Agricultural Biotechnologies: Giving voice to family farmers' needs and concerns

Debate and sharing of knowledge at FAO-hosted symposium

17 February 2016, Rome - FAO is committed to bring the debate on agricultural biotechnologies to regions and family farmers from around the world to improve knowledge, build trust and achieve some level of consensus, the UN agency's Director-General José Graziano da Silva said today..

He was speaking at the closure of an international symposium on agricultural biotechnologies hosted by FAO, which debated the potential of new biotechnologies, "low-tech and high-tech" to benefit family farmers, especially those in developing countries.

 "Responding to the urgent and diverse challenges of the 21st century will require a combination of responses," Graziano said. "No one single tool, technology or approach will provide a complete solution.

"We have unlocked the door to discuss and analyse how agroecology and biotechnology can live together and be used as complementary options. This is an outstanding achievement," Graziano da Silva told symposium participants. "It opens a window of opportunity for the development of new technologies that could make agricultural sectors more sustainable in the future. We also agreed that tools and approaches must be useful and accessible for all farmers."  

"Now FAO has to move forward. We intend to bring the debate to a regional perspective. We want to hear from farmers of all regions about their needs and concerns," he said.

"I have also taken note of concerns regarding intellectual property rights and patents," he said. "This is also a key issue for FAO, these concerns are legitimate." The Director-General announced that the issue will be discussed at FAO's upcoming regional conferences.

Wide range of participants

About 500 scientists, representatives of government, civil society, the private sector, academia, farmers' associations and cooperatives took part in the symposium discussing agricultural biotechnologies much broader than genetically modified organisms.

Agricultural biotechnologies encompass an array of techniques that can result in yield increases, better nutritional qualities, and improved productivities of crops, livestock, fish and trees, benefitting family farmers while helping to transform food systems so that they require fewer inputs and have much less negative environmental impacts.

These include 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.

The agenda included a high-level ministerial segment and a special webinar interactive session involving students from several universities from around the world.

During the symposium the FAO Director-General also met a civil society delegation to hear some of their priorities and concerns on the topic of agricultural biotechnologies.

The symposium forms part of FAO's efforts to promote international dialogues and exchanges of information on sustainable development. In 2014 the agency organized an international symposium on agroecology and also helped launch the Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture. In January this year it released a new edition of "Save and Grow in Practice" FAO's model for ecosystem-based agriculture.

Photo: ©FAO/Giulio Napolitano
FAO is committed to bring the debate on agricultural biotechnologies to regions and family farmers from around the world.