Producing enough food for a rapidly growing population, and taking care of our planet are two of the world's biggest challenges.
Displaying 41-60 of 76 key documents
Source: UN Environment Programme | June 2006
Aimed at an expert audience, this report is an authoritative and up-to-date assessment of the state of the world's deserts, written and edited by some of the leading names in desert science. The report defines deserts to include all arid and hyper-arid parts of the Earth — some 25 per cent of land surface.
In addition to assessing the future of deserts, the report also highlights the links between deserts and climate change. It shows, for example, that between 1976 and 2000, global climate change contributed to rising temperatures in nine out of the 12 deserts studied. With temperatures set to rise further still, the Sahara is predicted to become drier, according to the report. The Gobi desert, on the other hand, is likely to receive more rain.
The report calls for more enlightened policies to improve the quality of life in deserts. In particular, it advocates moving away from plans that are energy and water-intensive, and instead supporting those that combine traditional wisdom on coping with drought with modern science and technology for sustainable resource management.
Source: World Bank | May 2006
The authors of this report use a "computable general equilibrium" model to assess current and future economic impacts of Bt cotton. The document argues that the potential advantages of Bt cotton adoption are likely to be greater in poorer countries — especially in sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, it predicts that the benefits of Bt cotton adoption would be larger than the benefits of dismantling trade-distorting subsidies that rich countries use to support cotton cultivation and exports.
The econometric model used by the researchers does not measure environmental or human health effects, so cannot evaluate the impact of these effects on overall welfare. The paper is clearly presented and accessible to non-economists.
Source: AgBioForum | 2006
This article discusses two studies looking into agricultural biotechnology research in developing countries. The studies were conducted by researchers from the International Food Policy Research Institute.
The authors argue that regulations, insufficient collaboration between public and private sectors and inadequate information exchange between countries impede the commercial development of new agri-biotechnologies, particularly for genetically modified crops. The paper explores these problems and makes a set of recommendations.
The authors' conclusions may not persuade all readers. For example, are the regulatory frameworks themselves at fault, or do public sector research organisations lack the capacity to carry out necessary risk assessments and safety testing? Only 55 per cent of public sector research targets crops that are considered critical to poverty eradication and food security. This article provides a thought-provoking contribution to the debate.
Source: IFPRI | June 2006
This is a position statement issued by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). The statement affirms IFPRI's commitment to take a "holistic approach" to biotechnology, encompassing biosafety, social and regulatory issues. The institute does not take a position on the utility and safety of genetically modified crops in general, because these issues need to be examined on a case-by-case basis. Instead, IFPRI endorses public dialogue and transparency, and commits itself to use its research and capacity-building efforts to support governments, farmers and consumers to make sound decisions on biotechnology.
Commenting on the statement IFPRI's director general, Joachim von Braun, wrote "We are aware that some biotechnologies are controversial. We further know that while these technologies alone cannot solve the complex problems of hunger and poverty, some do have great potential to alleviate hunger and malnutrition…".
Source: DEFRA | September 2005
This collection of reports summarise the findings from a collaborative project between the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and India's Ministry of Environment and Forests that involved eight Indian research institutes. The reports look specifically at the predicted impacts of climate change on sea level, water resources, agriculture, forestry, energy and human health in India. Each report includes a section looking at the policy implications of the predicted impacts and/or the need for further research.
Source: World Resources Institute | 2003
Where are the world's drylands? Who lives in them? How can the condition of soils be measured? This short book from the World Resources Institute (available in print and as an online download) answers these and many more fundamental questions on drylands and their relationship with people and ecology. Accessible and authoritative, it tells the reader that world's largest area of dryland is in Australia, followed by the United States, Russia, China, India and Kazakhstan. Most dryland people live in Asia (1.4 billion), followed by Africa (270 million) and the Americas (150 million).
Source: UN Environment Programme | 2006
The UN Environment Programme, based in Nairobi, periodically assesses the world's environment in Global Environment Outlook (GEO). This report can be downloaded as a PDF file as well as a set of free online data tables. GEO includes a neat summary of the extent, causes and severity of land degradation in different regions, as well as the relationship between biodiversity, climate change and land. GEO also includes data tables on how much land is under cultivation; the area of land being irrigated; and trends in fertiliser consumption. GEO is among the premier resources for factual information on dry lands, although its website's navigation could be improved. More for specialist readers.
Source: American Association for the Advancement of Science | 2001
For a rapid summary of current knowledge on deserts and drylands aimed at the general reader, the American Association for the Advancement of Science's (AAAS) four-page guide is hard to beat — even though it is a little out of date. The guide includes data on soil degradation around the world; a list of countries with large dryland areas; and a world map of dry lands. It acknowledges the uncertainty over the definition of desertification. It also points out that satellite images show the desert advancing and retreating several times since 1980 in regions such as the Sahel, depending in part on when it rains. The guide is published in the AAAS Atlas of Population and the Environment, which can be ordered or downloaded from this website.
Source: GRAIN / Seedling | April 2005
This article challenges the view that genetically modified, insect-resistant 'Bt' cotton has brought significant benefits to smallholder farmers in the Makhatini Flats of South Africa. The author is a former researcher with BioWatch South Africa. The paper summarises the findings of five years of research by the author and colleagues at BioWatch.
Makhatini smallholders' experiences with Bt cotton have been widely celebrated as demonstrating the benefits of GM crops for African smallholders. The author rejects this view, arguing that "initial results from the Makhatini cannot serve as a model for Africa". According to the BioWatch research, the initial very high rates of adoption for Bt cotton dropped dramatically within the first three years. Makhatini smallholders had accumulated very considerable debts and lacked effective extension support. Richer farmers and businessmen were said to have benefited from Bt cotton at the expense of poorer farmers.
The researchers were unable to obtain reliable data on production costs and yield. However, the strength of the research is that it is based on detailed local knowledge, observation and prolonged engagement with Makhatini farmers. Therefore the report provides an important and useful insight into the experiences of smallholders with GM crops in South Africa.
Source: UN Food and Agriculture Organization | November 2005
The coming 'gene revolution' is often invoked as the successor to the Green Revolution of the 1960s–80s. However, as the authors of this paper point out, there have been important changes in the institutional context since the Green Revolution. In particular, the centre of technological innovation has shifted decisively from the public to the private sector. The new agricultural biotechnologies are reaching farmers through market mechanisms rather than public agencies.
The key problem that arises is that the private multinational sector focuses almost exclusively on commercially valuable crops and traits of interest to developed countries and global markets. Although there may be "spillover benefits", the authors note how difficult it is for public research systems in developing countries and ultimately poor farmers to capture these. The effectiveness of the public sector is often constrained by its narrow focus on national concerns, with too little collaboration across borders.
The report serves a useful purpose in highlighting these issues but raises more questions than it answers. The authors point to public–private collaboration as a possible mechanism for accessing transgenic technologies, but point out the risk that such partnerships may still fail to deliver useful and beneficial technologies to poor farmers. They call for a "third wave of globalisation" to ensure that spillovers reach the poor in future.
Source: International Food Policy Research Institute | 2005
This 300-page edited volume from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) arose from the first stage of an African multistakeholder dialogue that was convened in 2003 by IFPRI and the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), Harare, Zimbabwe. It brought together senior policy-makers, scientists and representatives of key organisations in roundtable discussions on biotechnology and its implications for food security in southern Africa.
The book presents background material that was prepared for the roundtable. The papers address the new and unfamiliar choices facing policy makers in five key areas: intellectual property rights, biosafety, trade, food safety and consumer choice, and public research. Other chapters deal with political, ethical and policy issues and the mechanics of multistakeholder processes. The editors round off the book with chapters that summarise the issues at stake and draw together the lessons arising from the dialogue.
This readable, informative book and the initiative behind it represent an important African effort to crystalise the policy dilemmas facing decision-makers in relation to agricultural biotechnology. It will be useful to anyone wanting to understand how these policy debates are evolving.
Source: AgBioForum | 2005
This article seeks to quantify the economic and environmental impacts of genetically modified (GM) crops worldwide, since the first such strains were commercialised. The authors, two agricultural economists from the United Kingdom, look at three dimensions in particular: the effects on farm incomes, changes in insecticide and herbicide use, and the associated changes in carbon dioxide (greenhouse gas) emissions into the atmosphere.
The authors claim to show that GM crops have led to substantial benefits in terms of farm incomes and reductions in pesticide spraying and carbon dioxide emissions from agriculture. However, herbicide tolerant GM crops have meant farmers need to till less and have led to an increase in herbicide applications in some countries.
The authors drew on data from various studies on the impacts of different types of GM crops in different countries. The analysis relies on highly aggregated data and simplified assumptions in order to arrive at broad averages that include countries and agricultural systems which are, in reality, very different. Nevertheless, the article represents a useful contribution to the debates about the impacts of GM crops since they were first commercialised. The authors call for further research into the dynamic, less-tangible and indirect economic impacts of GM crops.
Source: FAO | December 2004
This paper provides an overview of the state of biotechnology research in forest trees worldwide. It was written as part of the preparations for a review by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) to assess the global status and trends of genetic diversity in forest trees.
Worldwide, there are currently more than 210 trials of genetically modified (GM) trees in 16 countries, and GM trees have been released for commercial planting in China. Most of the research is focused on four genera — Pinus, Populus, Liquidambar and Eucalyptus — with traits such as gene stability, tissue culture and herbicide tolerance of prime interest. Biotechnology activities have been most numerous in Europe (39 per cent), followed by Asia (24 per cent).
The report contains an extensive overview of the scope and status of GM research in agro-forestry. It addresses issues such as regulation and intellectual property, as well as potential benefits of and obstacles to the genetic modification of trees. It also highlights past, current and future trends in research. The document is well researched and provides a valuable insight into the technology and its applications worldwide.
Source: UN Food and Agriculture Organisation | 2005
This document provides a concise overview of the data collected during the first phase of development of the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) database on Biotechnology in Developing Countries (BioDeC http://www.fao.org/biotech/inventory_admin/dep/default.asp). The report summarises the range of different techniques and technologies, documented in the database, that are currently being researched, developed or applied in the developing world.
The report is organised into two main sections, covering non-GM and GM biotechnologies respectively. The non-GM technologies discussed include microbial products such as biopesticides and biofertilisers, applied cell biology techniques such as micropropagation and the use of molecular markers to support breeding programmes. GM technologies noted in the report include transgenic crops designed to resist viral, bacterial and fungal diseases, plants with enhanced resistance to pests, herbicides or abiotic stresses such as drought, and varieties with altered quality characteristics.
The authors emphasise that their findings are only preliminary, because the biotechnology-related activities under way around the world may have been under-reported. They point out that the BioDeC database is still being expanded after the first phase of its development. Nevertheless, this is the only reasonably comprehensive report of its kind, which provides the best glimpse of the range of activities under way around the world at present.
Source: UN Millennium Ecosystems Assessment (2005) | 2004
Over the past 50 years, humans have changed ecosystems faster and more extensively than in any period in human history. That is one of four main conclusions to emerge from the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, a comprehensive review of the impact of human activities on the state of the world’s biodiversity.
Changes to ecosystems are due largely to rapidly growing demands for food, freshwater, timber, fibre, and fuel, the report says. The result has been a substantial and largely irreversible loss in the diversity of life on Earth, it adds.
The other main conclusions to emerge from the report are:
Source: International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) | November 2002
This paper reviews a number of studies by academic economists, who have attempted to model the effects of the commercialisation of GM crops on the international trade in agricultural commodities. The authors, Chantal Pohl Nielsen, Sherman Robinson and Karen Thierfelder, neatly summarise and compare the findings of studies published between 2000 and 2002.
Although there is not yet much data available on which to build reliable models, the ability to compare the findings of a range of different studies allows the authors to draw some tentative conclusions about the trade-related effects of GM crops. They conclude that, “if the costs of labelling and market segmentation are not large”, the arrival of GM crops is not likely to generate extreme price differences between GM and non-GM commodities or radically alter the patterns of international trade. In addition, the models suggest that the benefits of the new technology are likely to be shared quite widely, although adopters are likely to benefit more than non-adopters. This effect is clearest in relation to developing countries.
By providing a clear and concise survey of the findings of a number of different studies, this paper is a valuable resource for academics and policy analysts. Although some of the language is technical, it is generally accessible to non-economists.
Source: The International Council for Science (ICSU) | 2003
This report, written by Gabrielle Persley of the Doyle Foundation, reviews approximately 50 recent "science-based" studies and reports on the use of modern biotechnology in agriculture and food. It identifies areas of scientific consensus and disagreement as well as gaps in knowledge where further research is needed. This approach is used to review not only the state of scientific knowledge in areas like food safety and the evaluation of environmental impacts, but also to assess the state of regulatory frameworks and the effects of GM crops on international trade.
The report’s overview of the (then) current state of scientific knowledge in relation to the safety of GM foods and environmental impacts is clear and informative. The report is weaker where it seeks to draw conclusions on socio-economic and regulatory issues, such as the merits of labelling GM foods and the harmonisation of international regulations on GMOs.
This is a dense report containing a lot of information, clearly written and with helpful tables and a concise executive summary. It also includes a useful annotated bibliography of the reports on which it draws and web resources. It will be useful starting point for anyone seeking to understand the scientific basis for making policy judgements about GM crops and foods.
Source: Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (UN) | 2004
The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) annual State of Food and Agriculture report for 2004 asks whether agricultural biotechnology can address the needs of the poor. The report contains an overview of the techniques and capabilities of agricultural biotechnology and discusses how the new technologies are affecting the institutional structures and economics of agricultural research. The report also reviews the published evidence concerning economic, environmental and health impacts, as well as public attitudes towards the technology.
The report delivers a generally upbeat assessment of the capacity of biotechnology to produce benefits for poor people, provided that research systems are in place and policies are designed to encourage pro-poor research and development. The final section considers what policy provisions and institutional capacities need to be in place in order to “make biotechnology work for the poor”, and discusses the role of the FAO and other bodies. In particular, the report considers the forms of international support needed to help developing countries build their biotechnology research and development capabilities.
This is an important report, which gives an insight into the thinking of a major international body on agricultural biotechnology. Its positive message has been controversial among some development activists and campaigning organisations.
Conservation groups in developed countries have embarked on an initiative aimed at improving how biodiversity issues are communicated to the wider public in both developed and developing countries.
The initiative is aimed both at making it easier for people to grasp what are often complex issues in conservation, but at the same time helping them to understand that an improvement in the rate of loss of species depends to a large extent on ordinary people adopting a more biodiversity-friendly lifestyle.
A consultation is underway, coordinated by Joy Hyvarinen of the UK Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Will Rogowski of the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre in Cambridge, UK.
Assuring Biodiversity: a brand-building approach, was commissioned for the initiative and published in May 2004. The author Tim Kitchin of the marketing and public relations consultancy Glasshouse Partnership, argues that “existing efforts to conserve biodiversity are hampered by a fragmented and confused communication”. He says that conservation groups need to treat biodiversity as a ‘brand’ and that “if biodiversity was better understood, it would be better protected”.
Source: Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) | 2002
The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the Kyoto Protocol aims to provide carbon mitigation benefits as well as sustainable development to local communities. This paper investigates the potential implications of carbon sink projects under the CDM for developing countries and examines what capacity is necessary to administer such forestry projects, particularly community-based ones.
The paper provides an assessment of the benefits and risks to local livelihoods from CDM projects, and concludes with conditions that enable benefits based on existing projects. Of particular interest are the sections assessing large-scale industrial pulp and timber plantations, agroforestry and community forestry plantations, secondary forest and fallows, forest rehabilitation and regeneration, strictly protected areas, and multiple use forestry.
The authors say that forest carbon projects can enhance livelihoods, provided that carbon prices are high enough and that project design is attentive to local social realities. This paper is accessible to anyone with a basic knowledge of carbon sinks and the international climate change negotiations.