Agricultural Biotechnologies represent an immensely promising field for the future of farming. Robust, science-based biotech has the potential to create plant varieties that have enhanced caloric and nutritional value, resist pests, and are more resilient to the challenges of climate change, by which smallholder farmers are disproportionately affected. Biotechnology ranges from low- to high-tech, including such techniques as microbial food fermentation, culturing tissues in crops and trees, reproductive applications for livestock, DNA kits as diagnostic tools at fisheries, and genetic modification.

The International Agri-Food Network has been coordinating the participation of the private sector, including farmers and SMEs, at relevant biotechnology conferences and events around the world.

In 2016, the FAO International Symposium on the Role of Agricultural Biotechnologies in Sustainable Food Systems and Nutrition took place on 15–17 February at the FAO Headquarters in Rome. The aim of the symposium was to explore applications of biotechnologies that benefit smallholders in creating sustainable food systems and improving nutrition, especially given the realities of climate change. IAFN coordinated a delegation of 41 participants from the private sector at this symposium, where participants agreed on the importance of bringing the discussion of biotechnologies to the regional level, with the FAO Director-General saying, “We intend to bring the debate to a regional perspective. We want to hear from governments, farmers, and researchers of all regions about their needs and concerns regarding biotechnology.”

As such, in 2017, two regional meetings on agricultural biotechnologies were held: the first in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in September and the second in Addis Ababa in November. Two additional regional meetings planned in 2018: one for Latin America and the Caribbean and another for North Africa and the Near East. A diverse audience is welcome at these regional conferences, including representatives of governments, intergovernmental organisations, and non-state actors, such as civil society organisations, private sector entities, researchers, academics, and cooperatives and farmers’ group. We believe it is essential to contribute to a diverse and balanced delegation at all biotech meetings, with an especial focus on basing all conclusions on science-based evidence and verified research.

FAO Biotechnology meeting for Asia, Kuala Lumpur, September 11–13, 2017

The Regional Meeting in Kuala Lumpur was held with the aim of creating greater clarity on the needs and concerns regarding biotechnologies at the regional level. It is clear that there is a need for a multisectoral approach that considers the unique needs of the crop, livestock, forestry, and fishery sectors. Two farmers, Pavitarpal Pangli Singh of the Borlaug Farmers Association for South Asia and Rosalie Ellasus of the Asian Farmers Regional Network (ASFARNET), participated thanks to IAFN support.

FAO Biotechnology meeting for Africa, Addis Ababa, November 22–24, 2017

You can read attendees’ reflections on their experiences via the below:

In total, in 2017 IAFN enabled a total of 25 farmers, researchers, professors, and SME representatives to attend who would otherwise have been excluded to attend the meetings in Addis and Kuala Lumpur. In 2018, IAFN hopes to continue engagement work for the regional meetings for both Latin America and North Africa and the Near East. You can read more about FAO and biotechnology here.

8 people standing around a sign that reads 'FAO Regional Meeting on Agricultural Biotechnologies in Sustainable Food Systems and Nutrition in Sub-Saharan Africa - 22-24 November 2017, Addis Ababa Ethiopia'
IAFN delegation at the FAO Biotech Meeting for Africa in Addis Ababa
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Saturday, 20 January 2018 16:20