Dr Inoue, President of JIRCAS, Japan and Chairman of APAARI
Dr Pitakpaiwan, Deputy Director General, Department of Agriculture, Thailand
Dr Sharma, Secretary, Department of Biotechnology, Government of India
Dr Paroda, Executive Secretary of APAARI
Representatives of International Agricultural Research Institutes, the private sector,
non-governmental organizations, distinguished participants, my colleagues from FAO,
Ladies and gentlemen
It is indeed a great pleasure for me to be invited to address this important meeting and, more particularly, to be a co-host of such a gathering of distinguished experts. First of all, I should like to welcome all of you on behalf of the FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf and on my own behalf, to this meeting at the FAO regional office in Bangkok. As most of you are aware, the Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions – in short APAARI – was established and had its beginnings in this very office where your meeting is held. Since its inception, FAO has remained a close associate and naturally we are happy to see that your important meeting is taking place here.
Exactly one year ago, APAARI and FAO jointly implemented an Expert consultation on the status of biotechnology in agriculture in Asia and the Pacific. This consultation recommended the establishment of a consortium to promote biotechnologies in agricultural development in the region. We are thus thankful to APAARI for the initiatives taken to follow-up on this recommendation which is the focus of today’s meeting. I noticed that several participants who attended the previous consultation are also here today. We consider their presence a reflection of their personal interest and commitment, as well as that of the organizations they represent, to be partners in the development of agriculture in the region.
The concept of a “consortium on biotechnology” is a most opportune reflection of the need for a functional mechanism for cooperation among various stakeholders such as farmer communities, the public and private sectors, other segments of civil society, and regional and international agencies and institutions. It certainly acknowledges the importance of the role and input of all stakeholders regarding biotechnology matters.
It is widely acknowledged that biotechnology provides powerful tools for the sustainable development of agriculture, fisheries and forestry, as well as the food industry. When appropriately integrated with other technologies for natural resource conservation and food production, biotechnology may provide the means to overcome constraints to further increase agricultural production and may also have an impact on poverty alleviation.
While there is little controversy about many aspects of biotechnology and its application, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) have become the target of a very intensive and, at times, emotionally charged debate. FAO recognizes that genetic engineering has the potential to help increase production and productivity in agriculture, forestry and fisheries. It could lead to higher yields on marginal lands in countries that today cannot grow enough food to feed their people. There are already examples where genetic engineering is helping to reduce the transmission of human and animal diseases through new vaccines. Rice has been genetically engineered to contain pro-vitamin A (beta carotene) and iron, which could improve the health of many low-income communities.
However, FAO is also aware of the concern about the potential risks posed by certain aspects of biotechnology. Thus caution must be exercised in order to evaluate and reduce the risks involved to human and animal health and the environmental consequences. As a result, FAO supports a science-based evaluation system that would objectively determine the benefits and risks of each individual GMO. This calls for a cautious case-by-case approach to address legitimate concerns for the biosafety of each product or process prior to its release. The possible effects on biodiversity, the environment and food safety need to be evaluated, and the extent to which the benefits of the product or process outweigh its risks assessed. The evaluation process should also take into consideration experience gained by national regulatory authorities in clearing such products. Careful monitoring of the post-release effects of these products and processes is also essential to ensure their continued safety to human beings, animals and the environment.
FAO’s programmes dealing with biotechnology are coordinated by an internal inter-departmental working group. FAO has three major and mutually reinforcing roles in assisting its members and their institutions in making decisions at all levels on biotechnology and related issues. One of these roles is to provide a neutral forum where all countries can meet to discuss and formulate international agreements such as the International Plant Protection Convention and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. FAO’s second role is to provide development assistance which can range from helping countries in strategic policy-making to advocating and supporting the deployment of particular biotechnological methods and products. Modalities of such assistance range from technical assistance projects that provide equipment, training, and/or specialist services; to coordinating networks that integrate specific biotechnological methods and products in national research and development programmes; as well as developing a variety of decision-support tools for policy makers. FAO’s third role is to collect, analyze, and disseminate information relating to biotechnology in food and agriculture.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Allow me to elaborate on my personal views and opinions for the priority policy directions for the work of the consortium. There are two points which I should like to emphasize. One, current investment in biotechnological research tends to be concentrated in the private sector and oriented towards agriculture in higher-income countries where there is purchasing power for its products. I consider that efforts should be made to ensure that developing countries, in general, and resource-poor farmers, in particular, benefit more from biotechnological research, while continuing to have access to a diversity of sources of genetic material. FAO proposes that this need be addressed through increased public funding and dialogue between the public and private sectors. Secondly, the agricultural sector as a whole still lacks a unifying framework that can guide national action on the policies and methods needed to achieve sustainable agriculture. FAO’s initiative for Good Agricultural Practices presents basic principles of good practice in areas such as soil and water, crop and animal production, on-farm processing, energy and waste management, human welfare, and wildlife and landscape. I trust that the focal points for the different stakeholder groups of the consortium will refer to this framework.
In conclusion, I should like to reiterate that FAO will continue to work with partners like APAARI to address issues relating to the use of agricultural science to reduce hunger and poverty, including organic farming, traditional plant breeding, new farming technologies and biotechnology. It is within this context that FAO wants to be a partner in this consortium and would be willing to provide assistance to this new initiative within its means and resources.
I wish once again to welcome all delegates and thank them for their encouraging response to our request for participation. Allow me however to especial thank Dr Paroda, Executive Secretary of APAARI, for organizing this important meeting.
I wish you a successful meeting and a pleasant stay in Bangkok.