If companies really want to combat global poverty and hunger, they must make their technology available for use on select food crops such as rice, cassava and millet by developing countries on a royalty-free basis. Not only will this provide a tremendous boost to world food production, but it also makes good business sense. Acceptance of biotech food crops in the developing world would create market opportunities for commercial crops such as cotton, and would also give the industry a much-needed human face. Would anyone oppose such a plan? Although there’s much willingness among corporate scientists to share technology, their lawyers cannot see beyond the issue of liability. Activists are also to blame. Their opposition to using new technologies in the Third World puts industry in a “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” position.
Clearly, we need an independent middleman to take charge. Catherine Ives of the Agricultural Biotechnology Sustainability Project at Michigan State University believes that a new international agency should be set up to act as a “technology trust” that can assume responsibility for transferring biotechnology to developing countries. A central agency would not only help indemnify companies from liability suits, but would also help negotiate the labyrinth of patent laws and intellectual property claims.
The benefits of agricultural biotechnology are as real as the problems we face. In my native India, every third child is underweight due to malnutrition and 400 million people go to bed hungry every night. In a country where 70 percent of people are associated with farming, technological innovation in agriculture is critical not only to produce more food but also to improve living standards. It’s time for the agricultural biotechnology industry to show a social conscience and clear the way for the harnessing of their newfound knowledge to combat global hunger and malnutrition.