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UN report says political will, farmer involvement crucial to biotech success

November 21
7:06 PM 2013

A report from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said political will and farmer involvement are necessary for biotechnology research and innovation to reduce poverty in developing nations. Entitled "Biotechnologies at Work for Smallholders," the report cited 19 examples from biotechnology studies which were used to increase yields and reduce production expenses involved in the small-scale farming of crops, fish and livestock.

FAO Research and Extension Unit Chief Andrea Sonnino, one of the editors of the UN report, told SciDev.Net, "This publication provides evidence that, when there is the political commitment, when there is the willingness to apply direct research and extension to meeting the needs of smallholders and when there is full participation of the smallholders themselves, important results can be achieved."

He added that these kinds of projects should get farmers to participate from the start so they can be successful. He said that when farmers get involved, farmers are able to choose the objectives as well as in the research development and innovation activities of the project. "This results in an innovation which is targeted towards the real needs of the smallholders, with an adoption process that is much more rapid because of the farmers' ownership," he said.   

The UN report said agricultural products and processes that are based on science give ways to reduce hunger and malnutrition. However, the role of smallholder production must be recognized. He explained that since food production in many developing nations come from the family farm, focus must be given on the smallholders.

Examples of projects included in the report were the development of improved hybrids of pearl millet in two states in India which increased the revenue of farmers by USD 13.5 million in 2011 and the development of flood-tolerant rice which were used by 3 million farmers last year. The report said the funding for these projects came from the UK's Department for International Development and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The report also cited examples from Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, Cameroon, China, Colombia, Cuba, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Thailand.

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