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Agricultural Biotechnology: Meeting the Needs of the Poor? The State of Food and Agriculture 2003–04

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.