As the principal agency of the United Nations committed to the promotion of food and agriculture, FAO has an integral role in assisting its Member Nations harness the potential of science and technology to improve agriculture and people’s access to food, while ensuring that the implications and risks in doing so are adequately addressed. FAO has been actively involved in recent years in a number of key activities focusing on agricultural biotechnologies such as promoting international dialogue through international conventions and standard-setting bodies (such as the Codex Alimentarius Commission); building capacities through technical assistance and training; and providing objective, science-based information to policy-makers and the general public. It also hosts major conferences, technical meetings and consultations of experts, such as this conference on Agricultural Biotechnologies in Developing Countries (ABDC-10). The overall scope of this conference is coherent with the internationally agreed policy framework.
Chapter 16 of Agenda 21, adopted by the UN Conference on Environment and Development in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, notes that by itself, biotechnology cannot resolve all the fundamental problems of environment and development, but that it nevertheless promises to make a significant contribution to a range of key areas, including enhanced food security through sustainable agricultural practices. The scope of this conference is also consistent with the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted in 2000, in particular with MDG1 (eradicating poverty and hunger) and MDG7 (ensuring environmental sustainability). In 2002, Governments at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg formulated a Plan of Implementation reaffirming their commitment to the Rio principles and the full implementation of Agenda 21 and committed themselves to achieving the MDGs.
Further, in resolution 2004/68 on Science and Technology for Development, the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) notes that most developing countries are unlikely to meet the internationally agreed development goals, including the MDGs, without a clear political commitment to making science and technology top priorities in their development agenda and recommends that governments demonstrate their political commitment by increasing research and development expenditure in science and technology to at least one percent of gross domestic product.
At its recent substantive session, ECOSOC adopted resolution 2008/28 which “Encourages the funds, programmes and agencies of the United Nations system to promote policy coherence and cooperation on science and technology, where relevant, including information and communications technology where appropriate, for poverty reduction that should promote both the formulation of science and technology programmes and the development of national institutional capacities in science and technology in support of the eradication of poverty and hunger;”.
In 2005, the 60th Session of the UN General Assembly adopted resolution A/RES/60/205 on Science and Technology for Development which “Recognizes the contribution of (...) the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the World Health Organization (...) in the area of biotechnology, and encourages those and other relevant bodies of the United Nations system engaged in biotechnology to collaborate with a view to enhancing effectiveness in the implementation of programmes designed to assist developing countries in building capacity in all areas of biotechnology, including for industry and agriculture, as well as for risk assessment and management of biosafety”.
In addition, at its 62nd Session in 2007, the UN General Assembly adopted resolution A/RES/62/190 on Agricultural Technology for Development which “Urges the relevant bodies of the United Nations system to support the efforts of Member States, in particular developing countries, to take full advantage of new knowledge in agricultural technology, agricultural innovation, research and development to achieve relevant Millennium Development Goals, specifically the eradication of poverty and hunger;”. The resolution also calls upon “public and private institutions to further develop improved varieties of crops that are appropriate for various regions, especially those challenged by environmental factors, including climate change, and to develop and manage these crops in a sustainable manner, and calls for further efforts by all stakeholders to ensure that improved crop varieties are made available and affordable to smallholder farmers in a manner consistent with national regulations and relevant international agreements”.
In 1999, the Committee on Agriculture (COAG), an FAO Governing Body that meets every two years, recommended with regard to biotechnology, that FAO develop a strategic approach to biotechnology and give high priority to a cross-sectoral programme; undertake activities in the various areas of its mandate including information exchange, capacity-building and policy advice to FAO Members; develop partnerships with the international agricultural research centres, the national agricultural research systems and other international organizations; and help harmonize biosafety regulations at the regional and sub-regional levels. At its 17th Session in 2003, COAG also highlighted the need for capacity building in cross-cutting areas such as biotechnology and genetic resources and requested that FAO give science-based advice and guidance on biotechnology.
In 2002, the 'World Food Summit: five years later’ took place at FAO Headquarters and was attended by delegations from more than 180 countries. Heads of State and Government unanimously adopted the summit Declaration which, regarding biotechnology, states: "We call on the FAO, in conjunction with the CGIAR and other international research institutes, to advance agricultural research and research into new technologies, including biotechnology. The introduction of tried and tested new technologies including biotechnology should be accomplished in a safe manner and adapted to local conditions to help improve agricultural productivity in developing countries. We are committed to study, share and facilitate the responsible use of biotechnology in addressing development needs".
Most recently, the Declaration adopted by 181 countries and the European Community at the High-Level Conference on World Food Security: the Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy, held in Rome in 2008 states "we urge the international community, including the private sector, to decisively step up investment in science and technology for food and agriculture. Increased efforts in international cooperation should be directed to researching, developing, applying, transferring and disseminating improved technologies and policy approaches. We urge member states, to establish in accordance with the Monterrey Consensus, governance and policy environments which will facilitate investment in improved agricultural technologies".