Agricultural Biotechnologies
Agricultural Biotechnologies in crops, forestry, livestock, fisheries and agro-industry  Biotech-banner

The News items relate to applications of biotechnologies in food and agriculture in developing countries and their major focus is on the activities of FAO, other UN agencies/bodies and the 15 CGIAR research centres. The News items cover all food and agricultural sectors (crops, forestry, fisheries/aquaculture, livestock, agro-industry) and a wide range of biotechnologies (e.g. use of molecular markers, artificial insemination, triploidisation, biofertilisers, micropropagation, genomics, genetic modification etc.). New documents are included as News if they are freely available on the web and, for people who can't download them or who wish further information, an e-mail contact is also provided. The News service was launched in January 2002 and all News items posted since then (there were 800 in the first 9 years) are available here. The news and event items on this website are also disseminated through an e-mail newsletter called FAO-BiotechNews that is published in six different versions, one per language i.e. Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. To subscribe, send a message to indicating which e-mail addresses are to be subscribed and in which language they wish to receive the newsletter.



At the 6th meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety in October 2012 in India, decision BS-VI/13 on socio-economic considerations was adopted, comprising a series of activities to be undertaken prior to the 7th meeting to be held in September 2014 in the Republic of Korea. These included a series of regional online real-time conferences which took place on 13 June 2013 for the Western Europe and Others Group and Central and Eastern Europe; 17 June for Asia and the Pacific; 20 June for Africa; and 27 June for Latin America and the Caribbean (in Spanish). See for transcripts of the conferences, plus other related resources, or contact for further information.


As part of its Series on Harmonisation of Regulatory Oversight in Biotechnology, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Environment, Health and Safety Division recently published "Low level presence of transgenic plants in seed and grain commodities: Environmental risk/safety assessment, and availability and use of information". The scope of this 89-page document covers a situation where seed contains low levels of transgenic seed that have been reviewed for environmental risk/safety and received authorization for commercial cultivation (unconfined release) in one or more countries but not in the country of import. The document covers commercial seed used intentionally for planting as well as commodities (e.g. grains and oilseeds) that can germinate and grow into plants when unintentionally released into the environment during handling and transport or when intentionally used for planting. See or contact for more information.


During the 36th Session of the Codex Alimentarius Commission which took place in Rome, Italy, FAO organized a side event on 1 July 2013 to launch the FAO GM Foods Platform. The platform shares information on safety assessment of foods derived from recombinant-DNA plants authorized in accordance with the Codex Guideline entitled “Guideline for the conduct of food safety assessment of foods derived from recombinant-DNA plants” (Guideline CAC/GL 45-2003, annex III adopted in 2008). It also facilitates the effective utilization of food safety assessment in situations of low level presence of recombinant-DNA plant materials in food. See the report of the event at or contact for more information.


In 2007, FAO released "The State of the World’s Animal Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture", a comprehensive 511-page publication drawing on 169 country reports and a range of other sources to provide the first global assessment of animal genetic resources and their management. FAO has been requested to prepare an update of this global report for launch in 2015. As part of this process, a country report questionnaire for collecting national data has been agreed upon. National Coordinators for the Management of Animal Genetic Resources, nominated by the respective governments, have the responsibility for organizing the preparation of the country reports and they have been requested to submit their country report before 31 January 2014. The questionnaire includes a 2-page section dedicated to reproductive and molecular biotechnologies, covering aspects such as their availability to livestock keepers, their use in research, the stakeholders involved and their use in animal genetic resources management. People wishing to contribute to this section should contact their National Coordinators. See or contact for further information.


The Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá, Colombia recently published "Biotecnologías e innovación: el compromiso social de la ciencia" (Biotechnology and innovation: The social compromise of science), edited by E. Hodson de Jaramillo and T. Zamudio. One of the chapters in this 327-page book is dedicated to “La innovación en agricultura como herramienta de la política de seguridad alimentaria: el caso de las biotecnologías agrícolas” (Innovation in agriculture as a tool in food security policies: The case of agricultural biotechnologies) by A. Sonnino and J. Ruane, from the FAO Research and Extension Branch. See (0.5 MB) or contact to request a copy of the chapter.


As part of its Animal Production and Health Guidelines series, FAO recently published "In vivo conservation of animal genetic resources". In vivo conservation is the conservation of a breed through the maintenance of live animal populations. The aim of this 242-page publication is to provide the technical background needed by organizations or individuals who want to set up, implement and monitor in vivo conservation programmes in a rational manner. It describes the tasks and actions that should be undertaken to prevent the extinction of breeds and promote their sustainable use. The use of different biotechnologies, such as molecular markers and various reproductive technologies, is also covered. See or contact for more information.


The Access to Global Online Research in Agriculture (AGORA) initiative was set up by FAO and its partners in 2003 to improve access to scientific information for agriculture sector institutions in developing countries. On 16 September 2013, a special event was celebrated at FAO to mark its 10th anniversary. The initiative currently provides local, not-for-profit institutions access to over 3,500 high-quality, relevant agriculture and life science journals, many dealing directly or indirectly with biotechnology. Access is free for institutions in 78 low-income countries and low-cost for institutions in an additional 38 lower-middle income countries. AGORA is one of the four literature access programmes of the Research4Life public-private partnership and partners of the Research4Life programmes have pledged their continued support until 2020. See (in English, French or Spanish) or contact for further information.


The July 2013 newsletter from the Animal Production and Health Section of the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture is now available. The 40-page newsletter, issued twice a year, gives an overview of past and upcoming training courses, meetings, projects, news stories and publications. See or contact for more information.


The July 2013 newsletter from the Plant Breeding and Genetics Section of the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture is now available. This 36-page newsletter, issued twice a year, gives an overview of their past and upcoming events (meetings, training courses etc.), ongoing projects and publications. See or contact to request a copy.


The 10th anniversary of the entry into force of the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity was on 11 September 2013. To commemorate this event, the Secretariat of the Protocol published a special issue of the Biosafety Protocol Newsletter and released a video highlighting the main achievements of the Protocol as well as a series of short video clips from representatives of Parties and relevant organizations highlighting some of the successes and lessons learned regarding implementation of specific provisions of the Protocol. See or contact for more information.


In 2012, the United Nations Secretary-General announced the launch of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) which mobilizes scientific and technical expertise from academia, civil society and the private sector in support of sustainable development problem solving at local, national and global scales. It is structured around 12 Thematic Groups of global experts that work to identify common solutions and highlight best practices. In September 2013, the SDSN released seven reports by the Groups which were prepared to help inform the discussions around a post-2015 development framework and to complement the SDSN’s flagship report “An action agenda for sustainable development” released in June 2013. One of the reports is entitled "Solutions for sustainable agriculture and food systems" and was prepared by the SDSN Thematic Group on Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems, co-chaired by A. Dobermann and R. Nelson. Chapter 2 of the 99-page report, entitled “towards a sustainable development path for agriculture and food systems”, also considers the role of biotechnology as a component of sustainable agricultural intensification. See or contact for more information.


As part of its Trade and Environment Review series, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has just published “Wake up before it is too late: Make agriculture truly sustainable now for food security in a changing climate”. The 321-page report is organized in 5 chapters, written by over 50 contributors, dedicated respectively to key development challenges of a fundamental transformation of agriculture; livestock production: a climate change and food security hot spot; the role of research and technology and extension services (which includes an 8-page commentary about genetic engineering and biotechnology); the role of changes in land use; and, finally, the importance of international trade and trade rules for transforming global agriculture. See or contact for more information.


On 25-27 August 2013, a molecular breeding course in wheat took place in Karnal, India, organised by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). The course was held for young scientists from different wheat research stations of India involved in a project funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) to increase the productivity of wheat under rising temperatures and water scarcity in South Asia. A 38-page laboratory manual, edited by S. Dreisigacker, R. Tiwari and S. Sheoran, that was developed for the course is now available on the web. See or contact for more information.


The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) has just published “Socioeconomic considerations in biosafety decisionmaking: Methods and implementation”, edited by D. Horna, P. Zambrano and J. Falck-Zepeda. The specific objective of this study is to provide guidance on how to conduct an ex ante economic assessment of a genetically modified (GM) crop when such an assessment becomes part of the crop’s approval process. Using the case of GM cotton in Uganda, the authors propose and develop a methodological framework for the inclusion of socio-economic considerations in biosafety evaluations. See or contact for more information.


A number of FAO books on agricultural biotechnologies are available on request. These include “Socio-economic impacts of non-transgenic biotechnologies in developing countries: The case of plant micropropagation in Africa” and “Marker-assisted selection: Current status and future perspectives in crops, livestock, forestry and fish”. Copies of the FAO Biotechnology Glossary are also available in Chinese, English, French and Russian. These also include “Agricultural biotechnology for developing countries - Results of an electronic forum”, in Spanish, and “Results from the FAO Biotechnology Forum: Background and dialogue on selected issues”, two books which provide the background and summary documents of Conferences 1-6 and 7-12 respectively of the FAO Biotechnology Forum. To request a copy of one or more of these publications, please send your full postal address to


On 4-24 March 2013, the FAO Biotechnology Forum hosted a moderated e-mail conference on the "Impacts of genomics and other 'omics' for the crop, forestry, livestock, fishery and agro-industry sectors in developing countries". Before the conference, a 10-page background document was published, which provides an easily-readable overview of the current status regarding genomics in food and agriculture and briefly discusses some of the main ways in which the knowledge from genomics can be used. About 520 people subscribed to the conference, posting a total of 61 messages, 57% of which came from people living in developing countries. Discussions in the 3-week long conference focused on the challenges and opportunities of genomics, particularly in crops but also in livestock. There seemed to be agreement about the tremendous promise of genomics but recognition that it is still very much an emerging field for developing countries. During the conference there was also general support for establishment of a moderated platform for informal exchange of experiences, data, knowledge and expertise on genomics and other aspects of breeding for the global community. See the background document, and all the messages posted, at For more information, contact This was the 19th e-mail conference hosted by the FAO Biotechnology Forum since it was launched in the year 2000.

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