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Event report: Sustainable Solutions for Food Security

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Originalmeldung von EuropaBio
Original-URL: http://www.europabio.org
Am 26.10.2010 diskutierten in Brüssel Landwirte, EU-Politiker und NGO-Vertreter über "Sustainable Solutions for Food Security" - anbei ein Veranstaltungsbericht des europäischen Verbandes EuropaBio.

Event report: Sustainable Solutions for Food Security


On Tuesday, October 26th in Brussels, farmers, EU policymakers and civil society representatives gathered to discuss ‘Sustainable Solutions for Food Security.’ Food production will need to grow to meet increasing demand and decrease hunger, and several farmers from three continents explained first hand how agricultural biotechnology could be part of the solution.


The event began with short commentaries by Mr. Roberto Ridolfi, Head of Unit, EuropeAid, Ms. Rosalie Ellasus, a small farmer from the Philippines, Dr. Justus Wesseler of Wageningen University, and Dr. Ivo Marcos Carraro of Brazil’s COODETEC cooperative that represents 180,000 farmers.


Mr. Ridolfi asked the audience to close their eyes and imagine the one billion people who go hungry each year. He said his job, as a recent appointee to the UN’s high level panel of experts for food security, is to understand why this is happening and how to solve it. He believes the answer may lie in private investment, particularly private equity investments that give money directly to farmers. He said: “My expertise is financing mechanisms and public-private partnerships - how to get money to farmers.” Agricultural and development experts should follow the example of renewable energy financing, which has utilsed private equity to fund technology transfers. If the public sector has the capacity to “manage private equity funds with a brain that works in a private modality but looks at the public interest,” he believes this model can work.


Ms. Ellasus brought the realities of a small farmer’s perspective to the table. Originally a medical technologist, she discovered farming after her husband’s death and needed to boost her income to raise her three boys. Unable to find suitable work with her degree, she used her small savings from working abroad to buy 1.3 hectares and decided to take up take up farming.. She learned agricultural techniques by enrolling in a course supported by the government of the Philippines. In 2002, she began learning about GM maize and volunteered a part of her land as a demonstration site. Since then, she has not looked back. Spending less time spraying her crops has saved Ms. Ellasus a lot of time and money. Her yields have increased and reduced tillage has saved tractor fuel and is good for both her bank account and the environment. Commenting on public opinion about GM crops in the Philippines, she said, “We have had to overcome major challenges along a rough road. But the government is looking at the plight of the farmers and knows [adopting GM crops] will help give farmers a better life.”


Dr. Justus Wesseler, an expert in the environmental and economic aspects of GM crops, noted that the “area allocated to GM crops worldwide has continuously increased.” He has found that by growing GM crops farmers benefit most from higher yields and the need to spray their crops less. Some 14 million farmers—90% of whom are small farmers—in 25 countries planted 134 million hectares of GM crops in 2009. He found that globally two thirds of overall welfare gains from growing GM are reaped by farmers, and only one third or less are kept by industry. In terms of environmental benefits, the higher yields reduce pressure on habitats and wetlands, since less land is needed for growing the same amount of food, and degraded land can sometimes be brought back into production again. Additionally, low- or no-till practices often used to cultivate GM crops can help boost biodiversity.


Dr. Ivo M. Carraro, an agronomist who leads COODETEC, a Brazilian cooperative made up of 34 associations and 180,000 farmers, spoke about Brazil’s experience with GM crops. The revenue of all the cooperatives is $16 billion, and 75% of their members are small farmers. Brazil approved the first GM crop, insect resistant maize, in 1998, and it is expected that by 2011, available GM crops will have a 75% adoption rate. GM soybeans, for example, are largely (70%)used for domestic industrial use, while 30% are exported. Dr. Carraro made the point that “choosing technology, transgenic or any other, depends on how well these technologies help farmers tackle the problems they face.” On the public and political acceptance of GM foods, he said: “we had seven years of debate about the use of the GM soybean, and of course the people needed more information. Now, the journalists and politicians have taken a more consensual approach.”


After the introductory remarks, the audience was asked to ‘vote with their feet’ in the interactive British House of Commons-style debate. Moderator Jacki Davis told participants to choose a side of the room based on six motions concerning food security and GM crops. Common themes included Europe’s influence on other parts of the world -particularly developing countries - public opinion about GM food and crops, and the need for a more science-led debate and serious discussion between Europe and developing countries on solutions for food security.


The motions for debate included:


  • Technological innovation is essential to sustainably feed the world.

  • European farmers are losing out in a globalised market because emerging economies are more advanced in agricultural innovations.

  • Europe lags behind in public GM acceptance due to poor education on agricultural innovation.

  • Speeding up European decision making on biotech products would benefit global food security.

  • Limiting developing countries’ freedom to choose GM crops is a new form of colonialism.

  • European political leaders must play a stronger role in promoting the acceptance of GM.


Sound bites from farmers, policymakers and civil society:


  • “Technological change is necessary but not sufficient; we need institutional change more than technological change.”


  • “On second thought, this is true, but I realise it is not the whole truth. You need things other than technological innovation to beat world hunger. One example would be investment in infrastructure.”


  • “Technological innovation can also be communication innovation. In the last food crisis, the farmers who needed to know about food prices didn’t know because of the lack of communication technology.”


  • “We have technological innovation, but we can’t use it.”


  • “Should the EU be doing more? Of course - but agriculture is no longer important. We spend a lot of money on it, but we are not as interested in agriculture as we should be - we are still looking within the EU territory and not so much outside of it.”


  • “We are the largest importer: we are using 35 million hectares of land outside of Europe to grow our food!”


  • “If you see the superb science China is engaged in, it will soon have some fascinating products that we could have developed.”


  • “We in Europe accept biotech for medical purposes but not for agriculture. I think the problem is that we are not having a rational scientific debate.”


  • “One has to be very careful about judging public perception. If you ask people provocative questions, that’s one thing. If you put them in shops, that’s another thing.”


  • “We had GM tomato paste for 25p in Scotland. We had it and everyone was buying it, but we don’t have it on the market today.”


  • “We should start a serious discussion with the population outside of Europe.”


  • “I don’t see how speeding up the GM approval process will secure global food supplies faster. The 1 billion hungry people may not eat soy or maize. That will not bring investment to the countries where the people are living.”


    • “I don’t agree with him… there are a lot of countries that need to grow more sweet potatoes, maize, and bananas. There is a link between the decisions taken here and what happens in Burkina Faso.”


  • “If you go and see how many people are dying of hunger in Africa, if you see the drought coming year by year, you can see that we don’t have a choice.”


  • “In Africa, many budgets come from the EU. I am the chairman of our national crop research institute. Some 90% of research is funded by European organisations. If you have a bias we lose out.”


  • “Political leaders don’t need to promote GM, but they do need to give people a choice.”