IntroductionEgenis Fellow presents case study to key players
Dr Matt Hodges, Research Fellow at Egenis, presented a case study on the Apomixis Consortium to the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) workshop on Public Private Partnerships. The two-day event was hosted in Zurich by the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture, a not-for-profit organization which seeks to improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers. Dr Hodges’ contribution was one of four case studies presented, and drew on his work on the dynamics of public-private involvement in apomixis research.
Apomixis is a form of asexual reproduction through seeds. Theoretically, it could provide the basis of a ‘cloning’ technology for plant breeders, and enable resource-poor farmers to save hybrid seed and fix cultivars (varieties of cultivated plants developed by breeding) for niche microclimates, while reducing production costs for the seed industry. The Consortium grew out of the CIMMYT Apomixis Project, which began in 1989, and is one of the longest-running research projects into apomixis. It is notable for integrating three major seed companies – Limagrain, Pioneer Hi-Bred, and Syngenta – with stakeholders for the resource-poor, in a joint project to create apomictic maize. The CIMMYT-IRD team of scientists who make up the Consortium’s public-sector membership filed the first CGIAR patent application in 1997.
The objective of the workshop was to draw up a detailed set of guidelines for CGIAR’s engagement with the private sector. The participants comprised senior management from CGIAR centres and the private sector, NGOs, and a small contingent from academia. The recommendations will be put before the CGIAR executive for approval, and will provide the foundation for development of CGIAR policy in this area over the coming years.
“This was potentially a landmark in the CGIAR’s engagement with the private sector,” Dr Hodges said. “It was an excellent opportunity for Egenis to demonstrate the relevance of focused anthropological research for such developments and clearly illustrated the value of a social scientific perspective on apomixis. What emerged was the need for sustained investment in frontier research into new agricultural technologies, if the very complex challenges associated with global food security and climate change are to be addressed within the time available to us. At present, short-term funding agendas can seriously restrict such efforts.
“And while collaboration between the public and private sectors would appear to be a pre-requisite for success, there must be flexibility within PPP agreements for the CGIAR and other public-sector stakeholders to pursue emergent lines of enquiry that may produce valuable public goods, but will not necessarily give rise to significant profits. This is particularly the case when working with apomixis. The EU COST* Action FA0903, ‘Harnessing Plant Reproduction for Crop Improvement’, of which Egenis is a founder member, offers a flexible route for public-private interaction which may provide a model for collaboration.”
Case studies and presentations from the workshop are available on the CGIAR website.
* Cooperation in Science and Technology