Plant biotechnology and food security in Latin America and the Caribbean
de la Riva,Gustavo A.
Agriculture is expected to feed an increasing population, forecasted to reach 8 billion by 2020, out of whom 6.7 billion will be in developing countries where the carrying capacity of agricultural lands will soon be reached. In Latin American and the Caribbean (LAC) countries, in spite of the abundance of natural resources and continued investments in development, poverty and food insecurity affect more than 55 percent of the rural population. Fifteen years ago, plant biotechnology comprised only a few applications of tissue culture, recombinant DNA technology and monoclonal antibodies. Today, genetic transformation, and marker-aided selection and breeding are just a few of the examples of the applications in crop improvement with profound implications for the LAC Region. Plant biotechnology applications must respond to increasing demands in terms of food security, socio-economic development and promote the conservation, diversification and sustainable use of plant genetic resources as basic inputs for the future agriculture of the Region. Food security is defined by FAO as the access by all people at all times to the food needed for a healthy and active life. The concept means the achievement of the food self-sufficiency, and guarantees that this condition will be sustained in the future. Food security implies reaching productive growth and the preservation of the environment. Malnutrition affects 15% the population in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean and 13% of the population in South America, while the Region represents nearly 23% of the arable lands and 12% of the world cultivated areas. Plant biotechnology offers several possibilities for increasing productivity, diversification and production, while developing a more sustainable agriculture. It includes biopesticide production, plant tissue culture techniques, and the use of advanced molecular biology techniques for plant transformation, genomic analysis coupled with breeding and plant-disease diagnoses. Agricultural biotechnology in the LAC Region is characterised by a repetitive and academic model, where many of the project objectives do not respond to the real needs of crop production and food security in the Region. Many small research teams in universities or agricultural institutions, poorly connected and/or integrated, have a high dispersion of facilities and qualified labor force. The database of REDBIO/FAO in 1999, register 539 laboratories affiliated in 23 countries of the Region. 83% of the member laboratories have less than 10 researchers and technical personnel and only 72% of them have three postgraduates or more. The majority of these small research groups lack adequate technology and properly trained personnel to start relevant projects, attractive for public and private investment. Public and private institutions should play a key role to create or strengthen National Programmes to guide efforts toward the real production needs and food security. National Programs should identify objectives and priorities in each country, in order to promote regional collaboration, find financial support and facilitate the transfer of appropriate biotechnology and biosafety norms to the producers by promoting the application of valid results. <A NAME="Article"></A>