Role of agricultural biotechnologies in sustainable food systems and nutrition

  • 02nd March 2016
  • by secretary
Role of agricultural biotechnologies in sustainable food systems and nutrition agrinatura
Helen Altshul, BecA-ILRI Hub’s development partnerships
specialist made a presentation at FAO symposium in Rome
(photo credit: FAO/Giuseppe Carotenuto)

15-17 February 2016. Rome, Italy. This technical conference explored how agriculturalbiotechnologies can benefit small-holder farmers, particularly those in developing countries, who need to improve nutrition and strengthen livelihoods even as their production systems are constrained by climate change, population growth, and other socioeconomic factors.

Through a series of keynote speeches, presentations and side events, the contributions of a wide spectrum of biotechnologies to sustainable food systems and nutrition was covered. A high-level ministerial segment took place on 16 February.

Participants at the symposium included representatives from governments, intergovernmental bodies, the private sector, civil society, research and academic institutions, cooperatives, and other producer and farmer organizations.

  • The symposium focused mainly on the broad range of biotechnologies that could result in yield increases, better nutritional qualities, and improved productivities of crops, livestock, fish and trees on which smallholder farmers’ food systems, nutrition and livelihoods depend.
  • These biotechnologies encompass a wide range of low-tech to high-tech approaches which can make the development of improved varieties and breeds that adapt to the effects of climate change, faster and more efficient.
  • Some permit the rapid diagnosis of diseases and pests while others are used in vaccine production and the reduction of the environmental footprints of agricultural production systems.
  • The focus was on agricultural biotechnologies that are currently available and ready to use by smallholder producers, including low-tech approaches involving artificial insemination, fermentation techniques, biofertilizers etc. up to high-tech approaches involving advanced DNA-based methodologies.

The increased use of biosciences by African national agricultural research systems (NARS) was highlighted by the BecA-ILRI Hub

In a presentation titled ‘Biosciences capacity building in Africa: lessons learned from the BecA-ILRI Hub’, development partnerships specialist Helen Altshul highlighted lessons learned from over a decade of supporting national programs in building their capacity to deliver on their national research mandate. Altshul emphasised the BecA-ILRI Hub’s demand-driven approach to research and capacity building underpinned by the Africa Biosciences Challenge Fund (ABCF) program. Through the ABCF, the BecA-ILRI Hub continues to contribute to strengthened research capabilities of individuals and institutions within NARS in Africa.

The presentation demonstrated how the BecA-ILRI Hub’s focus on enabling research innovations has produced important discoveries led by national researchers including:

  • Isolation of the new virus in pigs by scientists from Uganda and Kenya led by Charles Masembe from Makerere University in Uganda;
  • Production of new cross between maize and sorghum for crop improvement by Alexander Bombom from the Ugandan National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO);
  • Utilizing genetic diversity of local African chicken to improve productivity by Christian Keambou from the University of Buea in Cameroon; and
  • Contribution to the release of new sorghum varieties in Sudan by Rasha Mohamed from the Agricultural Research Cooperation