There is a strong impetus at the present time to organize a global conference on agricultural biotechnologies for developing countries that will encompass the various biotechnological tools in use in the food and agricultural sectors. Concrete steps need to be taken to move beyond the “business-as-usual” approach and to respond to the growing food insecurity and address the challenges posed by climate change in undermining food production in the developing world in order to ensure global food security. A multifunctional approach and the integration of agricultural biotechnologies with other non-biotechnology innovative strategies is vital for sustainable agricultural development as is also reflected in recent reports such as the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) and the World Development Report 2008 on Agriculture for Development.
In line with the FAO mandate of increasing agricultural productivity and food security, preserving the natural resource base and improving rural livelihoods, the main objectives of the conference are:
To empower developing countries to make informed decisions about the application of appropriate biotechnologies, and
To assist developing countries in expanding their national biotechnology strategies and capacities in the wider context of research for development, eradication of hunger and alleviation of poverty.
The conference is a science-based technical conference and it will aim to focus on “science for development” and not on science per se. The scope of the proposed conference will be to cover all biotechnologies, and to include all the food and agricultural sectors (crops, forestry, livestock, fisheries and aquaculture, agro-industry). The conference will be a stock-taking exercise across the different sectors, describing the current status and analysing previous successes/failures in order to learn from the past and make recommendations for the future. Furthermore, experiences from both the public and private sector will be relevant.
One of the tools in the biotechnology toolbox, genetic modification, has been at the centre of a major debate worldwide for several years now and there are still no signs of the controversy abating. The debate about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) involves a number of potentially contentious issues in several different arenas - science, geopolitics, ethics, trade and socio-economics. As a consequence of this heated and highly polarized debate, attention has focused on GMOs and tended to neglect other biotechnologies, which may be highly relevant for addressing development problems. It is therefore very important to underline that the term biotechnology is much broader than genetic modification alone and that this conference will be covering all the agricultural biotechnologies, including genetic modification which is however just one of the many biotechnology tools available.