Since he took over the reins as Chair of the CGIAR in 1994, the World Bank's Ismail Serageldin has fought an uphill battle with the 16 International Agricultural Research Centres (IARCS) that form the CG network in order to increase the role of the South. Many credit Serageldin with limited, but praiseworthy, success.

Surprisingly, although the major improvements in CG governance have come among its handful of system-wide committees and initiatives, its Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) has become a bastion of conservatism. CGIAR has often been dubbed the Invisible IARChy because the $300 million (per annum) organization has functioned for a quarter century without visible ground-rules or by-laws. TAC has been the notable exception. Tradition dictates that half of the CG's scientific advice should come from the South and half from the North. Nowhere else in the CG galaxy is the South/North balance a requirement.

In 1995 however, things started to unglue. Many CG insiders - including past and present TAC members - began to grumble that TAC's scientific credentials were at risk. Critics accused TAC of managing supply-side science" - focussing more on the interests of western scientists than on the needs of the CG's end-users. Some claimed that a "U.S." and even a "private sector" bias was discernible.

Recently, TAC has given its critics more grist for their mills. TAC is establishing two expert panels on biotechnology. Few would question the need of the CG System to stay abreast of developments in this field - nor challenge the necessity of formulating policies to guide their (inevitably) complex relations with the biotech industry. However, the make-up of the panels and the perceived philosophical bent of the CG's major funders, the World Bank, Japan, and the USA, are causing alarm. Critics worry that the biotech panels are intended to prepare the way for CGIAR to adopt a much larger role in agricultural biotechnology once the CG System's Third Review (whose preliminary report is to be tabled in May, 1998) wraps up. In a process titled, "Taking Biotechnology Forward in the CGIAR", TAC is forming two 11-member panels: one to address general scientific issue and; the second to examine issues related to proprietary technologies.

General Composition: The composition of the panels bears no resemblance to the mix of parties normally associated with CG research and has even less in common with mandate interests of the System. Of the 20 individuals who comprise the two panels (two people serve on both panels), 75% are from the North and half are nationals of two countries (USA and UK). Both panel chairs are from the UK. The South's representation is provided by one person each from India, China, Brazil, Chile, and Panama. There is no African participation even though almost 40% of the CG's resources are devoted to sub-Saharan Africa. There is also no representation for West Asia and North Africa (the CG's "WANA" zone.)

There is also a disturbing over-emphasis on the role of the private sector. Although 55% of the combined panels hail from the public sector, the remainder either come directly from companies (35%) or have significant private sector backgrounds (10%). While two people come from non-profit Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), there is no representative of farmers' organizations. Surprisingly, all but one private sector representative is from the North although the CGIAR is attempting to engage the South's entrepreneurial community in its research focus. Only three of the 20 panellists are women.

The Two Panels: From the documents tabled by TAC, it is not clear to what degree the two expert panels will function together. Sam Dryden, President of Big Stone, Inc. and Gary Toenniessen (with Rockefeller's rice programme) are two U.S. citizens who serve on both panels and might be expected to have considerable influence for this reason.

The panel on General Biotechnology has over 80% of its members from the North and no representation from Africa, the Near East, or Latin America. Almost three-quarters of the panellists are exclusively from the public sector. Conversely, two-thirds of the individuals serving on the Proprietary Science and Technology panel are either from the private sector exclusively (55%) or have extensive private sector backgrounds (10%). Three-quarters of this panel are from the North, and there is no voice from Africa, the Near East, or Asia.

Conclusions: There is already wide-spread concern that the make-up of the nine-member CGIAR Review Panel reflects an unhealthy bias toward the private sector (Novartis and Cargill have representation on the main panel) and that the reviewers are also heavily-disposed to press for a greater share of CG resources to flow to biotechnology. Indeed, TAC's biotech panels and the CG Review Panel share at least one member in common. Jozef Shell of Belgium serves on the Review Panel's science sub-panel as well as on TAC's general science panel. The final report of TAC's two expert panels is to coincide with the tabling of the Review Panel's report, although there are indications that both reports could be delayed by three months or more. The extremely heavy bias toward the private sector and the North exacerbates our concern.

It is understandable that the consideration of biotechnology requires significant input from the North and from the private sector in any discussion of the science (panel one). Nevertheless, any evaluation of the science is woefully incomplete without the views of its end-users (NARS and farmers) in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. It is especially important to have the insights of smaller countries who are the main focus of CG research.

While it is also vital to have the perspective and experience of the North's public and private sectors in dealing with the proprietary and political issues slated for the second panel, the very fact that these issues are both "political" and also "developmental" necessitates a diversity of viewpoints from all South regions. The membership of the second panel is remarkably inadequate. Some question...

  • Historically, TAC has been the only body within the CGIAR that is "legislated" to have a balance of South and North members. What is TAC's rationale for such unbalanced scientific panels in this case?
  • Does TAC not recognize that different regions may have different research needs with respect to new biotechnologies?
  • Does TAC not know experts from the South capable of speaking to the subject matter of the two panels... or (equally a cause for concern) does TAC lack sufficient credibility to attract their participation?
  • Does TAC believe that placing one minority voice on each panel amounts to representation from a diversity of viewpoints?
  • Most importantly, what is the linkage between the TAC panels and the CG Review panels? Do the TAC panels pre-empt debate within the other panels on related issues?

Perhaps its time for TAC to try a dose of its own medicine - and subject itself to the kind of external programme and management reviews it has supervised for the CG's IARCS.

The Membership of CGIAR's TAC Biotechnology Panels

Panellist N/ S Country Pub /Priv Comment

Panel One - General Biotechnology
Richard B. Flavell, Chair N UK Pub John Innes and Univ. Of East Anglia
Sam Dryden* N USA Priv President, Big Stone Inc.
Robert Goodman N USA Pub /Priv former Exec. V-P, Calgene now Univ. Wisconsin
Michael Hansen N USA Pub Consumers' Union
Govindarajan Padmanaban S India Pub Third World Academy of Sciences
Peter Quail N AUS Pub UC Berkeley/ Rockefeller
Jozef Schell** N Belgium Pub Max Plank Institute
Josef-Franz Seitzer N Germany Priv Research Director for German based seeds company
Gary Toenniessen* N USA Pub Rockefeller rice programme
Hirofumi Uchimiya N Japan Pub Univ. Of Tokyo
Qifa Zhang S China Pub Huazhong Agricultural University Panel 2 - Intellectual Property Panel
Timothy Roberts, Chair N UK Priv formerly lawyer with ICI/Zeneca
June Blalock N USA Pub /Priv Coordinator of the Technology Licensing Program of the USDA , formerly with International Biotechnologies Inc.
Stephen Crespi N UK Priv Patents Controller at the British Technology Group and background in pharmaceuticals and food industries
Sam Dryden* N USA Priv President, Big Stone Inc.
Robert Horsch N USA Priv Monsanto technology transfer programme
Bernard Le Buanec N France Priv Secretary-General of FIS and active in Assinsel
Marcio de Miranda Santos S Brazil Pub former research director at EMBRAPA
Camila Montecinos S Chile Pub Coordinator of CBDC and member of CLADES
Silvia Salazar-Fallas S Panama Priv lawyer with Federacion de Entidadas Privadas de America Central y Panama
Gary Toenniessen* N USA Pub Rockefeller rice programme
Brian Wright N USA Pub Agricultural economist at UC Berkeley

* Member of both committees;
** Member of the CGIAR Review Panel's Science Committee."

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