A major new report from the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today outlines the importance of improved crops and biotechnology in reducing poverty and addressing the climate change challenge faced by the world's 750 million smallholder farmers.
The FAO's annual State of Food and Agriculture 2016 report addresses a plethora of different approaches to tackling climate change in smallholder farming, including increased crop diversity, off-farm income sources, access to markets and credit sources, a renewed focus on gender, and agro-ecological farming practices that conserve soil organic matter and water resources.
The report also renews the FAO's focus on “climate-smart agriculture,” which combines both adaptation and mitigation in improved farming systems. One of its three key principles is "sustainably increasing agricultural productivity to support equitable increases in incomes, food security, and development." Examples suggested by the FAO include the adoption of heat- and drought-resistant varieties of important crops, as well as expanding irrigation and the adoption of conservation agriculture.
While statements by FAO officials have often been equivocal about biotechnology over the years, the 2016 report does contain a strong paragraph of endorsement:
"Biotechnologies, both low- and high-tech, can help small-scale producers in particular to be more resilient and to adapt better to climate change. While the subsections that follow focus mainly on innovation through management practices, some practices may depend on the outcomes of biotechnology, such as improved seed."
The FAO's statement is welcome in that it represents a clearer acknowledgement that biotechnology and improved crop varieties - while not a silver bullet by themselves - do play a vital role in wider strategies for assisting smallholder farmers to address climate change. This is in contrast to many NGOs, which assert that genetically engineered crops in particular should be prohibited in Africa despite their likely benefits.
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To read the UN report, please visit the FAO site.