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.


Issue number 12 (March 2003) of OECD Biotechnology Update has just been published. Its purpose is to provide up-to-date information on the diverse activities at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) related to biotechnology. It contains 14 pages with items on news, recent and future events, recent and future publications and provides web and e-mail contacts for the different areas of activity. The previous issue was published in March 2002. See (177 KB) or contact for more information.
In an editorial in the journal Science (7 March 2003), Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, presented "A challenge to the world`s scientists". He wrote that science continues to offer powerful tools for solving the many challenges facing humanity (including food security, human diseases, pollution and proliferation of weapons) and that recent advances in information technology, genetics and biotechnology offer extraordinary prospects for humankind as a whole. He noted, however, that there is a scientific divide between developing and developed countries where, for example, "ninety-five percent of the new science in the world is created in the countries comprising only one-fifth of the worlds population. And much of that science- in the realm of health, for example- neglects the problems that afflict most of the worlds people". He argued that commitment from scientists and scientific institutions throughout the world will be needed to change this imbalance and to bring the benefits of science to all. Contact for more information.
FAO has just released "World agriculture: towards 2015/2030 - An FAO perspective". This comprehensive 444-page report is FAO`s latest assessment of the long-term outlook for the world`s food supplies, nutrition and agriculture. It assesses the prospects, worldwide, for food and agriculture, including fisheries and forestry, over the years to 2015 and 2030. It presents the global long-term prospects for trade and sustainable development and discusses the issues at stake in these areas over the next 30 years. It updates and extends the previous FAO global study "World agriculture: towards 2010" issued in 1995. One of the 13 chapters considers "selected issues in agricultural technology" and here, section 11.4 (pages 314-327) focuses on the potential, risks and likely benefits of agricultural biotechnology. See the full report (in English) or a summary report (in English, French or Spanish) at or contact for more information.
Louise Fresco, Assistant Director-General, FAO Agriculture Department, gave a presentation entitled "Which road do we take?: Harnessing genetic resources and making use of life sciences, a new contract for sustainable agriculture" at a Conference entitled "Towards sustainable agriculture for developing countries: Options from life sciences and biotechnology" organized by the European Commission on 30-31 January 2003 in Brussels, Belgium. She indicated that in biotechnology we are currently witnessing a "molecular divide", where "the gap is widening between developed and developing countries, between rich and poor farmers, between research priorities and needs, and above all between technology development and actual technology transfer". She concluded that "biotechnology must be redirected to address the pressing needs of the poor and the new requirements for food quality and quantity and new agricultural products, by complementing existing techniques and holistic agronomic approaches to sustain production and manage risks. Our three principles (promote an open dialogue, redirect research [to respond to key challenges], ensure fair access and benefit-sharing) should form the basis of a new, broad-ranging social contract, between North and South, between public and private research, between scientists and citizens - to bridge the molecular divide". See the full 8-page text (in English) at, a news story about the presentation (in English, French or Spanish) at or contact FAO to request a copy by e-mail.
The 4th Session of the Codex Ad Hoc Intergovernmental Task Force on Foods Derived from Biotechnology took place in Yokohama, Japan on 11-14 March 2003. The Joint FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission is an intergovernmental body set up to establish international standards on foods. The agenda and working documents are available at (in English, French and Spanish) or contact for further information.
FAO`s Committee on Commodity Problems held its 64th Session at FAO Headquarters, Rome on 18-21 March 2003. One of the reports prepared for the meeting was entitled "Major developments and issues in agricultural commodity markets" which reviews some of the major factors that have influenced international agricultural markets during the past few years, including the development of genetically modified crops. See (document CCP 03/7 - in Arabic, Chinese, English, French and Spanish) or contact FAO for more information.
At its first meeting in December 2000, the Intergovernmental Committee for the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety recommended the development of a pilot phase of a Biosafety Clearing-House (BCH). This was launched in April 2001. Version 2.0 of the pilot phase of the BCH has now been launched (1 February 2003). New developments include, inter alia, improved search facilities and faster download times, expansion of the capacity-building databases, additional help functions and access to more databases. See or contact for more information.
This 376-page book entitled "Making global trade work for people" presents an independent reassessment of the current system of global trade and looks at ways that it can be improved to contribute more effectively to human development. Chapter 11 includes discussions of the links of TRIPS (the World Trade Organization`s agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) with human development, with a focus on issues such as technology (including biotechnology), food security, biological resources and traditional knowledge. The book is the product of the Trade and Sustainable Human Development Project commissioned in mid-2000 by the United Nations Development Programme, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Rockefeller Foundation (the Ford Foundation, Heinrich Böll Foundation and Wallace Global Fund joined the effort subsequently). See or contact for more information.
A discussion paper entitled "Trade in genetically modified food: A survey of empirical studies" by C. Pohl Nielsen, S. Robinson and K. Thierfelder has just been published by the International Food Policy Research Institute, one of the 16 research centres supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research. The paper surveys analyses of the current and potential economic impact of GM technology, under different scenarios concerning how the world trading system and national markets handle GM commodities. This is number 106 of the TMD (Trade and Macroeconomics Division) Discussion Papers, which contain preliminary material and research results, and are circulated prior to a full peer review in order to stimulate discussion and critical comment. It is expected that most Discussion Papers will eventually be published in some other form, and that their content may also be revised. See or contact for more information.
The International Service for National Agricultural Research (ISNAR) has just published "A framework for biosafety implementation: Report of a meeting", edited by M.A. McLean, R.J. Frederick, P. Traynor, J.I. Cohen and J. Komen. It is the report of an expert consultation convened by ISNAR entitled A framework for biosafety implementation: A tool for building capacity. that was held in Washington DC, United States on 23-26 July 2001. See (PDF, 491 KB) or contact for more information.
An abbreviated summary of discussions from the FAO e-mail conference entitled "Gene flow from GM to non-GM populations in the crop, forestry, animal and fishery sectors" has just been published. This was the seventh conference hosted by the FAO Electronic Forum on Biotechnology in Food and Agriculture and it took place from 31 May to 6 July 2002. The 2-page document is available at or contact to request a copy. A more detailed summary, including references to specific e-mail messages, was published previously and is available at
In a press release entitled "Bananas not on verge of extinction", FAO responded (30 January) to recent media reports that bananas may be extinct within 10 years and urged producers to promote greater genetic diversity in commercial bananas. FAO pointed out that small-scale farmers around the world grow a wide range of bananas that are not threatened by the disease currently attacking bananas sold mostly in Europe and North America. The press release continues "Fortunately, small-scale farmers around the world have maintained a broad genetic pool which can be used for future banana crop improvement. Banana is essentially a clonal crop with many sterile species, which makes progress through conventional breeding slow and difficult. Because of this, new breeding methods and tools, including biotechnology, will be helpful to develop resistant bananas for cultivation. This does not necessarily mean the use of transgenics". See (available in English, French and Spanish) or contact for more information.
The Health InterNetwork Access to Research Initiative (HINARI) was launched in January 2002 to provide access to the major journals in biomedical and related social sciences to public institutions in developing countries. Currently, there are 28 participating publishers and over 2,000 journals involved. While the majority deal with human health, some of the journals focus on agriculture and biotechnology. Access to the journals is free for public institutions in 69 countries (with a gross national product (GNP) per capita below US $1000) and, since January 2003, is available at reduced prices for 43 countries with GNP per capita between $1000-3000. HINARI is part of the Health InterNetwork, a World Health Organization (WHO) led public-private partnership initiated by the United Nations` Secretary General Kofi Annan at the UN Millennium Summit in the year 2000. See or contact for more information.
The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs has recently published a book called "Supporting Africas efforts to achieve sustainable development: Dialogues at the Economic and Social Council". The UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), which serves as the central forum for discussing international economic and social issues and for formulating policy recommendations addressed to Member States and to the United Nations, devoted the high-level part of its annual session in July 2001 to Africa. This 268-page publication brings together the key results of the debates, as well as the panel discussions and papers commissioned in its preparation. The section on agriculture and food security in the context of poverty reduction includes presentations by Jacques Diouf, FAO Director General, on "Meeting basic needs" and by Gordon Conway, President of the Rockefeller Foundation, on "Food for all in Africa: Biotechnology, sustainable agriculture and farmer participation". See`sEfforts.pdf or contact for more information.
At the invitation of the Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity, the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) prepared on 10 January 2003 a memorandum on genetic use restriction technologies (GURTs). UPOVs comments are limited to the effect of GURTs on the sharing of benefits arising out of new plant varieties in comparison to the protection provided by the UPOV Convention and do not refer to other possible effects of GURTs. See (available in English, French, German and Spanish) or contact for more information.
MSSD (Markets and Structural Studies Division) Discussion Paper 53, entitled "Successes in African agriculture: Results of an expert survey", by E. Z. Gabre-Madhin and S. Haggblade, has just been published by the International Food Policy Research Institute (January 2003), one of the 16 research centres supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research . The paper presents an analysis of results of a survey of experts on African agriculture in which they were asked to identify the instances they considered most important in advancing the state of African agriculture. The successes include breakthroughs in maize breeding across Africa, sustained gains in cassava breeding and successful combat of its disease and pests, control of the rinderpest livestock disease, booming horticultural and flower exports in East and Southern Africa and increased cotton production and exports in West Africa. The paper also attempts to identify key ingredients that appear necessary for building on these individual cases and expanding them into broad-based agricultural growth. MSSD Discussion Papers contain preliminary material and research results and are circulated prior to a full peer review in order to stimulate discussion and critical comment. See (320 KB) or contact for more information.

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