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Biotechnology R&D: Policy Options to Ensure Access and Benefits for the Poor

This FAO 'working paper' - which was prepared as background material for the 2003 issue of The State of Food and Agriculture - discusses concerns that private sector dominance of biotechnology research and the extensive patenting of new discoveries prevent poor farmers from benefiting from biotechnology.

The authors, Carl E. Pray and Anwar Naseem of Rutgers University, United States, provide a focused overview of the status of crop biotechnology research worldwide and analyse the influence of intellectual property rights (IPRs) on diffusion of the technology. They explore the idea of an optimal degree of 'appropriability' that maximises the total social value of biotechnology research and which yields a socially desirable distribution of the benefits.

The paper then describes various policy measures that could focus more biotechnology research on the problems of the poor, in both the public and private sectors and through public private partnerships. Specific recommendations include that groups are developed to lobby for the interests of the poor, and that "more efficient" biosafety regulations and stronger IPRs are established to encourage privately funded research. 

A related paper - The Economics of Agricultural Biotechnology Research - provides more detail on the economic determinants and impacts of agricultural research, and surveys public and private research in both developed and developing countries since the green revolution.

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