Conference on agricultural biotechnologies stresses role of smallholders

Participation of small farmers and producers in decision making process is needed

March 4, 2010, Guadalajara, México - Agricultural biotechnologies in developing countries should address the specific needs of smallholders and, to do so, should encourage their participation and that of all stakeholders in the decision making process, the participants of an international technical conference held in Guadalajara, Mexico stated today.

The conference agreed on the key elements necessary to put agricultural biotechnologies at the service of the developing world: increased investments, international cooperation and effective and enabling national policies and regulatory frameworks.

"Agricultural biotechnologies are not being widely used in developing countries, and research and development in agricultural biotechnologies have not generally been targeted towards the needs and problems of smallholders", said FAO Assistant Director-General, Modibo Traore. "This is something that has to change", he added.

Around 300 people from 68 countries, including experts, policy makers and representatives of civil society and international organizations attended the conference.

National vision

Every country should have a clear national vision for the role of biotechnologies, and examine the options and opportunities within the context of national economic, social and sustainable rural development and environmental strategies and objectives, the conference recommended.

This vision should be built in a process involving all stakeholders and be supported by effective communication and participation strategies to encourage and promote public involvement and empowerment in the decision-making.

The conference agreed on the need for effective and enabling national biotechnology policies and regulatory frameworks that facilitate the development and use of appropriate biotechnologies in developing countries.

It also agreed on increased national investments by developing countries in the development and use of biotechnologies to support in particular, smallholders and producers.

International support

According to the participants, stronger partnerships among and within countries such as South-South and regional alliances, public-private and research partnerships for sharing experiences, information and technologies, will facilitate development and use of biotechnologies.

Making agricultural biotechnologies accessible to developing countries and ensuring that they respond to the particular needs of small-scale farmers and producers will require the support of FAO and other relevant international organizations and donors. This is particularly needed to strengthen national capacities in the development and use of appropriate agricultural biotechnologies directed to the needs of smallholders and producers in developing countries.

Biotechnologies are much more than GMOs

Agricultural biotechnologies encompass a wide-range of tools and methodologies that are being applied to some extent in crops, livestock, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture, and agro-industries, to help alleviate hunger and poverty, assist in adaptation to climate change, and maintain the natural resource base, in developing countries.

The debate encompassing GMOs often hinders the development of other agriculture biotechnologies where there's no controversy about their environmental impacts and the benefits to small producers, as well as their important role in mitigating and adapting to climate change.

Many case studies illustrating how biotechnologies can help sustainable development were presented at the conference: from the use of DNA markers to improve the Deccani sheep in India, to molecular characterization to develop improved microbial cultures for fermented foods and drinks in the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Thailand.

"There are many biotechnologies being applied in some developing countries, such as fermentation and artificial insemination. We must focus our efforts in improving the access of developing countries to these biotechnologies", said Shivaji Pandey, Director of FAO's Plant Production and Protection Division.

Photo: ©FAO/Giulio Napolitano
Laboratory research in Burundi.