The UN FAO AgriBiotech Symposium: Listening to the Farmer Voice

Posted by on February 24th, 2016 | 0 Comments »

Part 1 in a series of blogs covering the recent FAO Symposium on Agricultural Biotechnologies

By Margaret M. Zeigler, Ph.D.

Executive Director, Global Harvest Initiative

Photo Credit: Margaret Zeigler

Photo Credit: Margaret Zeigler

 

 

What are agricultural biotechnologies? Are they safe and useful? And how can they benefit family farmers, particularly smallholders in Africa, Asia, and Latin America?

 

 

 

 

 

15 February 2016, Rome, Italy - FAO International Symposium on “The Role of Agricultural Biotechnologies in Sustainable Food Systems and Nutrition”, Opening Session. FAO headquarters. Photo Credit: ©FAO/Giuseppe Carotenuto Copyright ©FAO.

15 February 2016, Rome, Italy – FAO International Symposium on “The Role of Agricultural Biotechnologies in Sustainable Food Systems and Nutrition”, Opening Session. FAO headquarters.
Photo Credit: ©FAO/Giuseppe Carotenuto Copyright ©FAO.

This past week the Global Harvest Initiative (GHI) and member companies participated in the groundbreaking UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) International Symposium, “The Role of Agricultural Biotechnologies in Sustainable Food Systems and Nutrition.” FAO hosted this inaugural event to explore how the rapidly emerging field of technologies known as biotechnology can benefit smallholder farmers and producers to create sustainable food systems and to improve nutrition in the context of climate change.

The Symposium, held in FAO’s headquarters in Rome, Italy on February 15-17, took a multi-sectoral approach, covering crops, livestock, forestry, and the fishery sectors. Farmers, scientists, international agriculture policymakers, civil society organizations and the private sector gathered to explore and discuss a wide spectrum of current and future biotechnologies, including tissue culture in plants, reproductive and vaccine technologies in livestock, uses of molecular markers as well as genetic modification for crops, and technologies to promote food safety and improve nutrition.

Edwin Paraluman presents on the social and environmental benefits of biotech corn in the Philippines. Photo Credit: ©FAO/Giorgio Cosulich de Pecine. Copyright ©FAO.

Edwin Paraluman presents on the social and environmental benefits of biotech corn in the Philippines.
Photo Credit: ©FAO/Giorgio Cosulich de Pecine. Copyright ©FAO.

A strong, inclusive farmer presence from across Africa, Asia and Latin America ensured their voices and perspectives were included.  Edwin Paraluman, the first farmer in the Philippines to plant genetically modified, insect resistant corn, shared his story about how this technology provided a stable, high-yielding crop that required less insecticides.

Santiago del Solar of Argentina provided examples of how biotech soybeans, sunflower and corn enabled farmers to reduce the amount of tillage, land and energy required, saving soil and water while increasing the yields of these crops.   Details of their presentations as well as other farmer voices from Africa and Canada can be seen in the video of their panel, “The Voice of Farmers: Biotechnology in the Field.”

Santiago del Solar of Argentina shares how biotech crops enable systems of no-till agriculture, conserving soil and water. Photo Credit: ©FAO/Giorgio Cosulich de Pecine. Copyright ©FAO.

Santiago del Solar of Argentina shares how biotech crops enable systems of no-till agriculture, conserving soil and water.
Photo Credit: ©FAO/Giorgio Cosulich de Pecine. Copyright ©FAO.

To explore how new breeding technologies can benefit smallholder farmers, the Government of the Netherlands organized a panel including researchers and scientists, such as Walter Quispe Huilcca of Cusco, Peru, whose work explores how farmers can participate with researchers to ensure higher productivity in potatoes. Panelists from other portions of the meeting included farmers and researchers working in aquaculture, dairy, poultry, goats, sheep, and swine and beef.

The Symposium highlighted many additional examples of how smallholder farmers could benefit from biotechnologies that can improve productivity, nutrition, and help them adapt to climate change. But barriers to the adoption and use of these technologies exist in many countries, including the lack of a biosafety system, barriers to acceptance, as well as the lack of an agricultural research and development infrastructure and system of educational extension, by which farmers could learn the best practices for safe and efficient use.

Walter Quispe Huilcca Coordinator, Potato Park Participatory Plant Breeding Program, Potato Park, Cusco, Peru. Photo Credit: ©FAO/Pier Paolo Cito. Copyright ©FAO.

Walter Quispe Huilcca Coordinator, Potato Park Participatory Plant Breeding Program, Potato Park, Cusco, Peru.
Photo Credit: ©FAO/Pier Paolo Cito. Copyright ©FAO.

Investments in basic agricultural research and development and the education and extension of these new technologies to farmers must be prioritized in order to unlock the benefits of biotechnologies for more productive and sustainable agriculture.

Stay tuned for Blog 2, The UN FAO AgriBiotech Symposium: Successful Partnerships in AgriBiotech 

 

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The UN FAO AgriBiotech Symposium: Partnerships for Climate Resilience »

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