Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me to be here with you to open the third meeting of Focal Points for the FAO implemented and Japan-funded project on Capacity Building in Biosafety of GM Crops in Asia. First of all, I would like to welcome all of you to Bangkok on behalf of the Director-General of FAO, and on my own behalf.
Agriculture in this century will have to receive greater priority to produce more food for a growing population. Improving and increasing agricultural production, while preserving natural resources and the environment, will be the key to alleviating hunger and malnutrition. It will also increase income and employment. In this prosperous Region, the UN’s Millennium Development Goals will not be met in all countries and this will further tax our scientific capabilities in order to reduce poverty and to provide greater access to food and improved nutrition for all. We can no longer depend on marking significantly new areas of land for food production. Greater food production must come from increasing and maximizing yields on land already farmed. This presents us with a challenge of increasing agricultural production on a fixed resource based and reducing pre and post harvest loss. Using fragile and marginal land for agricultural production must be discounted as it ultimately leads to soil erosion, land and environmental degradation and desertification.
This Region has experienced the marvels of the Green Revolution and now there is the prospect and potential for great technological advances and developments which may provide solutions to our increasing quest to produce more food, improve its quality to consumers and to protect the environment in a manner which will ensure a capacity to provide a sustainable supply for generations.
Biotechnology has developed in a most dramatic manner. GMOs and LMOs are now regarded as having a significant potential to meet the ever increasing challenges which the Scientific Community is faced with. Although expectations are high with regards to its potential to address greater food production and enhance pre-harvest loss, there are some concerns over the safety of Genetically Modified Organisms and Living Modified Organisms. These concerns relate to the potential adverse long-term effects they may have on the production base and to ecosystems as a whole and of course, their safety to consumers. The latter has become a critical issue as to whether to maintain research and development of GMOs, within the context of sustainable agricultural production and maintaining biological diversity.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Recognizing the potential of biotechnology – including genetic engineering for increasing agricultural productivity, FAO has given priority to its enhancement and development in order to continue to mitigate the socio-economic condition of the poor and sustenance farmers. Biotechnology may prove to be the ultimate solution to helping disadvantaged populations and humanity as a whole when considering the potential it could play in assuming its role as an integral component of agricultural research such as plant breeding, integrated pest management, livestock breeding, feeding and management systems. In this context it is important to continue research to ensure safety in its use and promoting public awareness and information dissemination.
FAO also emphasizes the need for ensuring a thorough and systematic risk assessment and product management for biosecurity, environmental sustainability and food safety. In this regards, FAO supports a science-based evaluation system that determines, in an objective manner, the benefits and risks of each individual GMO product. This calls for a cautious case-by-case approach, to address legitimate concerns for the biosafety of each product prior to its release into the environment. A thorough scientific assessment of the effects on total biodiversity, the environment and food safety must be undertaken to evaluate the extent to which the products benefit producers and society.
In the Asia Pacific Region, countries are at different stages of research and development in dealing with GMOs/LMOs and also in their capacity to scientifically evaluate, assess as well as manage the risks and benefits associated with the release, use and cross boundary movements of GM products. Regional harmonization of biosafety standards, regulations and guidelines should therefore foster better use of resources amongst countries and improving national capacities and capabilities for the structuring, enactment, implementation and enforcement of regulations which would selectively promote and encourage mutual acceptance of safe modified organisms and the products derived from them.
To establish mechanisms for assessing and managing potential environmental risks associated with GM crops under the Cartagena Protocol on Biological Diversity, FAO with funding support from the government of Japan is implementing this catalytic and focal regional project, in collaboration with national partner institutions in the ten participating countries. The project will continue its focus and dedication to enhancing the capacities of the participating countries in assessing, managing and monitoring the impacts of GM crops.
A framework for project activities was developed at a regional consultation during July 2003, followed by the formulation of a detailed work plan at The Second Focal Points Meeting in March 2004. Thereafter, activities were proposed to fulfill the objectives of the project. The publication of a Benchmark Document containing a critical assessment and a comparison of strengths, weaknesses and gaps in knowledge in the participating countries was published. National Stakeholders Workshops were conducted in each country to evaluate the need for national legislation, regulation and capacity building. Regional Training Workshops were held to promote and enhance human resources in analyzing, managing and conducting research on the potential biosafety risks associated with GM crops. Networking with other biosafety-related organizations was pursued in order to promote enhanced collaboration and dialogue between the various stakeholders. Finally, but importantly, the project website was periodically updated to meet the needs of the end-users.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The main purpose of this Third Focal Points Meeting is to evaluate the activities and outputs of the project to date. The Asian Bio-Net Meeting indeed offers a unique platform to discuss opportunities for sustaining networking and enhanced collaboration amongst participating countries, in order to promote the harmonization of national capacities – including legislation, regulations and policies – for biosafety of GM crops. Thus, your active participation in this meeting by sharing information, experiences and participating in the discussions will go a long ways to advancing the outputs of the project and the success of this meeting.
Another important purpose of this Third Focal Points Meeting is to discuss the future directions of the project, including how to continue to enhance the capacity building in biosafety of GM crops and to strengthen the existing regional Asian network. The subtitle of this meeting – Asian Bio-Net Meeting – was first adopted at The Second Focal Points Meeting in March 2003 to provide a mechanism for sustained collaboration amongst Asian countries. Since then, “Asian Bio-Net” has been referred as a synonym of the project and is now widely recognized in the field of biosafety as a model of regional collaboration in Asia. As national partners to this project, participants to this meeting have a crucial and important role for developing feasible mechanisms to ensure continuity and sustainability of the outcomes of the project. In this connection, I am inviting you to identify the major objectives, scope of activities and anticipated outputs for the future phase of the project, and propose mechanism for its funding support.
I should like to reiterate that FAO will continue to work with countries in the Asia-Pacific Region and with international organizations to address issues relating to the use of science and improved technology to reduce hunger and poverty.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Prior to concluding, I wish to express my heartfelt appreciation to the Government of Japan which is funding this project. Their generosity was recently reconfirmed by agreeing to an extension of this project to the end of this year, with possibilities for follow-on activities in years to come.
Alas, good news may also often entail sad news. You will likely have heard that Dr. Noboyuki Kabaki is being requested, by his Government, to resume his important duties in Japan and he will be leaving us at the end of April. I would like to express on behalf of all, our gratitude for his hard work and dedication to the cause of this project and we wish him well and we hope to see him return to the project as his schedule may permit.
I wish you fruitful discussions and a successful meeting.