Sacramento Ag Conference Concludes
SACRAMENTO-- Scientists at the recently concluded, US-sponsored ministerial conference on agricultural technology urged developing countries to do more to frame the public debate about agricultural biotechnology around science, not false perceptions or biased opinions.
Calestous Juma, director of the science, technology and globalization project at Harvard University, told attendees at the Sacramento event that "policy vacuums" exist in many developing countries on the question of how to publicly communicate developments in agricultural
research. He urged governments to establish offices devoted to providing their leaders with continuous and inclusive non-political advice on science and technology as they affect policy.
Juma said many health and environmental concerns about biotechnology are "excuses" that are interfering with countries' ability to concentrate on doing and adapting more agricultural technology research, and gaining access to world markets.
He noted that in the 1500s the world experienced a public debate about the effects of coffee on health - similar'to the current debate about biotechnology - that led some countries to temporarily ban its sale. France, he added, tried to dissuade people from drinking coffee, fearing wine sale losses, while Germany feared losing sales of beer.
However, Juma noted, bans on coffee consumption eventually failed because advocates of the beverage proved conclusively that the beverage was safe to drink.
US agronomist and Nobel Laureate Norman Borlaug told attendees that more research is needed to develop higher-yielding wheat, maize and rice -- the world's most common basic food crops -- because the amount of land that can be used for farming and the fertility of arable land are limited.
He said there have been "broad-scale damaging effects coming from resistance" to biotech.
Borlaug - who earned his Nobel Prize in 1970 for his research in developing pest-resistant strains of wheat in Mexico - called on government officials to show "courageous leadership" in making decisions about accepting agricultural biotechnology.
An example of such leadership he cited the "brave decisions" of the Pakistani and Indian agricultural ministers to approve in the 1960s new wheat varieties developed through then-modern agricultural research. He said those decisions helped the two countries avoid widespread starvation.
Borlaug said the real problem countries face is not just providing enough food to people to survive but providing food of a nutritional quality that can improve their standard of living.
The June 23-25 agricultural ministerial conference and exposition - held at the Sacramento Convention Center was co-sponsored by the US Departments of Agriculture and State, and the US Agency for International Development (USAID).
A number of modern food technologies related to food processing and packaging, food safety, biotechnology, transportation, and soil and water management were on exhibit at the event.
The featured technologies and products were developed by companies, non-profit organizations, government agencies and research institutions.
Examples included a global positioning system (GPS) to help farmers around the world make targeted planting and grazing decisions using data gathered by satellite. The system was designed by ESRI, a Redlands, California-headquartered developer of GPS equipment and software.
Another California company exhibiting at the conference was Rio Vista-based DryVac Inc., which unveiled a soil moisture-extraction system on exhibit that turns waste materials into fertilizers and fuel, reducing the use of land for waste storage and deposits.
Several companies displayed irrigation-related technology including Netafim, an Israeli firm that recently patented a small drip-irrigation system that allows for a steady and predictable flow of water from elevated barrels holding 200-800 liters of water, which flows through a series of pipes and filters to planted plots. A system watering 500 square meters costs about $100, according to a spokesman for the company.
Another low-cost technology exhibited was a hand-held soil moisture monitor to help farmers determine when to irrigate and how much water to apply by identifying patterns of moisture extraction by roots, said a representative of ECH2O, the Korean manufacturer of the system.
Econeer Ltd., also headquartered in Korea, displayed samples of biodegradable plates and containers made entirely from flour and cheaper than similar items made from paper or plastic, while Hood River, Oregon-based Gorge Delights Inc. exhibited how it specially packages fresh fruit in airtight pouches so it doesn't require refrigeration.
The company will begin selling the fruit bars to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for use on space flights, a company spokesman said.
Intergovernmental groups at the expo included the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), an alliance of countries and organizations devoted to mobilizing agricultural science to reduce poverty, promote agricultural development and protect the environment, according to the organization, while universities represented included University of California-Davis, which conducts research in food and fiber production, nutrition, and related environmental, health, safety and policy issues.
Also present was Texas A&M, which has a highly-regarded international agriculture research program.
Information about current research and technologies "should be better managed and shared with more farmers around the world," said US Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman, addressing the closing plenary session of the conference.
"Research keeps the technology pipeline filled, but it needs to be accessible to farmers," she said.
Veneman told reporters that the meeting also emphasized the need for more agricultural research, particularly of staple food crops grown in Africa such as cassava, chick peas and yams. But, she said, countries are unlikely to make progress in this area "unless they can get a new generation interested in agricultural research."
Veneman said that the US "is committed to helping countries build the capacity to develop sanitary and phytosanitary standards because "agricultural pests don't respect [national] borders."
Another speaker, Yousuf Nuristani, Afghanistan's minister of irrigation, water resources and environment, said he could use information presented at the conference to boost his country's efforts to increase farm production, deal with poverty and hunger, and eventually reduce its need for outside aid.
He said he was particularly interested in learning about water and forest management techniques. Afghanistan, a semi-arid country whose main domestic energy source is wood, has lost 60% of its forests since 1968.
Seydou Traore, Mali's minister of agriculture, livestock and fisheries, said he was happy that discussions at the conference also included developing countries' access to world markets. He discussed some of Mali's recent agricultural reforms, including its adoption of food security and research policies.
Developing countries "should find more ways to work together on agricultural research projects," he said.
The South Korean delegation took the opportunity that the Korean government will host a comparable agricultural conference and exposition knowledge-sharing meeting in 2004 in conjunction with an international conference on rice.
back, or read the latest Front Page stories:
US Seeks Stronger Ties With Brazil
WASHINGTON, DC – 06/13/06 – Rebounding from the failure to craft a Free Trade Area of the Americas pact, the Bush Administration is aiming at strengthening trade ties with Brazil in an effort to counter China’s fast-growing economic influence in Latin America; China should not only be seen as an export market with 1.3 billion consumers, but also as a nation of 1.3 billion ''new competitors,'' says US Secretary of Commerce Carlos Guittierez.
US Threatens WTO Action Against China
WASHINGTON, DC – 06/10/06 – The White House is threatening to slap China with a World Trade Organization case unless Beijing responds quickly to US concerns over its lack of action on securing intellectual property rights for US products; talks on bringing the WTO case are at a ''very advanced stage,'' according to a high level official in the Office of the US trade Representative.
High Hopes for Central American Trade Pact
WASHINGTON, DC – 06/08/06 – The US -Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) still faces some hurdles, but could become a reality ''very soon,'' according to Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick; the issues relating to government procurement, intellectual property rights and agriculture still need to be worked through, says the former US Trade Representative following a session of the Organization of American States (OAS) General Assembly in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.