Tag Archives: FAO

Climate change: Countries at loggerheads over how to share benefits from genetic plant data

Rich and poor countries are at loggerheads over how to share benefits from genetic plant data that could help breed crops better able to withstand climate change, as negotiations to revise a global treaty are set to resume in Rome on Monday.

The little-known agreement is seen as crucial for agricultural research and development on a planet suffering rising hunger, malnutrition and the impacts of climate change.

“We need all the ‘genetics’ around the world to be able to breed crops that will adapt to global warming,” said Sylvain Aubry, a plant biologist who advises the Swiss government.

Rising temperatures, water shortages and creeping deserts could reduce both the quantity and quality of food production, including staple crops such as wheat and rice, scientists have warned.

The debate over “digital sequence information” (DSI) has erupted as the cost of sequencing genomes falls, boosting the availability of genetic plant data, Aubry said.

“A lot of modern crop breeding relies on these data today,” he added.

At the same time, the capability of machines to process vast amounts of that data to identify special crop traits such as disease resistance or heat tolerance has grown.

Pierre du Plessis, an African technical advisor on treaty issues, said companies and breeders can use DSI to identify the genetic sequence of a desired plant trait and send it by e-mail to a gene foundry that prints and mails back a strand of DNA.

“Then you use gene-editing technology to incorporate that strand into a plant. So you have created a new variety without accessing the trait in biological form,” he said.

That process could enable businesses to circumvent the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture which stipulates that the benefits derived from using material from species it covers – including money and new technology – must be shared.

Developing states, which are home to many plant species such as maize and legumes used in breeding, hope to add digital sequence information to the treaty’s scope.

This would force companies and breeders that develop new commercial crops from that data to pay a percentage of their sales or profits into a fund now managed by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The fund’s resources are used to conserve and develop plant genetic resources – the basis of the foods humans eat – so that farmers, particularly in the developing world, can cope better with a warming climate.

Most wealthy nations, which are generally more active in seed production, argue digital information on plant genetics should be available to use without an obligation to share benefits.

“There’s almost no one still doing the old-fashioned, ‘let’s try it and see’ breeding. It’s all based on the understanding of genome and a lot of CRISPR gene editing creeping in,” said du Plessis.

CRISPR is a technology that allows genome editing in plant and animal cells. Scientists say it could lead to cures for diseases driven by genetic mutations or abnormalities, and help create crops resilient to climate extremes.

But developing nations and civil society groups such as the Malaysia-based Third World Network say companies that develop new crop varieties using this information could lock access to their critical traits using intellectual property rights.

SCIENCE FICTION?

The treaty row emerged in late October when representatives of governments, the seed industry, research organisations and civil society attended a meeting at FAO headquarters in Rome.

Negotiations have been going on for more than six years to update the treaty, which came into force in 2004 and governs access to 64 crops and forage plants judged as key to feeding the world.

Last month, the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan and Germany rejected a proposal from the co-chairs of the talks to include “information, including genetic sequence data” in the treaty’s provisions on benefit-sharing.

Africa, India, Latin America and the Caribbean pushed back but the meeting ended without a compromise, which negotiators now hope to secure before the treaty’s governing body meets on Nov. 11.

The International Seed Federation, a body representing the $42-billion seed industry, says plant breeding still requires the use of physical material and it is too early to set the rules on genetic data.

“Developing policy based on speculation and on things that are bordering on scientific fiction doesn’t seem wise,” said Thomas Nickson,  who attended the Rome talks for the federation.

“It is critical to have the information publicly available, especially for small companies in developing countries,” he added.

But Edward Hammond, an advisor to Third World Network, said small farmers needed support, and open access to plant data should not mean a “no-strings-attached free-for-all”.

“Resilience to climate change is being grown in the fields,” he said. “Interesting and new varieties are appearing in the fields as they adapt. This is not coming from companies using new seeds.”

Kent Nnadozie, secretary of the treaty, said if it were agreed the genetic data should be freely available, it would be mostly developed countries that had the capacity, resources and technology to put it to use.

“The fear is that (this) perpetuates and reinforces an unfair system or… amplifies it,” he said.

Concerns over increasing privatization and monopolization of food crops – which experts say threaten agricultural biodiversity – played a role in the treaty’s origins.

Its aim was to build a multilateral approach to access and exchange plant resources, with “fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from their use” as a means to address historical imbalances between farmers and seed companies.

While breeders and seed firms rarely pay for the knowledge and genetic resources they source from farmers and indigenous peoples, farmers usually have to buy the seeds of the improved crop varieties businesses produce and sell.

So far, more than 5.4 million samples of plant genetic resources have been transferred under the treaty between governments, research institutes and the private sector in 181 countries, its secretariat said.

A large majority of those transfers are improved materials from CGIAR, the global agricultural research network, to public-sector research organizations in developing countries tackling food security issues, said Michael Halewood, head of policy at Bioversity International, a CGIAR center.

“Countries around the world have always been interdependent on crop genetic resources. Climate change is making us all more interdependent than ever on those resources,” he said.

South Korea confirms second case of deadly African swine fever, pledges vigilance

South Korea has confirmed a second case of African swine fever at a pig farm near the border with North Korea, a day after reporting its first-ever outbreak of the virus, deadly to pigs but not harmful to humans.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs said in a statement on Wednesday that the second case was detected at a farm in Yeoncheon, northwest of the capital Seoul, where 4,700 pigs had been raised. North Korea reported its first case in late May.

The first outbreak of African swine fever in East Asia was reported in China in early August 2018, and the virus has since spread across Asia. The disease is nearly 100% fatal and highly contagious among pigs, with no known cure or vaccine.

The ministry said all of the pigs at the Yeoncheon farm would be slaughtered, pledging vigilance in efforts to contain the outbreak and ensure stable pork supplies.

After the first case was discovered, South Korea raised its animal disease alert level to the highest available and ramped up disinfection measures, including a temporary nationwide movement ban of hogs and related livestock.

With stockpiles and the national pig herd currently bigger than usual, the ministry said it expected the culling to have a limited impact on national pork supplies.

As of August, there were 12.3 million pigs in South Korea, up from 11.3 million in the second quarter, according to data from the agriculture ministry and Statistics Korea.

South Korea’s Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul told a parliamentary committee on Wednesday that the ministry had suggested cooperative quarantine efforts with the North but nothing had happened so far.

North Korea has been affected by African swine fever as of Sept. 12, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) website.

Agriculture: LASG plans stakeholders’ engagement to develop five-year plan

Lagos State gov. Babajide Sanwo-Olu

 

Lagos State Government says it will hold an Agricultural Stakeholders’ Engagement to address challenges, opportunities and prospects in the agricultural sector with a view to developing a five-year plan for the state.

The state Commissioner for Agriculture, Prince Gbolahan Lawal made this known in a statement on Sunday in Lagos.

He said the reason for the engagement was informed by need to sustain existing efforts of the state government in the agricultural sector.

Lawal said the meeting which would serve as an interface for all stakeholders in the agricultural sector would hold on Sept. 11 at Ikeja, saying that the programme would draw participants from multilateral organisations like the World Bank, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), ECOWAS, UK-DFID, USAID, CTA, IITA and Africa Rice.

Other multilateral corporations attending the meeting were, Olam, Dizzengof, Meatco, Elephant Group as well as prominent agro-preneurs, academia, special interest groups; government agencies like the DAWN, Embassies, Commercial and Development institutions.

He said the gathering would address ways to make Lagos State a 21st Century economy that worked in line with the theme: “Developmental Agenda of the Sanwo-Olu’s government’’.

Lawal said the ideas, technology and innovations would take into consideration, the day-to-day and evolving realities of farming, agricultural production and food consumption became imperative; hence the need for the meeting.

He said the stakeholders’ engagement would also be an avenue to connect and empower the next generation of agricultural change-makers, farmers’ associations, medium and small scale players in the sector.

“As Lagos State becomes a 21st century economy, there is need to sustain existing efforts of the agricultural sector in ensuring food security and also introduce new solutions”.

“The idea, technology and innovations that will take into account the day-to-day and evolving realities of farming, agricultural production and food consumption will be discussed”.

“The introduction of these new solutions, ideas and innovations is expected to transform today’s challenges into tomorrow’s opportunities in the agricultural sector”.

“All these have necessitated the need to look carefully into strategies to increase agricultural production in the state towards feeding the teeming population. Thus the ministry decided to organise the stakeholders’ engagement,” the commissioner said.

Lawal said the meeting was also expected to come up with ideas on how to facilitate rapid development of the agro-economy of the state, particularly in the areas where the state had comparative and competitive advantage in making it a 21st century economy. (NAN)

Food security: “Look beyond hunger” U.N urges governments

More than 2 billion people lack access to healthy food, putting them at risk of health problems – and many of them live in North America or Europe, the United Nations said on Monday, urging governments to “look beyond hunger”.

More than a quarter of the world’s population now struggles to eat “safe, nutritious and sufficient food”, according to the U.N.’s State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2019 report.

That includes about 8% of people in Europe and North America, according to the annual study, which for the first time includes people affected by “moderate food insecurity” as well as outright hunger.

“We need to look beyond hunger,” said Cindy Holleman, senior economist at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the report’s editor.

“If we just focus on hunger, we’re going to be missing a lot of the growing problems we’re seeing.”

Moderate food insecurity affects people who have had to reduce the quality or quantity of what they eat due to lack of money or other resources.

It can lead to obesity as well as stunting – a condition that permanently affects children’s mental and physical development.

The findings show governments need to pay more attention to different aspects of food availability instead of just focusing on producing more, said the director-general of the FAO, which compiled the report with four other U.N. agencies.

“Governments are very much oriented to the production side. They believe that if there is food available, people will eat. In a way, that’s not true,” Jose Graziano da Silva told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“We are not looking at the distribution, the markets, the behavior of the people, the culture of the people.”

The new data reflects the fact that there are now more obese people in the world than hungry ones.

But it also showed the number of hungry people increased in 2018 for the third year running.

Hunger is on the rise in most of Africa, in parts of the Middle East and in Latin America and the Caribbean, the report said, with conflict and climate shocks largely to blame.

Jean-Michel Grand, executive director of Action Against Hunger UK, said the true scale of the problem was likely even bigger, and called for urgent global change.

“Progress won’t be made if we don’t address the causes of conflict, the continuing inequality for women and girls, and weak health systems,” he said.

The report said there were 822 million obese people in 2016, the most recent year for which figures were available, when 796.5 million people were undernourished.

Nutritionists have said obesity figures are likely to have increased further since then.

“Obesity is out of control,” said Graziano da Silva, who likened the situation to the beginning of the Green Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s when high-yielding seeds, fertilisers and irrigation helped stave off famine in hungry parts of the world.

“We were anticipating big hunger in Asia. Now, we are anticipating a big crisis due to the rise of obesity. And this trend takes more time and is more complex (to resolve) than hunger.”

Swine fever in China among risks to global agriculture sector – FAO/OECD

The spread of a deadly pig disease in China that has disrupted the world’s biggest pork market is one of the major risks to a well-supplied global agricultural sector, the FAO and OECD said on Monday.

African swine fever was highlighted in the FAO and OECD’s annual agricultural outlook for 2019-2028, which forecast broadly stable agricultural markets in the coming decade as productivity gains help output to keep pace with rising demand for food, livestock feed and crop-based biofuels.

China is grappling with African swine fever, which has spread across much of the country in the past year. There is no cure or vaccine for the disease, often fatal for pigs although harmless for humans.

The FAO/OECD forecast a 5 percent fall in Chinese pork output this year, while imports were forecast to rise to almost 2 million tonnes from an average 1.6 million tonnes per year in 2016-2018.

Pork production was then projected to recover in 2020 to 2018 levels, before resuming a longer-term growth path, supported by robust underlying demand, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said in their annual 10-year outlook.

But African swine fever’s impact was still unclear, compared with the spread of the fall army worm crop pest in China and other parts of Asia which was seen as manageable using pesticides, the organizations said.

“Measures to contain the outbreak are assumed to moderately depress global pork production in the short term,” they said.

“As their success is uncertain the medium term impact of the epidemic may become more severe than currently anticipated.”

Other observers have projected a steeper fall in Chinese pork production as herds are culled and given suspicions that cases are being under-reported, while the authorities have said outbreaks are slowing and output recovering.

The FAO/OECD forecast lower prices in real terms over the decade for most major agricultural commodities, a trend they have predicted in previous reports.

In addition to disease threats and perennial weather risks, another big issue for agricultural markets was rising trade tensions.

Chinese tariffs as part of a trade dispute with Washington would prevent U.S. pork benefiting from short-term demand for imports, with Brazil, Canada and the European Union expected to win share, the FAO and OECD said.

Asia would continue to drive global demand for pork, while poultry would lead global growth in meat demand, accounting for half of additional consumption in the next 10 years, the organizations estimated.

Dairy, however, was expected to be the single fastest-growing livestock sector, fueled by brisk demand in India and Pakistan, they said.