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[KANDY, SRI LANKA] Sri Lanka is giving a strong push to biotechnology, with a national policy in place and plans for an apex council to expand and coordinate biotech activities, an international conference has heard.

The country, that emerged from decades of civil war in 2009, has identified biotechnology as one of its national priorities in agriculture, K. Karunatilake, secretary from the ministry of agriculture, told the 5th Asian Biotechnology and Development Conference in Kandy last week (15–17 December).

Sri Lankan agriculture is marked by deficiencies in productivity, technological innovation, quality seeds, workforce credit flow as well as poor access to international markets, he said.

Current funding for biotechnology is a low three per cent of the total research and development budget of the Council for Agriculture Research Policy that oversees much of biotech research.

“We have had fragmented efforts in the past. We need a coordinated approach,” Anil Jayasekhara, professor at the department of plant sciences, University of Colombo, told the conference.  
“Researchers, institutes and collaborations are all there. We need national policies to meet the needs of the people,” said Athula Perera, senior professor at the University of Peradeniya. “We need funds to meet national objectives. We need an apex body to coordinate all research activities because lots of ministries are involved.”
Already, Sri Lanka’s national committee on biotechnology at the Colombo-based National Science Foundation has developed a national biotechnology strategy, approved by the Cabinet in July 2010.
William Padolina, deputy director-general, International Rice Research Institute, the Philippines, who chaired a special session on Sri Lankan biotechnology on 16 December, said the country needed "a bioinformatics programme to handle the large volumes of information generated in genomics studies and projects in medicine and agriculture”.
Plans are afoot to set up a national biotechnology council to provide direction to biotechnology strategy as well as institutional arrangement to promote biotechnology in agriculture, health, environment, energy and industry.

Under its national science, technology and innovation strategy for next five years the country will set up a national centre for excellence in advanced technology which will include biotechnology, nanotechnology and information technology. Inputs from this centre will feed into the proposed biotechnology council.