As agriculture and environment ministers at a European and national level discuss the potential impact of proposed changes to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) - and in particular the efficacy of initiatives to encourage sustainable agriculture - an upcoming conference organised by the European Commission will investigate how life sciences and biotechnology can foster sustainable agriculture in developing countries to tackle the serious problem of food supplies.
The European group on life sciences, that includes advisors to the European research commissioner Philippe Busquin, is inviting stakeholders to participate in the conference taking place in Brussels on 30-31 January 2003.
"With this conference, I want to offer a platform for scientists to participate in an informed debate with the interested public, including many representatives from developing countries. The aim should not be to rush to conclusions," said Commissioner Busquin.
The Commission writes this week that the demand for food will rise significantly in the next few years, especially in developing countries. According to the European Commission, the option of increasing the area under cultivation is limited by the need to safeguard vital natural environments and will only contribute to one fifth of the increase in global cereal production needed to feed the world's growing population. This makes it necessary to increase crop yields.
Progress in life sciences and biotechnologies holds potential to help sustainable agriculture in developing countries. This is particularly the case when life sciences enable these countries to reduce the use of damaging mechanical and chemical methods.
Public concerns over the use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) for instance, have of course to be duly considered, although these only form part of the wider debate. There are also other options from life sciences. Equally important are soil and crop health, knowledge relating to bio-diversity, water and climate, as well as technological development in rural areas.
The conference aims to bring together representatives of developing countries, scientists, representatives of the biotechnology industry, non-governmental organisations, international organisations, education and media specialists and officials from several governments.