Equal rights

THE Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) will hand over its collection of 610,000 varieties of crop germplasm -- the largest in the world -- to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, to ensure that plant breeders all over the world have equal accessibility to this valuable material. This decision was taken at a meeting held in New Delhi from May 24 to May 27.

It is alleged that this rich inventory of germplasm is not always readily available to plant breeders. Says V L Chopra, director-general of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, "On occasion, our scientists have even been denied access to germplasm that originated from India."

Says CGIAR chairperson Ismail Serageldin: "All countries will have equal rights to this material, as decision-making in the FAO rests in the collective hands of member countries." Moreover, the private sector had direct access to this germplasm, which they manipulated before patenting. Under the new system, they will have to go through the national agricultural research systems in their countries.

Representatives at the meeting also expressed concern about the severe resource crunch CGIAR has been facing. Contributions from donor countries have fallen rapidly. In 1993 CGIAR received $18 million less than it had in 1992, largely because of a $6.5 million reduction in the US contribution. The Canadian, Swedish and British governments also reduced their contribution by more than $2 million each that year. US contributions fell by another $8 million this year and are expected to drop by $10 million in 1995.

Serageldin stressed the need to reorient CGIAR's research to use these scarce resources efficiently. In an attempt to trim the fat it was decided to wind up the Nairobi-based International Laboratory for Research on Animal Diseases and the International Network for the Improvement of Banana and Plantain in France.

However, there was some cheer in the midst of this gloom, as the World Bank decided to contribute $40 million to help CGIAR overcome a crisis. Efforts are also being made to generate funds from other sources.