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Planet Ark World Environment News Egypt researches biotech crops, sees income

Date: 19-Mar-02
Country: EGYPT
Author: David Brough

Magdy Madkour, director of the state-backed Agriculture Genetic Engineering Research Institute (AGERI), said prospects of increased crop yields from biotechnology appealed to Egypt because the country has limited arable land, only one source of water, the Nile, and a growing population.

Crops spliced with genes can boost yields and resistance to pests, drought and salinity. They can also reduce reliance on expensive chemical pesticides.

Independently or jointly with some U.S. biotech companies, AGERI is genetically engineering cotton, maize, wheat, tomatoes, potatoes and other crops experimentally, Madkour told a biotechnology conference.

"We hope to get the biotech cotton to the market very soon," he told delegates.

The conference, which runs until Tuesday, is a rare opportunity for scientists in the developing world to discuss the impact of biotechnology on food, health and the environment.

AGERI is developing GM cotton resistant to insects in cooperation with U.S. life sciences company Monsanto , Madkour said.

"We are paving the way for the acceptance of transgenic cotton in Egypt," he said.

Egyptian cotton, among the world's finest, is the country's main agricultural export. Agriculture contributes 20 percent of Egypt's export earnings.

AGERI is working with U.S. biotech group Pioneer to develop GM commercial maize varieties resistant to the stem borer pest.

"In agreements of this kind, intellectual property rights must be worked out beforehand," Madkour said, adding that AGERI expected to share income from new patents.

"The relationship between AGERI, an Egyptian public sector institution, and Pioneer, a U.S. private company, was forged through a relationship that involved common business interests," the scientist said.

Separately, AGERI scientists are working on GM potato strains resistant to insects and viruses, GM tomatoes resistant to pests, drought-and salinity-resistant GM wheat, and GM melons and squashes able to fight off viruses.

In a public-private partnership, AGERI, in cooperation with a new company Biogro International, has developed a biological pesticide, now marketed as Agerin, Madkour said.

Egypt began its biotechnology research programme in 1990.

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