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Ushering the New Green Revolution:
How Can Biotechnology Contribute to Food Security?

'Seeds of Opportunity: The Role of Biotechnology in Agriculture' Conference,
London, UK.
May 31 - June 1, 2001

By C.S. Prakash, Center for Plant Biotechnology Research,
Dept of Agriculture,
Tuskegee University, Tuskegee, AL 36088
prakash@tuskegee.edu; www.agbioworld.org

The 'Green Revolution' anchored by the development of high-yielding varieties of grains improved the lives of most people on this planet through enhanced and affordable food supply, boosted incomes for millions of farmers, and reduced the incidence of famine and starvation despite massive population increases in the past few decades. Nevertheless, food insecurity and malnutrition still persists in parts of the developing world. The causes for poverty and hunger are varied and complex, but experts concur that sustainable agricultural development will be critical in meeting future world food needs, reducing poverty and protecting the environment. To further increase agricultural productivity equitably-in an environmentally sustainable manner in the face of diminishing land and water resources-is a highly challenging task ahead. Knowledge-based approaches including transgenic crops and genomics can provide powerful solutions enhance food security: by improving local agricultural productivity, minimizing the use of chemical inputs such as pesticides and fertilizers, insulating crops against losses from diseases and pests, curtailing post-harvest losses including food spoilage, improving food quality and nutrition, increasing crop tolerance to stress factors such as drought and problem soils, and through the production of 'value-added' products. Biotechnology can expedite the development of new varieties and also enhance marginal crops like millets, plantain, grain legumes, cassava and sweetpotato that are important staples in the developing world. Unlike the' green revolution' approach, which entailed the use of high capital inputs, biotechnology delivers the added value primarily through the seed. Thus, it is conceptually a 'scale neutral' technology: small farmers can benefit from it as much as rich farmers, if the improved plant material is accessible and affordable. Judicious application of biotechnology can boost rural incomes and thus improve the purchasing power of a marginalized section of the developing societies.

The integration of biotechnology into agricultural research in the developing world is fraught with many hurdles that must be addressed including financial, technical, political, environmental-activist, intellectual-property, biosafety and trade-related issues. Considering the constraints, it is important to focus the application of biotechnology to a few strategically chosen high-priority areas where the technology provides the most gains. Public sector institutions and international organizations such as CGIAR have major responsibilities in facilitating the integration of biotechnology into agricultural research in developing countries. Adequate biosafety regulations must be first developed to ensure development, testing and release of new crops. Private sector can facilitate biotechnology development and public acceptance through offer of their core technologies on a 'royalty-free' basis for use on staple crops by public institutions as this would also pave way for subsequent introduction of their commercial crops in these countries. To ensure that developing countries can harness the benefit of this technology with minimal problems, concerted efforts must be pursued to create an awareness of its potential benefits and to address the concerns related to its use through dialog among the various stakeholders: policy makers, scientists, trade groups, food industry, consumer organizations, farmers groups, media and NGOs.


To hear this speech in full, as well as the other speakers at this conference, go to http://www.mediawaveav.co.uk/usembassy/.