Dr Lloyd Evans, honorary research fellow of Canberra-based Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), has urged biotech companies to forego royalties on their patented GM innovations if they are to be used for breeding better crops in developing countries.

Delivering a lecture entitled "Malthusian concerns and agricultural revolutions", Evans pointed out that in recent years, publicly funded agricultural research in and for developing countries has witnessed a steady decline. This, he argues, must be turned around with public and private sector partnerships.

Innovations in biotechnology and agriculture have increased, said Evans, but they are not yet available to the small farmers of many developing countries. Publicly funded research by national and international agricultural research centres is therefore needed to enable the so-called "gene revolution" to help farmers.

"Nearly all future growth in the world population will take place in the developing countries. That is where the next agricultural revolution is most needed."

"Of the more than 1,000m farms in India, three quarters are one hectare or less in area and scattered across a wide range of environments. The farmers require varieties adapted to their local conditions and many can afford only limited inputs, unlike the private sector," he added.

Evans added that governments must foster public-private partnerships for agricultural research to address the pressing issue of food security.