FAO Director-General stresses UN agency's role as a neutral forum

Graziano da Silva meets civil society delegation at agricultural biotechnologies symposium

16 February 2016, Rome - FAO is hosting the international symposium on agricultural biotechnologies to provide a neutral forum aimed at promoting debates, dialogues and exchanges of information, the UN agency's Director-General, José Graziano da Silva, said today in a meeting with civil society representatives.

The meeting came following concerns expressed by civil society representatives that not all stakeholders were being given equal opportunity to have their voices heard at the symposium and that participation at the symposium was skewed in favour of the private sector.

"Let me reassure you that FAO does not support transnational corporations. FAO is a neutral forum and we stand by our mandate to eradicate hunger and malnutrition," Graziano da Silva said.

The Director-General took note of civil society concerns related to intellectual property rights and patents. He stressed this is also a key issue for FAO.

With regards to participation in the symposium, he said that ahead of the event, FAO had made an international public call of interest for stakeholders to make their voices heard in the discussions.

Graziano da Silva also underscored that the agenda of the symposium provides a balance between civil society and the private sector representatives and that equal space had been offered to both. He noted that civil society had decided to attend the symposium with a smaller delegation, a decision which FAO respects.

The symposium focuses mainly on the broad range of biotechnologies that could result in yield increases, better nutritional qualities, and improved productivities of crops, livestock, fish and trees benefitting family farmers and their food systems, nutrition and livelihoods.

These include many "low tech" applications, for example fermentation processes, bio-fertilizers, artificial insemination, the production of vaccines, disease diagnostics, the development of bio-pesticides and the use of molecular markers in developing new varieties and breeds.

As stressed in his opening address for the symposium, Graziano da Silva reassured the civil society delegation that the symposium is not about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and that agricultural biotechnologies are much broader than GMOs.

The aim of the symposium is for participants, including scientists, representatives of government, the private sector, civil society, farmers' cooperatives to share knowledge, experience and best practices on how biotechnologies can help to make the transition to an agricultural production that relies on fewer inputs and with less negative environmental impacts.

FAO has showcased several success stories where agricultural biotechnologies benefit family farmers, especially in the developing world. Examples of these - none of which involve GMOs - can be found here.

Photo credit must be given: ©FAO/Pier Paolo Cito
FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva meets civil society representatives at the symposium.