The International Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology Research (ICABR)

Non technical abstract


Institutions and Institutional

 Capacity in Biotechnology – An 

India Case Study

Valerie Rhoe, 
Sivramiah Shantharam, 
 Suresh Babu
International Food Policy Research Institute


Biotechnology research and commercialization is rapidly growing in several industrialized countries, but this similar speed has not been experienced in developing countries. There are several reasons for this slow catching up on biotechnology.  First, there is a lack of scientific capacity to perform biotechnology research.  Second, the adaptation of research into products is slow and tedious.  Third, appropriate policies that promote biotechnology are not effectively implemented, and finally, institutions that facilitate the generation and transfer of biotechnology are less efficiently organized.  


In spite of the potential benefits, the transfers of biotechnology and their adoption in developing countries continue to face several challenges.  This paper is an attempt to look at the role of institutions in facilitating the promotion and use of biotechnology for agricultural development. Several questions remain to be answered.  What role, if any, do formal and informal institutions play in biotechnology transfers?  What policies should be in place to enhance the role of institutions in biotechnology transfers?  


Conceptual Framework

A conceptual framework is developed to analyze the biotechnology institutions for technology development and transfer.   If agricultural biotechnology R &D is to occur, then adequate funding is needed, which can be generated through the public and private sectors.  Once sufficient funding is acquired, basic research can begin.  In order to turn basic research into applied research, IPRs need to be established and enforceable.  Applied research will then generate agricultural technologies; however, bio-safety regulations are necessary for implementation.  After a product has been commercialized, farmers can obtain this new GM seed from the market or a government program.

India’s Biotechnology Institutional Framework

The key actors in India’s biotechnology institutional framework are the Review Committee of Genetic Manipulation (RCGM), the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR).  The RCGM reviews and approves GM inputs for research and small-scale projects.   The GEAC approves field test for large-scale projects and the importation of GM crops for commercialization.  ICAR facilitates technology transfers.         


Review of the Agricultural Process Grant Fund (APCF) Program

A research grants program in India is reviewed for analyzing Indian biotechnology institutions.    Some constraints of the APCF Program are: no standardized guidelines on conflict of interest and evaluation criteria, limited constructive advice, no computerized grants database, lack of logistical support, difficulty in obtaining timely reviews, junior level scientists discourage to apply for grants, and the lack of financial control of grant funds by the Principal Investigator. 


Four steps could assist in efficiently organizing this process. The first step is the establishment of a separate Science Advisory Committee to examine the deficiencies in the current system. The second step is to determine research priorities, revamp the proposal request process and to describe each program. The third step is to revise the current manuals and procedures.  The fourth step is to train program managers, Chief Scientists, Project Screening Committee Chairmen, potential panel members, and others. 

Lesson Learned from Indian Experience

This case study provides the following lessons: 

        Efficient administrative structure will assist in distributing grants more effectively. 

        Submission deadline and detailed and clear application instruction will increase efficiency.

        Streamlined mechanism for disbursement of grant funds will encourage researchers to apply.

        A computerized information database of the grants office will make monitoring easier. 

        Procedures and rules governing grant applications and the availability of funds need to be communicated to the scientific community and research institutions in a timely manner.

        The Principal Investigator needs flexibility to operate and manage his/her grant funds.

        A small number of priority areas will allow adequate funding. 

        Women, minority, and multi-disciplinary representatives will improve the review process.

        Professional researchers need a period of renewal.

        Funding designed specifically to encourage young investigators should be established.

        Funding for products, processes, and commodities that are commercialized in partnership with private sector industries and ICAR scientists will quicken this process

        An impact assessment program is needed to assess the overall progress of the program.

        Incentives will improve performance and recognize outstanding professionals.  


Benefits of an Efficiently Organized Biotechnology Institute

First, a sound review process provides an opportunity for individual scientists to present new ideas in a cogent manner for review by a select group of competent scientists.  Second, the process examines costly research proposals before the major investment of time and effort. Third, it provides recognition of a scientist's professional stature.  Fourth, it provides intensive training.  Fifth, administrators would benefit greatly from reading the reviews of proposals.  Sixth, the feedback mechanism should elevate the quality of agricultural research.  Seventh, there is a major investment in human resource development for the future.



In order for biotechnology R&D and commercialization to progress certain policies need to be implemented.  First, IPR s and biosafety regulations need to be implemented.  Second, public-private collaborations policies are essential for commercialization. Third, incentives for R&D may be needed.  Fourth, policies that enhance capacity are essential.  Fifth, policies that provide credit to the resource poor farmer need to be formed. At a micro level, institutions need to be well organized, promote collaboration and have strategic management in order for commercialization and research to occur.  Institutions need to set priorities and programs need to be periodically evaluated.


Further research is needed to understand the savings in the transaction costs of better-organized institutions.  Unless appropriate institutions are created and organized effectively, the benefits of biotechnology may not be fully realized in developing countries.

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