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From the Green Revolution to the gene revolution: how will the poor fare?

The coming 'gene revolution' is often invoked as the successor to the Green Revolution of the 1960s–80s. However, as the authors of this paper point out, there have been important changes in the institutional context since the Green Revolution. In particular, the centre of technological innovation has shifted decisively from the public to the private sector. The new agricultural biotechnologies are reaching farmers through market mechanisms rather than public agencies.

The key problem that arises is that the private multinational sector focuses almost exclusively on commercially valuable crops and traits of interest to developed countries and global markets. Although there may be "spillover benefits", the authors note how difficult it is for public research systems in developing countries and ultimately poor farmers to capture these. The effectiveness of the public sector is often constrained by its narrow focus on national concerns, with too little collaboration across borders.

The report serves a useful purpose in highlighting these issues but raises more questions than it answers. The authors point to public–private collaboration as a possible mechanism for accessing transgenic technologies, but point out the risk that such partnerships may still fail to deliver useful and beneficial technologies to poor farmers. They call for a "third wave of globalisation" to ensure that spillovers reach the poor in future.