Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Hiroyuki Konuma

FAO Regional Representative for Asia-Pacific

He Changchui
Assistant Director-General and
Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific
Delivered at

The Second Regional Consultation and Fourth Focal Points Meeting of
FAO/JAPAN Project on Capacity Building in Biosafety of GM Crops in Asia

15-18 November 2005
Century Park Hotel, Bangkok, Thailand

Distinguished Guests,
Distinguished Participants,
FAO and UN Colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen
Good Morning to Everyone,

It is a great pleasure for me to be with you today to open the Second Regional Consultation and the Fourth Focal Points Meeting of the FAO-implemented and Government of Japan-funded regional project on “Capacity Building in Biosafety of Genetically Modified (GM) Crops in Asia”.

First of all, I would like to welcome all of you, especially our distinguished overseas guests and participants, to Bangkok on behalf of the Director-General of FAO, and myself.

FAO estimates that 842 million people in the world are chronically hungry, and the world's population is expected to increase by about 2 billion people by 2030. These people will have to be fed from an increasingly fragile natural resource base. The increase in production will mainly have to come from agricultural intensification, and biotechnology can certainly play an important role in enhancing research to increase agricultural productivity in various agro-ecosystems to meet food security. FAO recognizes that genetic engineering has the potential to substantially increase food production and productivity in agriculture, forestry and fisheries; while at the same time, FAO is also aware of the concerns the world has about biosafety and the potential risks posed by certain aspects of modern biotechnology such as adverse effects to the environment and also to human and animal health.

FAO supports a science-based evaluation system which objectively determines the benefits and risks of each individual GMO on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration a precautionary principle and approach. In addition, FAO considers that efforts should be made to ensure that developing countries in general, and resource-poor farmers in particular, benefit from biotechnological research and development. FAO continues to assist its member countries, particularly developing countries and countries with economies in transition, to reap the benefits derived from the application of biotechnology in agriculture, forestry and fisheries.

The responsibilities for formulating national policies and legislation on how these technologies will be utilized rests with the member governments themselves. In order for developing countries to obtain maximum benefits from these technologies, it is fundamental and very important that a solid institutional base is provided with capacity building mechanisms established and due consideration given to ensuring that human resources are developed and enhanced at all levels. Highly qualified scientists working in unison with appropriate infrastructure and access to technology and through regional cooperation and sharing will be fundamental and essential.

Consequently, with this in mind, FAO is implementing this project as well as another regional project, GCP/RAS/186/JPN, on the “Implementation of the Global Plan of Action for the Conservation and Sustainable Utilization of Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture in Asia and the Pacific Region”, which is also funded and supported by the Government of Japan. The latter project covers ten countries in the region.

In 2004, of the 14 “mega biotech countries”, or countries growing commercial GM or biotech crops covering 50 000 hectares or more, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) has ranked China, India and the Philippines, which are three out of the ten participating countries in this project, as the 5th, 7th and 14th ranked mega biotech countries. These countries produce 3.7 million ha of GM cotton, 0.5 million ha of GM cotton, and 0.1 million ha of GM maize under commercial cultivation, respectively.

Other countries participating in this project are at various stages of introducing and legislating the use of biotechnology.

The regional consultation and focal points meeting is an important mechanism to assist countries in providing and establishing a solid platform to implement the project’s plan of action, including overall networking, project monitoring and evaluation. Through this mechanism greater contributions can be provided in capacity building in biosafety of GM crops in the participating countries.

The project’s activities and accomplishments can be highlighted starting with the First Regional Consultation and First Focal Points Meeting organized in July 2003, followed by the Second and the Third Focal Points Meetings held in March 2004 and March 2005, respectively, in Bangkok. Following the First Regional Consultation Meeting in July 2003, the project has been in a position to bring together countries with very different biosafety issues that need addressing and to identify specific capacity building needs in participating countries for harmonization. Strengths and weaknesses were identified, and resolutions were proposed and recommended.

The successive national stakeholder workshops, organized in each participating country, were utilized as a mechanism to convince the governments to adopt and to support the development of biosafety issues dealing with GM crops in each country. These meetings were further strengthened by regional training workshops on various key biosafety issues such as GMO detection organized in Nakhon Pathom, Thailand in 2004; public awareness and public participation in Manila, the Philippines in 2004; and risk assessment and risk management of GM crops organized in Tokyo and Tsukuba, Japan in July 2005.

In spite of these noteworthy and substantial accomplishments, both in scope and nature, by and large this is still only the beginning of the work which has to continue in order to strengthen institutional and national capacities and other lacunae in each country. These shortfalls were openly and even boldly expressed during the Third Focal Points Meeting held from 10 to 11 March 2005 in Bangkok.

To meet expectations from the participating countries, including those of the donors, emphasis must be placed on the further needs of the countries, summarized as follows:

  • Capacity building in terms of risk assessment and risk management;
  • Development of technical guidelines;
  • GMO detection, identification, labeling, and handling;
  • Post-release monitoring, effects to human health and environmental impact;
  • Collaborative research on GM crops;
  • Harmonization of biosafety guidelines;
  • Liability and redress issues;
  • Public awareness, education and participation, etc.;
  • Enhancing knowledge through technical visits in GM crop producing countries.

These are only a few of the priority needs which the participating countries have expressed and FAO cannot, beyond the end of this year, consider, owing to the time remaining in the project and financial resources available.

In addition, let me say that strong expressions of interest have been made by other Asian countries, such as Cambodia, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Nepal and the Republic of Korea, to be a part of this project or any possible follow-up project. Unfortunately, we cannot entertain the idea of assisting these countries due to the standing of the project and insecurity about the future regarding financial assistance and support.

We still have a long road to travel if we are to achieve our medium- to long-term objectives in the institutionalization of modern biotechnology in countries in order to reach an acceptable level of tolerance by the public to address their concerns while fulfilling the need to increase food production and assure food security.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I hope you will consider the points which I have mentioned and I wish you a successful meeting.

Before I conclude, I should also like to mention that the UNEP-GEF Unit in Geneva, Switzerland through the Project on Development of National Biosafety Frameworks has supported the participation of its national project coordinators from its national executing agencies from Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand. This collaboration is also evidence of how to create and promote a spirit of partnership in accordance with the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation after the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in September 2003.

Finally, I should like to reiterate that FAO shall continue to work with countries in the Asia-Pacific region and with regional and international organizations such as UNEP, UNEP-GEF, CGIAR Centers, ADB, JIRCAS, SEAMEO BIOTROP and various IARCs and NARCs within the region to address common issues relating to the application of agricultural science and modern biotechnology to reduce hunger and alleviate poverty.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

May I declare the Second Regional Consultation and Fourth Focal Points Meeting open and wish all of you a successful and fruitful discussion and accomplishments.

Thank you very much.