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Conference - Towards sustainable agriculture for developing countries: options from life sciences and biotechnologies In support of the Forum, this website explains how Life Sciences and biotechnologies could help to achieve sustainable agriculture in developing countries; it also provides all information necessary to participate in the Forum.
Last update: 06/08/2003 Graphical element What is new?
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More than 600 attend conference

The audienceA cold and snowy Brussels welcomed more than 600 delegates from around the world to the conference. Scientists mixed with policy-makers, development experts, farmers, young people and representatives of civil society to address the most important and controversial issues surrounding the use of bio-sciences and their ability to offer sustainable solutions for food production and the alleviation poverty.

The EC’s Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin opened the conference. In a keynote address on day two, he outlined the Union’s commitment to ensuring technological developments are placed in the correct environmental and social context. Commissioner Busquin said that cooperation between the developed and developing worlds is crucial if goals relating to sustainability are to be met.

Read the full conference programme.

A question and answer session moderated by Alex Puissant brought proceeding to a close. This proved to be a dynamic session as panellists and delegates debated issues such as the safety and use of GMOs, the need to place science in a broader development context, and the value of ensuring that developing-world farmers are part of the collaborative process of research.

Commenting on the conference, the European Group on Life Sciences (EGLS) said people had the right to challenge scientific developments. The Group noted that scepticism is a healthy and essential part of the ‘proving process’ that can bring the correct scientific questions out into the open for proper debate. Read the EGLS statement in full.

Context for debate

Ten years after the Rio Summit and Agenda 21, this summer’s United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg reinforced the message that sustainability is now a widely accepted international priority. Today’s vision is also more broadly based, with decision-makers recognising that sustainable development cannot be isolated from other issues like combating poverty, hunger, malnutrition, and infectious diseases, or from integrating less advanced countries into the world economy, education and the liberalisation of trade.

Forecasts point to a significant rise in the demand for food, especially in developing countries. One response to this need is to increase the area under cultivation. The hard fact is, though, that such an increase, limited by the desire to safeguard vital natural environments, will contribute only one fifth of the increase in global cereal production needed to feed the world’s growing population. This makes it imperative to increase crop yields.

Mobilising resources

Responding to such a challenge requires the mobilisation of human and financial resources. At the same time, the current and future progress of life sciences and biotechnologies represents an undeniable potential for facilitating sustainable agriculture in developing countries, in particular where they allow these countries to unshackle themselves from more invasive mechanical and chemical methods.
Such a prospect may well encounter considerable resistance in certain sections of European public opinion which show a great deal of distrust about the use of genetically modified organisms in farming and food processing. While the GMO question is unavoidable, it is only part of the debate. Soil and crop health, knowledge relating to the state of biodiversity and of the climatic constraints on production, as well as technological emancipation in rural zones, are equally important.

Strengthening knowledge

Element graphique Programme
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  An outline programme of the conference is available on the site, and will be regularly updated.
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Element graphique Contact points at the Commission
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  • Overall management: E. Magnien
  • Assisting the organising scientific committee:
    Directorate E: M. Parel, E. Sachez, E. Balzi
  • Communication aspects: A. Vassarotti, M. Claessens
  • Administrative aspects P. Roza Manzano, E. Le Gall
  • Organisation and logistics: M. White-Branagan
  • Central contact point

In its Communication, “Life Sciences and Biotechnology: a Strategy for Europe” [(COM(2002) 27 final], the European Commission stresses the need to place scientific and technological developments in the context of building a knowledge-based economy and society.
The strategy states: “The success of any knowledge-based economy rests upon the generation, diffusion and application of new knowledge. Investments in research and development, education and training and new managerial approaches are therefore of key importance in meeting the challenges posed by life sciences and biotechnology.”
It continues by calling for links to be strengthened between research and other Community policies, and the need to involve scientists in consensus building.
“New research partnerships should also be encouraged amongst developed and developing nations to take full advantage of promising technologies and biodiversity potential.”


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