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[KATHMANDU]  Nepal’s ministry of science and technology plans to establish by 2013 a national biotechnology centre (NBC) to promote research and development in agriculture, health, environment and industry.

By setting up the new centre — estimated to cost US$ 13 million over five years — Nepal hopes to follow the success of its neighbours China and India in biotechnology.

"But without a proper government entity in place you cannot do that," Sameer Dixit, country director of the non-profit Centre for Molecular Dynamics, Nepal, and team leader for the NBC project planning, told SciDev.Net.

Nepal has no government agency to oversee biotechnology development and there has been no significant advance since 1982 when the Nepal Academy of Science and Technology, started a biotechnology unit.

It took until 1997 before a second biotechnology unit could be set up at the Nepal Agriculture Research Council (NARC).

In 2003 Kathmandu University launched the first undergraduate degree in biotechnology and by 2009 Tribhuvan University, Nepal’s oldest and largest public university, had established a masters programme.  

The university programmes produced 50 degree holders per year, but with no industry or job market to assimilate them many had to seek opportunities abroad.

"It seemed like we were teaching biotechnology just to export people to foreign countries en masse,"  observed Mukunda Ranjit, president of the Nepal Biotechnology Association, who is also involved in planning for the NBC.

Once the NBC is set up, the plan is to recruit around 30 graduates each year to work as research assistants as well as collaborate in developing products and services for industrial application.

Bindeshwar Sah, senior scientist and chief of biotechnology at NARC, said the government should be investing first in "existing labs to improve the quality of their output."

Sah suggested a longer-term implementation plan to prevent diversion of resources from existing efforts in developing biotechnology into the proposed NBC, a relatively expensive endeavour.

Dixit, however, does not foresee conflict between the NBC’s mandate and institutions already working in biotechnology. "We will network with the labs, we will not reinvent the wheel."