Public-Private Partnerships in North-South Research:
Powerful Tool or Trojan Horse?
Some conclusions following the KFPE workshop of 19 August 2003 in Basel
Learnings about the 11 Principles from a Public-Private Partnership
for GM Crops
The Humanitarian GoldenRice project acts as a backdrop to use in considering the utility of the KPFE 11 Principles for this type of research.
In the 1980s the Rockefeller Foundation developed the idea of nutritional enhancement of rice, which provides the food for half the world daily. The nutritionally enhanced rice would be a potential, additional, tool in alleviation of Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD), which is responsible for 25% of global world micronutrient and malnutrition, and around 6000 deaths daily.
In the 1990s advances in plant biotechnology allowed Professor Ingo Potrykus (ETH) and Dr (now Professor) Peter Beyer (University of Freiburg) to insert three novel genes into rice endosperm, and turn on a previously dormant biosynthetic pathway to produce carotenoids, the precursors necessary for Vitamin A production in man. This momentous achievement was published in Science in 1999.
In 2000 the inventors exchanged with Syngenta, commercial rights to their invention, in return for additional technology and support for their, and the Rockefellers, ideal of making the technology available, free of charge or impediment, to impoverished people in developing countries. The Humanitarian GoldenRice project was born.
A Network of licensees has been put in place, and a Humanitarian Board formed. Research to improve subsequent GoldenRice products continues, as development plans for Golden Rice 1 are put in place, both involving a public: private coalition of interested parties.
The GoldenRice project has gained a high profile, and the battleground of the politics of GM crops has raged around it, especially as it bucks the trend of GM crops only being for pest and disease control of crops, in industrialised countries for the profit of farmers and multinational companies. Bioregulation development, public funding of research, NGOs opposed to GM technology and varying capacities, motivations and behaviours of the different individuals and institutions involved, have all added complexity to the already challenging scientific and cultural aspects of the projects aims.
The author considers the 11 KFPE Principles against his experience with this project since 1999. He concludes that the worthy ideals of the Principles are a useful framework to use in structuring such projects with developing countries. He further proposes that a balance has to be achieved between democratic inclusiveness, and authoritative leadership, if varying capacities are to be harnessed in project realisation for such research partnerships. A Governance framework is described which allows such project leadership to be developed and implemented effectively, whilst including the different perspectives of participants from different sectors of global society.
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