Biotechnology can revolutionise food production and healthcare in developing nations, but only if these countries build up their scientific capacity, says Indira Nath.
Writing in a Nature supplement published to coincide with the twenty-fifth anniversary of TWAS, the academy of sciences for the developing world, Nath says 'biofortification' — which uses biotechnology to enrich plants with vitamins, proteins and antioxidants — can be used to combat nutrient deficiencies in millions of people. Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Iran, the Philippines and Vietnam all fund research to fortify local rice.
But progress in biotechnology is difficult, argues Nath. Intellectual property rights make access to critical technologies expensive and time consuming. And opposition to genetically modified crops in both the North and South, from those concerned about health and environmental impacts, also impedes advancement.
Developing countries must build an environment conducive to innovation. This means training scientists, building universities, providing funding, forging international links and opening up communication.
Governments must also offer companies incentives to make products that will most benefit their own populations, concludes Nath.