The International Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology Research (ICABR)

Non technical abstract

Antonio Flavio Dias Avila[2]
Tarcizio Rego Quirino[3]
Elisio Contini[4]

Elíbio Leopoldo Rech Filho[5] Biotechnology research offers a wide range of possibilities to crop improvement.  In the short term its most important contribution is increasing the quantity and quality of global food, feed and fiber production. Plant biotechnology can already produce transgenic seeds that contribute to increased productivity and to sustainable cropping systems that are an essential ingredient to improving responsible use of natural resources and to safeguard the Environment. Brazil is among the developing countries that made significant progress in biotechnology during recent years. The Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuária – EMBRAPA), affiliated with the Ministry of Agriculture, State Research Institutes and Universities, mainly the ones from the state of São Paulo, are doing important and productive work in biotechnology.


The research program of Embrapa in agricultural biotechnology is carried out under the leadership of the Genetic Resources and Biotechnology Research Center. It is presently concentrated on the following areas: identification of genes responsible for resistance to disease and environmental stress in rice; nitrogen fixation in soybean and other leguminous plants; identification of genes and heterosis of importance to agronomy in maize germplasm, with special reference to diseases resistance; characterization of the molecular structure of germplasm targeting increased cattle productivity and resistance to diseases; production of virus-resistant potatoes, beans and papaya; production of herbicide-resistant beans and soybeans (glifosate and imidazolinona); and production of  maize with high methionine level (nutritional quality).


Results obtained in Brazil and others countries and presented in the literature show that investment in agricultural research, such as this made by Embrapa, is highly beneficial, not only to the agricultural community, but also to society as a whole. In the case of agriculture biotechnology research, the first results from the USA and Europe indicate that this is the case as well and that benefits will spread more and more beyond the bounds of farming alone, and will particularly benefit the health and nutrition sectors of the economy.


The preliminary ex-ante impact evaluation of the main research projects developed by Embrapa in biotechnology show that the social and economic benefits are potentially high. Biotechnological research conducted by the institution is in an advanced stage of development and certainly should generate in the next years new, more productive varieties, that use less inputs and have improved resistance to diseases and herbicides. Due the introduction of new characteristics oriented to the quality of nutrition and to health improvement and because of positive changes in the social relationships when the whole food chain is considered, these new biotech products, to be released by the Embrapa centers, most likely will also generate important social benefits for small producers and for consumers as well,.


Preliminary benefits estimated for each one of the five commodities (soybeans, cotton, potatoes, papaya and beans) included in this study showed that the amount spent by the Brazilian society through the Embrapa biotechnology program (US$ 14.4 millions, in 2000) will generate high returns. Only the economics impacts expected from the new transgenic varieties of beans will be enough to compensate these investments. In the same way, the social and environmental impacts expected also present a good perspective to be positive and important for consumers and for small producers as well, because of positive changes in the social relationships between the various new and old components of the productive chains.


Analysis of the research product economic and social potential impacts is being made based on a new approach, namely, productive chain analysis, rather than the traditional analysis at the producer or consumer level. Positive and negative impact is being measured in all the main segments of the chain (inputs industry, rural producers, processing industry, distribution and consumption). The environmental impact is also evaluated. This approach has relative advantages compared to those used in the past because the evaluation is more complete offering answers to questions not solved by the traditional approaches (economic surplus, production function, productivity index) but demanded by the society, especially in developing countries.


            It should be emphasized that Embrapa’s biotechnology research program is in its first stages of development and that the perspectives to obtain more expressive results in the future are very high given the projects in progress and the effort to build a new institutional R&D agenda. Investment in human resources, specially in training in this area, continues to be a main priority and investments in infra-structure (laboratories and equipment) made recently or planned for the near future are also important and justify the expectation of significant results.


            This paper has identified the crops new technologies and potential economic, social and environmental parameters within the production chain and its new components. This will be used to generate information for future empirical ex-ante (and ex-post) evaluation of impacts as part of the on going Embrapa program of technology assessment follow-up studies.


            Given the critical attitude of various segments towards transgenic products, the agricultural research scientists are very conscious from the very beginning to establish empirical base for social, environmental and economic evaluation of the results, and are expecting the strengthening, as much as possible, of the social, economic and ecological components of commodity research programs.

[1]  - Paper submitted to the 5th International Conference of the International Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology Research (ICABR) on "Biotechnology, Science and Modern Agriculture: a New Industry at the Dawn of the Century", Ravello (Italy), June 15-18,2001. This paper could not be written without collaboration of many scientist of Embrapa, particularly to Francisco Lima Aragão, Manoel Teixeira de Souza, Antonio Carlos Torres and Mauro Carneiro, project leaders leading with biotechnology research.

[2]  - Ph.D. Agricultural economist researcher,  Strategic Administration Secretariat, Embrapa

[3]  - Ph.D. Sociologist researcher, Environmental Research Center, Embrapa

[4]  - Ph.D. Economist researcher, Executive Board adviser, Embrapa

[5]  - Ph.D. Biotechnologist researcher, Genetic Resources and Biotechnology Research Center, Embrapa.


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