BUDAPEST, Hungary, August
4, 2003 -- CropChoice news -- , Reuters, 08/02/03: Experts
from business, politics, food, farming and development agreed the
basis on Saturday for an ambitious review of how science can help
some 800 million chronically undernourished people in the developing
After months of regional meetings across the globe, a World Bank-sponsored
group of experts has recommended a searching look at how to harness
agricultural technologies, including genetic modification, to meet
global food needs over the next 50 years.
"Over $35 billion is spent annually on agricultural research.
We need to know if this money is well spent and where best to target
our efforts," said the recommendation paper after governments,
agribusiness, development agencies, pressure groups and non-governmental
organizations met in Budapest.
"Having Greenpeace, the World Bank and a company like Syngenta
sitting together and agreeing this is important for the developing
world is pretty amazing," said Michael Stopford, an executive
at Syngenta, the world's leading agribusiness.
The review, which will cost $15 million and could be finished by
the end of 2006, will canvas broad opinion, from local farmers to
the public and private sectors, to look at how biotechnology can
help fight hunger and poverty as the global population expands and
land and water become scarcer.
Oxfam America President Raymond Offenheiser said the review would
help make future agricultural research more relevant to farmers'
needs in the developing world.
"We agreed an assessment...would be timely, sensible and beneficial
to advance new ways of thinking about agricultural science and technology
around the world," he said.
"The hope is we can tease out some of the important barriers
that large numbers of farmers face -- specific issues like pests,
animal diseases and blights that research has overlooked -- take
that analysis to the scientific community and come up with a research
agenda that is close to the ground," he said.
Bob Watson, the World Bank chief scientist who chaired the review
and who helped prepare the groundwork for the Kyoto climate protocol,
said the assessment would be unique in bringing together farmers'
local knowledge and the work of university, government and private
"We'll have a much better idea of what is the role of science
and technology moving into the future, bringing together local and
institutional knowledge which can be used by governments, NGOs,
international and funding agencies," he said.
The review will explicitly not be bogged down by broader disputes
over the merits of GM technology, the organizers said.
"We've been very disciplined in not arguing the pros and cons
of GMOs and gene technology," said Watson.
"GM is not the number one issue and we've tried to take out
the strident debate on GM technology," said Syngenta's Stopford.
"The sort of things -- like drought resistance, plant breeding,
rice that doesn't need so much irrigation -- that could be extremely
interesting for the developing world, are totally reachable without
coming near the subject of GM."
The recommendation now goes to World Bank President James Wolfensohn,
who is likely to pass it on to United Nations Secretary-General
Kofi Annan to drum up the funding.