No. 1473 1 July 2011

Winning the race to feed the world
Demystifying crop biotechnology in the fight against global hunger and poverty

AMIC Dr Dar addressing the participants of the media colloquium on biotechnology at the 20th AMIC annual conference.

“Every day, we are constantly faced with the challenge of meeting the food needs of more than 9 billion people by 2050, with shrinking land and increasingly scarce energy and water resources. There are one billion poor and hungry people today. We need to increase food productivity by as much as 70% to meet present and future demands. It is therefore an ethical imperative to keep the technological portfolio open to biotechnology and genetic engineering,” said Director General William Dar.

Addressing participants of the media colloquium on “Demystifying Crop Biotechnology: Issues and Concepts for the Asian Media,” Dr Dar emphasized, however, that “rigorous regulatory and safety assessment processes are a key, in view of the public’s skepticism about the claims of scientists on the safety of genetically engineered foods.”

“Public-funded research will bring to an end the monopoly on biotechnology products now largely enjoyed by multinational seed companies. Public-funded initiatives can focus on achieving sustainable food production, giving farmers access to transgenic seeds, and improving the lives of the poor by making major food crops more productive, nutritious and affordable,” Dr Dar stressed.

Understanding and enhancing the role of the media in communicating crop biotechnology was the focus of the media colloquium held on 27 June as part of the 20th annual conference of the Asian Media Information and Communication Centre (AMIC).

Clive James


There is no single strategy to meet the food needs of the growing population. All available options – conventional plant breeding and biotech approaches – must be explored, as well as better farm practices and management of land and natural resources to produce more food.

– Dr Clive James, ISAAA Chair

The activity was jointly organized by ICRISAT with AMIC, Department of Biotechnology-Government of India (DBT-GOI), and the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA).

“In just 15 years after commercialization, accumulated biotech crops exceeded 1 billion hectares in 2010, a milestone that signifies biotech crops are here to stay,” said Dr Clive James, ISAAA Chair and founder and renowned biotechnology expert. “However, there is no single strategy to meet the food needs of the growing population. All available options – conventional plant breeding and biotech approaches – must be explored, as well as better farm practices and management of land and natural resources to produce more food,” Dr James stated.

Media practitioners from India and AMIC delegates from Japan, China, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, Switzerland, Sweden and some European countries shared contemporary challenges, issues and concerns related to crop biotechnology during the event. The first part of the colloquium was held in the morning of 27 June at the Taj Krishna Hotel, Hyderabad while the second part was in the afternoon at ICRISAT’s  Platform for Translational Research for Transgenic Crops (PTTC) in Patancheru.

Media dialogue Left to right) The media dialogue panelists: Dr Kalinga Seneviratne, AMIC Head of Research; Dr William Dar; Dr Clive James; and Dr Kiran Sharma.

During the media dialogue at PTTC, Dr Dar further stressed the need for partnerships with the private sector to resolve the issue of patent regime by providing freedom to operate and giving non-exclusive licenses to the participating private sector partners.

He added that the public must be continuously engaged through multi-stakeholder dialogues on crop biotechnology toward improved public policy, greater public confidence, stronger support for regulatory decisions, and a more informed public.

Dr James, meanwhile, pointed on the need for governments to have strong political will so as not to pay a heavy cost by not adopting genetically modified crops. In the case of India, farmers should have the opportunity to reap the benefits of the technology like that of Bt cotton, which has already been tested for commercial cultivation in the country.

Biotech crops registered a record 87-fold increase in hectares globally between 1996 and 2010, making it the fastest adopted crop technology in the history of modern agriculture. The number of countries planting biotech crops soared to a record 29 in 2010, from 25 in 2009, according to Dr James. By 2015, 40 countries are expected to adopt biotech crops.

Media dialogue Science journalists during the media dialogue at the PTTC.

The media colloquium also saw the launching of the book “Communication Challenges and Convergence in Crop Biotechnology” published by ISAAA and SEARCA and edited by Dr Mariechel Navarro and Dr Randy A Hautea of ISAAA. In her talk on Communicating Agri-Biotechnology, Dr M Navarro stressed on the role of science communicators in informing, educating and mobilizing the public as an enlightened user of crop biotechnology products and decision makers to come up with supportive policies.

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Transgenic crops in the pipeline, may be available in 4-5 years

THE FIRST-EVER TRANSGENIC groundnut variety, which can withstand prolonged heat, may be available for trials in the next four to five years.

Addressing a media dialogue held at ICRISAT-Patancheru on 27 June, PTTC Director Kiran K Sharma said that even though efforts were on to create genetically improved legumes, including chickpea and pigeonpea, the need for high- yielding groundnut for its oil was more urgent.

He added that at PTTC, efficient protocols for the genetic engineering of its mandate crops, namely groundnut, pigeonpea and chickpea, have been developed and shared with the scientific community.

PTTC Dr Sharma (left photo) and Dr Bhatnagar-Mathur (right photo) took the communication and media practitioners attending the dialogue on a tour/briefing of the PTTC facility.

Currently, PTTC has developed transgenic plants of these crops for various constraints like resistance to viruses and fungal pathogens, tolerance to drought and enhancement of beta-carotene or pro-vitamin A in groundnut; resistance to insect pests like the Indian peanut clump virus in groundnut, legume podborer in pigeonpea and chickpea; drought tolerance in chickpea; and enhancement of pro-vitamin A in pigeonpea. These plants are currently in different stages of testing in laboratory and greenhouse conditions. Some of these are also being tested under contained field conditions following permissions from regulatory authorities.

In another four to five years, testing of these materials under biosafety field trials will be done as well as generation of data to ensure biosafety of these crops to humans, animals and the environment as prescribed by the regulatory bodies of India.

Dr Sharma, along with Dr Pooja Bhatnagar-Mathur, ICRISAT cell/molecular biology scientist, took the participants of the media dialogue on a tour of PTTC, the first of its kind in terms of facility geared towards the advancement of biotech crops from the public sector.

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Union Bank of Nigeria & ICRISAT host agricultural financing conference

Union Bank of Nigeria ICRISAT Governing Board member Philip Ikeazor (5th from left) and ICRISAT-WCA Director Farid Waliyar (4th from right) with participants from ICRISAT and the Union Bank of Nigeria.

THE UNION BANK OF NIGERIA in collaboration with ICRISAT hosted a two-day International Conference on Agricultural Financing with the theme: Financing agricultural value chain in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) in Abuja on 16-17 June. Representing Dr William Dar, ICRISAT-WCA Director Farid Waliyar delivered the keynote address on the topic “Building sustainable livelihoods and transforming rural communities through agricultural financing.”

Nearly 200 participants from diverse fields in the agricultural value chain took part in the conference, including scientists from ICRISAT, IITA and ILRI, the UNIDO regional representative, bankers from the commercial, agricultural and central banks of Nigeria, insurance companies, agricultural processing companies, farmers and farmer groups, NGOs and representatives from the government.

The conference culminated in a communiqué for policymakers, financial institutes and stakeholders identifying major constraints to and recommendations for agricultural financing. Key enterprises within the value chain were identified, and banks were urged to be innovative in financing agricultural enterprises.

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ICRISAT e-mail facility upgraded

William Dar Dr Dar, together with SN Nigam, KSI Acting Global Leader and the ISU team led by Pradyut J Modi, launches ICRISAT’s improved Outlook web access interface.

IN LINE WITH ICRISAT’S new strategy of using modern ICT tools to facilitate knowledge sharing, the Institute completed the exercise of enhancing its e-mail messaging platform in June 2011. More than 600 user accounts, over 70 distribution lists and other related objects at ICRISAT were upgraded in the last few months to the new Exchange 2010 servers on the x64 bit platform. ICRISAT is among the first few CGIAR Centers to do this.

With this transition to the Exchange 2010 x64 bit platform, users can avail multifold benefits/technologies such as MS Office 2010 and MS Outlook 2010 to access mails, higher email storage limits, bigger size of sent/received messages, improved Outlook web access interface with enhanced features, and better server connectivity between Outlook clients and Exchange server 64 bit. Dr William Dar launched this new interface that allows users to access mail from the Internet, following ISU’s procurement of components and completion of the installation of the new platform at ICRISAT-Patancheru. This skill-based and highly technologically-intensive exercise was carried out by the KSI-ISU team led by Pradyut J Modi and supported by U Vijay Kumar, Rama Gururaj, S Rabbani and Audrey Jayaraj. The KSI-ISU Helpdesk can be contacted in case of any hitches in the post-migration period.

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