The bio-tech solution

Posted: ফেব্রুয়ারি 7, 2009 in Uncategorized

INFORMATION and Communications Technology (ICT) and bio-technology are the two technologies that have made the biggest impact on human development in the last quarter century. The importance of ICT is well understood in Bangladesh and the in-coming government has promised a “Digital Bangladesh” by 2021.

On the other hand the impact and potential of modern bio-technology is poorly understood by our policy makers even though this technology is likely to be one of the strongest weapons for attaining sufficiency in food and essential medicines, and for employment and wealth creation.

Even now traditional bio-technology is being used in rural areas for the production of bio-gas and bio-fertilisers from household and agricultural waste. Setting up of small production units throughout the country would help to meet some of our energy and fertiliser requirements, reduce pollution, and create jobs for the rural youth. However, it is modern bio-technology that will provide the biggest long-term benefits in innumerable ways of which only a few are mentioned here.

One of the biggest challenges facing Bangladesh is long-term food security. In spite of the doubling of population since independence we had become largely self sufficient in food production by 1998 mainly due to the introduction of high-yielding crop varieties and use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides.

Since then, the situation has gone from bad to worse due to increasing population and decreasing arable land. Although marginal increase in food production can be achieved through better management and governance, and the use of improved hybrid technology, the existing technology has reached its limit. Global warming will put further pressure on domestic and international food production, and the vagaries of the international market will make uncertain the availability of imported food.

Under these adverse conditions modern bio-technology could enable us to increase local food production through the development and adoption of genetically modified high-yielding crop varieties (after very vigorous safety assessment) that are naturally resistant to diseases and adverse environmental conditions.

R&D investment in niche areas of existing strength and resources could help to improve our international competitiveness and lead to substantial export earnings.

Modern bio-technology could help us to regain our predominant position as a producer and exporter of jute and jute products through the production of genetically modified jute varieties with improved fibre qualities and better ability to withstand diseases and adverse environmental stress.

The pharmaceutical industry in Bangladesh has already made very significant inroads into the international market for generic medicines. The market potential would be even better with genetically engineered bio-pharmaceuticals and vaccines. Export earnings could easily surpass that of the currently dominant garment industry.

Bangladesh is endowed with a very rich and unique bio-diversity and a wealth of indigenous knowledge systems in traditional medicines. This combined with modern multidisciplinary technologies can result in new drugs for diseases that devastate the health and economies of the developing world, and create jobs for the scientifically trained manpower in Bangladesh.

In the rapidly advancing countries of the developing world such as India, China and Brazil, and in other emerging economies, modern bio-technology has made a huge impact on national development. The biggest mover in the development of bio-technology in these countries has been their respective governments. India’s amazing transformation into a bio-technology powerhouse has been spearheaded by an independent Department of bio-technology which has not only generously funded basic and applied research but has also helped to develop an atmosphere conducive to commercialisation.

In response to the government’s Bio-technology Policy, and taking cognisance of the very sorry plight of the National Institute of Bio-technology (NIB), resident and expatriate scientists produced a position paper and a set of recommendations (see Forum, June 2007) for the development of bio-technology and the implementation of the national Bio-technology Policy. These were endorsed by over 300 bio-technologists at a conference held in Dhaka last year on “Promotion of Bio-technology” (Daily Star, April 9, 2007), and submitted to the advisors of MOSICT, health and agriculture in April, 2007. The bio-technology community is still waiting for a response.

A number of policy guidelines on bio-ethics, bio-safety, IP and IPR and other technology transfer issues were also adopted at a recent international symposium on “Safety and Regulatory Issues in the Commercialisation of Bio-technology Research” held in Dhaka in December 2008. The symposium, attended by international experts from 12 different countries, strongly recommended substantial government and private sector funding for R&D and capacity development, and appropriate incentives to local industry for commercialisation of bio-technology products and services.

It would be very much appreciated if ministers of relevant departments (MOSICT, agriculture, health, environment, industry, etc) could kindly act on the specific recommendations from the bio-technology community and activate the parliamentary standing committee on bio-technology. It is also hoped that the government will make use of policy documents already prepared by the bio-technology community and call on their expertise for implementation of the national Bio-technology Policy.

Ahmed A Azad is a former Scientific Advisor, International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (Trieste), and Professor of Medical Biotechnology, University of Cape Town. Email:

The daily star 08.02.2009


  1. Plammabrota বলেছেন:

    Create pure drinking water with our Atmospheric Water Generators

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