Much more must be done to help family farmers across the world use biotechnologies that can improve productivity and sustainability, experts said here on Monday.
At the opening of an international symposium hosted by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Director-General of the agency Jose Graziano da Silva defined agricultural biotechnologies, the symposium’s leading theme, as a “broad portfolio of tools and approaches to eradicate hunger, fight every form of malnutrition and achieve sustainable agriculture.”
In the face of major global challenges, biotechnologies, he said, can result in yield increases, better nutritional qualities, improved productivities of crops, livestock, fish and trees benefiting family farmers and their food systems, nutrition and livelihoods.
“We must find the means to remove the barriers that prevent their availability to family farmers,” da Silva pointed out in his opening address to the three-day symposium, in which some 500 experts including scientists and government representatives met to share knowledge and best practices.
Da Silva also underlined that the Rome-based UN agency’s symposium was not about genetically modified organisms (GMOs), because “agricultural biotechnologies are much broader than GMOs.”
In fact, the term “biotechnology” designates a “toolbox of many diverse molecular and genetic techniques allowing the ever more precise characterization of the genetics of specific traits and the full genome of useful species,” Louise O. Fresco, president of Wageningen University and Research, in the Netherlands, said in the forum.
“Biotechnology does not equal genetic modification but genetically modified organisms can result from the application of biotechnology. However, public opinion often considers them identical,” he noted.
“The bottom-line is that biotechnology is both a continuation of traditional and classical breeding as well as a qualitative and quantitative step towards high precision methods,” Fresco said.
For example Brazil, one of the world’s largest producers of food, feed, fibers and renewable fuels, is today an acknowledged leader in generation and implementation of modern tropical agricultural technology, said Mauricio Antonio Lopes, president of the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa).
Despite these advances, however, the challenges arising from global warming, the consequent climatic extremes and an increasing world population make sustainable food production a key issue for the next decades, he added.
“The current, general feeling in Brazil is that there is no way back in the use of biotechnology in agriculture if we want to improve food production and food quality and address the challenges of food security and low-carbon sustainable development,” Lopes stressed. Enditem