Rockefeller Project - Rockefeller Initiative

Dr. Cynthia P. Schneider
Georgetown University
301 706 9260


Ethics Meets the Marketplace: Towards a Model Framework Harnessing the Potential of the Life Sciences to Improve Agriculture and Animal Agriculture in the Developing World


Project Funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, Global Inclusion Division

Principal Investigator: Ambassador and Dr. Cynthia P. Schneider, Georgetown University

Consultant: Dr. Alexandra Shields, Georgetown University


Goals and Framework


The goal of this project is to develop a model framework for establishing public/private partnerships to adapt life science-based innovations to the task of building sustainable agricultural capacity in the developing world. The Principle Investigator, Dr. Cynthia P. Schneider seeks to develop both ethical and practical guidelines for establishing public-private partnerships that will help to address the challenges of hunger, malnutrition, and sustainability faced by millions in the developing world. The guidelines will be based on “best (and worst) practices “drawn from research into extant public/private partnerships in both agriculture and health, as well as from selected for profit and not for profit operations in the developing world. The P.I. is intentionally casting the net wide, including the health field, in recognition of the fact that good ideas about how to address problems of hunger and malnutrition, disease, and sustainability can come from all sectors.


Three assumptions underlie this project: 1) public-private partnerships that are integral to the strategic plan of the private partner ( as opposed to short term public relations) can significantly contribute to sustainable development, poverty reduction, improved nutrition and health in the developing world; 2) life-science based innovations hold promise for improving agriculture and animal agriculture in the developing world; 3) the “developing world” world encompasses vastly different socio-economic communities, and these different conditions – for example, in Brazil, Mexico, or South Africa as compared to Kenya or Uganda -- necessitate different approaches to public-private partnerships.


The project will be successful if it provides concrete guidance, backed by actual experiences, which can be used by either the private or public sector in building sustainable partnerships that benefit the public and private partners as well as their developing world clients. The final report will include both the ethical and practical guidelines and an appendix of “best and worst practices in public-private partnerships in the developing world”. To the greatest extent possible the conclusions in the report will be grounded in actual experience.

Preliminary Findings from Initial Trip to Kenya and Uganda


  • Agricultural research in National Research Institutions (KARO and NARO) is world class
  • The problem lies in the gap between research and implementation in to products that can be bought and distributed
  • Currently this role is being filled by: NGOs, the public sector research institutions, seed companies and the one tissue culture processing lab each in Kenya and Uganda
  • Seed companies new since dissolution of national seed companies; supported by Rockefeller and doing fairly well. Still need capitalization and private support to compete successfully.
  • Most serious implementation gap lies in lack of small companies to translate research lab innovation into products (Bananas, cassavas) -- no small companies, little or no venture capital, no incubators, only one tissue culture lab each in Kenya and Uganda
  • Tissue culture does not have to go through same regulation as GM seed
  • Lack of regulatory structure ( Uganda) or costly, relatively inflexible regulatory structure ( Kenya) plus public opinion also impact difficulty of translating research into products
  • Uganda currently does not have regulatory structure in place to govern introduction of genetically modified plants
  • Ugandan and Kenyan government authorities and publics still torn between U.S. and Europe on advisability and efficacy of genetically modified plants
  • A serious problem is the lack of a local private biotech sector, even tissue culture labs. Research labs and NGOs insufficient for manufacturing and distributing new plants.
  • Tissue culture does not have to go through same regulation as GM seed, so can be done now in Uganda and easier to do in Kenya than GM seed


  • Public/private partnerships do not necessarily involve a financial investment by the private sector. They may also involve the donation of technology and/or intellectual property. The legal dimensions and ramifications of these non-monetary arrangements – intellectual property, liability -- currently are handled on an ad hoc basis.
  • Liability appears to be the most significant deterrent for potential private sector donations of IP and/or technology for use in the developing world.
  • Ideas for solving liability fears: 1) seek insurance from USG for humanitarian donations; 2) incorporate in Great Britain with higher threshold for liability; 3) USG to support an indemnity fund on the model of the Federal Indemnity for the Arts and Humanities; 4) work through international treaties, such as Plant Genetic Resources Treaty (addition to treaty binding signatories to no law suit in cases of humanitarian donations)
  • Monsanto implements public/private partnership every time it introduces seeds into a new country because it distributes though local seed companies




In agriculture, as in health, hygiene and other areas, scientific research has yielded exciting discoveries that have the potential to improve the lives and livelihoods of the millions who depend on agriculture for both sustenance and income. These innovations include characteristics of drought and pest resistance, as well as bio-fortification with nutrients and vitamins. Recent studies and reports have re-affirmed the value of life science research in agriculture and its application to problems afflicting the developing world.


The greatest challenge lies in delivering the benefits of scientific research to those who need them most. The lack of viable markets, investment and regulatory hurdles all thwart the translation of research into reality. For example, how can market incentives sufficient for private investment be created for growing the sturdier and vitamin and nutrient enriched varieties of cassava - a crop of critical importance for South America and Africa, but with no market value in the developed world? Regulatory systems further complicate developing technologies and products for the poor: when desirable traits cost about one million dollars apiece and require more than twenty years of research and trials to be approved, how can public sector agricultural centers afford to translate research into reality?

A consensus is emerging that public/private partnerships hold the greatest promise in translating the fruits of research into systems and products that can improve daily life in the developing world. A belief in that consensus, as well as recognition of the challenge of squaring the circle of public and private interests in agriculture underscores this project. Private companies have financial resources, research experience, and manufacturing and distribution capabilities that the public sector cannot match. In addition, a genuine private sector investment in research and/or production for the developing world promises a sustained commitment with positive repercussions for education and living standards. While on one level the interests of the public and private sector diverge over the issues of profits and intellectual property, on the other hand, both share a desire to attack global problems, and each recognizes the value of the other. The private sector offers the public access to research and resources as well as organizational and implementation skills; participating in a public private partnership enhances the image of the corporation, can provide additional data on proprietary pharmaceuticals, and may offer expanded markets for the future. In fact, a case can be made that with sensitivity to local needs and conditions, for profit businesses can both increase capital and meet developing world needs. All this is not to say that purely philanthropic

Examples are Realizing the Promise and Potential of African Agriculture, InterAcademy Council, 2004 (; Global Challenges and Directions for Agricultural Biotechnology, National Academy of Science Committee, chaired by Dr. Calestous Juma ( ); The Use of Genetically Modified Crops in Developing Countries, Nuffield Council of Bioethics, 2004; Celebrating Cassava Diversity,: Sixth International Scientific Meeting of Cassava Biotechnology Network, Cali, Columbia March 9-14, 2004.

Cynthia P. Schneider, “The Science is Not Enough”, Journal of BioLaw and Business, forthcoming.

Roger Beachy , “Developing Partnerships to Facilitate Agricultural Biotechnology for Developing Countries”; Willy de Greef, “Agriculture in the Age of Regulation”; Ronnie Coffman, “Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project II”, all delivered in the “Agricultural and Safe Food Sufficiency” session at the conference The New Life Sciences: Ethics, Patents, and the Poor, Alexandria, Bibliotheca Alexandrina, April 3-6, 2004.

Adetokunbo Lucas, “Public-Private Partnerships: Illustrative Examples”, Workshop on Public-
Private Partnerships in Public Health, Dedham, Mass. April 7-8, 2000; David J. Spielman and Klaus von Grebmer, “Public-Private Partnerships in Agricultural Research: An analysis of Challenges Facing Industry and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research”, International Food Policy Research Institution (IFRI), January 2004.

See the proceedings of the conference, “Eradicating Poverty through Profit”, sponsored by the World

Resources Institute (Dec.12-14, 2004;



donations of funds, personnel, and materials do not make a valuable impact on the problems of the developing world; they do. But the goal of this project is to explore the ways and means that will attract more private investment, in partnership with public institutions, to address fairly and effectively the dire needs of the developing world.

Ambassador Cynthia P. Schneider | Tel. 202 687 0703 | |