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FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Improved access to agricultural biotechnologies needed to help defeat hunger, malnutrition and poverty in the Asia-Pacific region

11/09/2017 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Smallholder farmers in the world’s hungriest and most populous region need greater access to  biotechnologies to improve food and nutrition security and fight poverty, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization said today.

While the safe agricultural uses of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) continue to monopolize the debate, FAO is urging countries in Asia and the Pacific to adopt a more holistic approach and consider the wider range of low- to high-tech solutions present in the biotechnology toolbox. Closer attention should be paid to many of the other forms of agricultural biotechnologies in use today. These include the use of biofertilisers or biopesticides in crops and trees, artificial insemination and other reproductive technologies in livestock, DNA-based tools to diagnose diseases of farmed fish and many more. 

“Gaining greater access to, and utilizing, these various forms of agricultural biotechnologies can contribute to greater food security for the region and increased profits for smallholders who produce the vast majority of the food we eat each day,” said Kundhavi Kadiresan, Assistant Director-General and FAO Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific. “If this region is to meet the ambitious SDG targets and eliminate hunger, malnutrition and poverty by 2030, countries need to look at every safe, evidence-based form of food production and ensure the benefits of science can reach the smallholders.”

Kadiresan was making the remarks during the opening day of a three-day meeting of Asia-Pacific governments, scientists, academia, civil society and the private sector who have gathered in the Malaysian capital to share experiences of agricultural biotechnologies and examine opportunities for their use to meet the needs of smallholders in the region.

The FAO meeting is hosted and co-organized by the Government of Malaysia.

Smallholders missing out - greater access needed

“These discussions are very timely because there is significant divergence among countries and within the sub-regions of Asia-Pacific in the levels of adoption of relevant agricultural biotechnologies as well as in their capacities to develop them and in the degree of support available in each country which enables them to be developed and used. The biotechnology divide is widening in the region and what we observe today is a subset of emerging countries moving forward very quickly while many others are not accessing or investing in recent advances in science and technology, including agricultural biotechnologies,” said Samy Gaiji, Head of FAO's Research and Extension Unit. “This open forum is a unique opportunity to engage stakeholders in a science-based dialogue and exchange of ideas based on concrete and practical case studies where biotechnologies have been applied to benefit smallholder farmers, food producers and consumers, especially in developing countries.”

In addition, FAO is encouraging member countries in the region and beyond to establish partnerships through South-South cooperation, with the aim to increase effective collaboration and resourcing in this field.

The Regional Meeting is a follow-up to the 2016 International Symposium on The Role of Agricultural Biotechnologies in Sustainable Food Systems and Nutrition, held at the FAO Headquarters, Rome, Italy. Other regional meetings are planned in Sub-Saharan Africa (22-24 November 2017, Addis Ababa) and in Latin America/Caribbean and Near East/North Africa in 2018.

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