Biotechnology promises to use modern molecular genetics to solve agricultural problems dealing with plant and animal stress in challenged environments, but it has not yet provided significant solutions. Important characteristics such as, heat, cold, salt, and drought tolerance may be multigene traits that will require more sophistication in producing useful transgenics. In addition, reduced funding for public research is shifting the focus towards industry funded proprietary research, with little work done on crop characteristics important in the developing world.
Those involved in agricultural biotechnology research must develop communication strategies that show that biotechnology is simply a set of useful tools and to inform the public on progress in different area. The key to acceptance of the use of biotechnology is safety and there will have to be a balance between risks and the ability to feed the world. The perspectives of organic agriculture on biotechnology is that it would pick and choose between various biotechnologies depending on the particular trait.
The workshop discussions revolved around three main issues:
Sustainable agriculture has a variety of meanings depending on the specific location and the nature of the agricultural enterprise,
Diversity has great variability in meaning depending upon the specific case, and
Advances in agricultural biotechnology will continue to suffer from the difficulties of educating an intelligent but scientific illiterate population that increasingly gets information in 30-second sound bites.
Local farm knowledge is being eroded and, given its relevance to the viability of farm communities, ways have to be found to revive it. Young people often leave farming communities and with them this source of population, knowledge, and skill regeneration is lost to the farm community forever. This trend must be reversed and the loss of community knowledge be replaced by independent public universities and state research agencies, not by private generation of knowledge as has been the trend
Agricultural biotechnology holds great potential for feeding a hungry world and reducing the strain on the planet’s environment. The products of agricultural biotechnology will circle the globe as exports and imports. International regulatory systems are and are a problem for commodities grain traders and confuse the public. Everyone engaged in agricultural biotechnology has a role to play in educating, communicating, and promoting a science-based global system that will facilitate rather than impede trade of agricultural biotechnology products.
Biotechnology researchers are working in the university-industrial complex and seek public support for an agenda driven by cold cash and corporate competition. Expensive and ethically challenged research and development efforts are sold to the public via appeals to environmental protection and alleviation of famine. After decades promoting specialization, extension departments have focused on diversification. Many of the heralded ideas of conventional agriculture are now seen as ill-advised. In turn, the claims surrounding agricultural biotechnology will also be modified as we discover limitations, costs, and alternatives. The problem this time, however, may mean that their impacts can be threatening to the planet as well as damaging to local ecologies, economies, and communities
Furtan, W. H.; Mayer, Holly; Hart, Frank (NABC, 1997)
Canadian farmers need to be concerned with developments in the field of biotechnology. As they will be using and producing the products, their economic livelihood depends on the orderly regulation of this sector. To be certain this occurs, they are going to have to be actively involved in the process. For Canada to compete with other major players, the costs of doing business in Canada in terms of regulation must be lowered and intellectual property rights must be protected.
The debate over the value of biotechnology is polarized and impassioned. In the early days of modern biotechnology, dealing with challenged environments in agriculture (drought conditions, cold weather, and others) seemed within reach. These solutions have not yet materialized, and the search continues. Belief systems, the way information has been communicated and the way decisions are made, affect perception and public support or opposition to a new technology.
Biotechnology has opened up enormous and exciting possibilities for plant breeding. The development of varieties with resistance or tolerance to biotic and abiotic stresses or with new characteristics of interest to consumers, could make a substantial contribution to increasing productivity and alleviating poverty in a sustainable way. But, the reduction of publicly funded research and the growing concentration of biotechnological expertise in the private sector have aroused fears that the poorest segments of society will be neglected and will not share in the potential benefits that the new technologies could bring to their lives.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada defines an “agroecosystem” as an “ecosystem under agricultural management — an open dynamic system connected to other ecosystems through the transfer of energy and materials.” While the importance for agriculture of such natural resources as soil, water, and air has long been recognized, the agroecosystem approach puts biological resources at the center of agricultural concerns. Issues related to biological diversity in sustainable agroecosystems and their implications, with a particular focus on the impact of biotechnologies are discussed.
Biotechnology is an important tool to develop alternatives towards more sustainable practices. Cooperation is needed to ensure that issues are dealt with and questions are answered and biotechnology, like any new tool, must be based on our understanding of whole systems rather than their parts
The international discussion, regulation and public opinion about biotechnology is extremely diverse and the discussion must be moved forward with great focus and by coordination the efforts of all involved.
Effective partnerships between developing-country research systems, international research institutions, and private and public sector research institutions in industrialized countries should be forged to bring biotechnology to bear on the agricultural problems of developing countries. Failure to expand agricultural research significantly in and for developing countries will make food security, poverty, and environmental goals elusive. Lack of foresight today will carry a very high cost for the future.