Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project (ABSP) I

From SourceWatch
(Redirected from ABSP-I)
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project (ABSP) I was "a USAID-funded project based in the Institute of International Agriculture at the Michigan State University."[1] ABSP, or ABSP I as it is now known, ran from 1991 until 2003.[2] Around that time, USAID launched its successor project, Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project (ABSP) II.

"Since 1991 ABSP, in collaboration with other US universities and the private sector, has integrated research, product development and policy/regulatory development to assist developing countries in accessing and generating biotechnology and in establishing a regulatory framework for the adoption of biotech crops."[1]

As of 2002, ABSP focused on biotechnology in plants, and specifically on "Capacity building in: R&D, Intellectual Property Rights (IPR), Technology Transfer and Biosafety" in its partner countries of Costa Rica, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Morocco, and South Africa, and its regional partners of East and Central Africa and Southern Africa.[1]

Roots of ABSP: National Research Council Report

In the late 1980s, USAID's Office of Agriculture commissioned the National Research Council's Board on Science and Technology for International Development to "convene an NRC-appointed panel and a group of experts for two days of discussions concerning priorities in plant biotechnology research that could benefit agriculture in developing countries in the relatively near future."[3] The meeting occurred in September 1989, and the resulting report, published in April 1990, was the basis for ABSP I.[4] The agenda and participant list for the two-day meeting were drawn up by Michael Dow of the BOSTID staff, Joel I. Cohen of USAID's Bureau for Science and Technology, and Robert W. Herdt, who chaired the BOSTID group.

The report recommended that USAID help developing nations put in place Biosafety and Intellectual Property laws, and also help with training and networking for scientists in those countries. About biosafety, the report said:

"Developing countries could modify U.S. standards to fit their needs, rather than starting from scratch. But they need objective, authoritative advice. Many countries have difficulty in deciding which products to license and which companies to allow to develop and test products, and as a result, err on the side of caution, so that the use of safe products is not being permitted. This suggests an important role for AID's technical assistance through USAID missions and regional programs."

The technologies it recommended promoting included tissue culture, micropropagation, and genetic engineering. It recommended projects that identify and clone strains of Bt useful in developing countries and develop genetically engineered crops that produce Bt, develop anti-viral strategies (including genetically engineering virus-resistant plants), discover pathogen diagnostic probes, and map the genomes of tropical crops. The report also noted that creating GMOs that can fix their own nitrogen is complex and difficult, but perhaps a project could focus on improving the nitrogen fixation capacity of legumes. Additionally, creating drought and salt tolerant plans was seen as difficult, "but selection of salt-tolerant strains of plants for salinized area by plant breeding may offer useful opportunities."

The two-day meeting began with opening remarks by USAID Director for Agriculture William Furtick, who said, "The new actor is the private sector... We have to reach out to both public- and private-sector scientists. How to bring them together? Here the role of the IARCs [International Agricultural Research Centers] is to serve as a focal point to bring the actors together." He also said in his remarks:

"Its [The United States'] emphasis is still on sustainability of agriculture and protection of the environment, using low-input technology. Plant biotechnology is most promising to support sustainability, particularly through disease and pest control, economic benefits of seed technology, low use of pesticides through plant-pest resistance, and diagnostics for identifying pathogens."

David D. Bathrick also gave opening remarks, in which he said that "Now what AID is looking for are not only new research priorities but "new ways of doing business" through linkages with the IARCs and with private sector activities."

During the meeting, USAID officials said they expected about $9 million would be available to fund biotechnology at USAID over the next five years, although more money could come from individual USAID missions and from regional programs. They asked the participants to make a list of priorities.


The meeting participants included:[3]

USAID Staff:

  • David D. Bathrick, Director, Office of Agriculture, Bureau for Science and Technology
  • Judith Chambers, AAAS Fellow, Office of Agriculture, Bureau for Science and Technology
  • Eugene R. Chiavaroli, Assistant Administrator, Bureau for Science and Technology
  • Joel I. Cohen, Biotechnology and Genetic Resource Specialist, Office of Agriculture, Bureau for Science and Technology
  • Vincent Cusumano, Office of Agriculture, Bureau for Science and Technology
  • William Furtick, Acting Agency Director, Food and Agriculture, Bureau for Science and Technology
  • Lance Jepson, Agriculture and Natural Resources, Office of Technical Resources, Bureau for Africa
  • Robert Schaffert, Office of Agriculture, Bureau for Science and Technology

National Research Council Staff:

  • Michael Dow, Board on Science and Technology for International Development
  • Jay Davenport, Board on Science and Technology for International Development
  • Maurice Fried, Board on Science and Technology for International Development
  • John Pino, Board on Agriculture


The objectives of ABSP are to "establish a policy framework in developing countries that promotes the use and adoption of agricultural biotechnology products," and to "improve marketed crops through strategic research partnerships between the US and Developing Country public and private sectors."[1]


A 2004 article by Lawrence Kent of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center calls USAID's biotech work such as ABSP "the best hope" for public funding for R&D for biotechnology for developing countries. This is significant in the context of his greater argument, summarized below:[5]

"Agricultural biotechnology offers great potential benefits to farmers in developing countries, but so far only a small handful of genetically modified (GM) crop products have been planted in only a few developing countries. This paper discusses the reasons why more GM crops have not reached farmers in more developing countries. It argues that publicly funded research efforts have largely failed, so far, in developing GM crops adapted to developing country needs, because of inadequate funding and insufficient focus on producing products. It argues that privately created GM technologies-such as Bt maize-have a better chance of reaching farmers in developing countries, but the transfer of such technologies is hampered by high biosafety regulatory costs, high seed regulatory costs, inadequate intellectual property protection, and local concerns about losing export markets. Overcoming these obstacles will require more money and product focus in public sector institutions, expanded efforts to improve regulatory environments, and the nurturing of local farmer constituencies for GM technologies."

Kent notes that Agricultural Biotechnology Support Program (ABSP) began in 1991 "with a core budget of about $6 million and an additional $8.6 million of support from country offices, some of which it invested in projects such as research on transgenic potatoes at Michigan State University and transgenic tomatoes at the International Laboratory for Tropical Agricultural Biotechnology (ILTAB)."[5] He goes on, saying:

"However, this program failed to achieve its key objective of "bringing a transgenic product to the stage of commercialization" (Brenner, Sampaio, Sittenfeld, & Thro, 2001, p. vi). The next phase — ABSP-II — is expected to invest more in such product-focused projects; however, its overall research budget is quite limited and probably adequate to fund only a handful of projects, and even those only partially. Fundraising efforts directed at companies and philanthropic foundations have succeeded in some cases, but rarely, and the resulting funds are adequate to cover only small portions of the costs associated with developing transgenic products. The Rockefeller Foundation has been the most generous, but its focus is now on establishing a new institution called the African Agricultural Transfer Foundation (AATF) and less on funding specific R&D projects. In Europe, the political controversy surrounding biotechnology has made it extremely difficult to raise funds to develop transgenic products.

Partner Organizations

Between 1991 and 2002, partner organizations in the United States included:[1]

International partner organizations included:[1]

Articles and Resources

Related SourceWatch Articles


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 ABSP : Biotechnology Development in Africa – 1991 – 2002, Institute of International Agriculture, Michigan State University, USAID – African Partnership in Biotechnology: Strategies for Biotechnology in Africa, Nairobi, Kenya 21-23 October 2002.
  2. Past Projects, Accessed September 5, 2011.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Plant biotechnology research for developing countries: report of a panel of the Board on Science and Technology for International Development, National Research Council, Washington, D.C.,National Academy Press, April 1990.
  4. Johan Brink, "Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project Final Report."
  5. 5.0 5.1 Lawrence Kent, "What's the Holdup? Addressing Constraints to the Use of Plant Biotechnology in Developing Countries," AgBioForum, Volume 7, Number 1 & 2, Article 12.
  6. CABI, Accessed September 5, 2011.

External Resources

External Articles