Bringing biotech to smallholder farmers

Bringing biotech to smallholder farmers

FAO publication looks at biotech potential in small-scale crop, livestock and fish production.

A GLOBAL investment and national political commitments in bringing agricultural biotechnologies to smallholder farmers in developing countries could be the key to eliminating hunger and malnutrition, according to a new U.N. Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) report, "Biotechnologies at Work for Smallholders: Case Studies from Developing Countries in Crops, Livestock & Fish," released Oct. 29.

Although the total number of undernourished people has fallen 17% since 1992 due to economic growth, one in eight people in the world still suffers from chronic hunger. A majority of these people live in rural remote areas and depend on local small-scale farming and marketing systems.

The challenge to eliminate food insecurity and malnutrition sustainably and equitably on a global scale still remains, especially with the world population projected to reach 9 billion people by 2050.

"The key lies in empowering the millions of smallholder producers and landless workers who form the backbone of rural economies in most developing countries to grow their incomes and improve their livelihoods by raising agricultural productivity and engaging in markets," said James Dargie, former director of the Joint FAO/IAEA Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food & Agriculture. "In effect, investments in agricultural development can be used as the catalyst for encouraging broad-based rural development and provide the basis for meeting hunger and wider sustainable development objectives such as reducing poverty, food and nutritional insecurity and environmental degradation."

The FAO report contends that agricultural biotechnologies could assist smallholders with improving their livelihoods and food security.

In order to understand the role biotechnologies can play on small farms, scientists and researchers worldwide studied 19 cases utilizing a single biotechnology on crop, livestock and fishery operations in different regions of the developing world.

The research team involved in the study concluded that introducing biotechnologies to smallholder farmers in developing countries can increase yields, reduce production costs and improve sustainable management of natural resources.

Nevertheless, as noted in the publication, international and national efforts are vital to linking small-scale farmers with the appropriate biotechnologies available.

"With the right institutional and financial arrangements, governments, research institutions and organizations can help to bring biotechnologies to smallholders, improving their capacity to cope with challenges like climate change, plant and animal diseases and the overuse of natural resources," said Andrea Sonnino, chief of FAO's Research & Extension Unit.

In order to make the most impact within a region, policy-makers and investors must prioritize investment of human and financial resources into biotechnologies that will produce abundant, nutritional food that also economically benefits smallholder farmers while reducing the environmental footprint.

It is also important to involve those farmers in the planning and implementation of projects or programs. Science-based education and training on the appropriate use of biotechnologies integrated into the farming operation is necessary to ensure that the best results are achieved.

Volume:85 Issue:45

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