People are interested in modern agricultural biotechnologies and biosafety, but often they lack the knowledge needed for informed discussion – or the public space in which to debate the issues.

This week in Ankara, government officials and renowned scientists from Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkey are receiving training from FAO on how to engage different groups in open dialogue and decision making on agricultural biotechnology issues.

The world today faces unprecedented challenges in relation to agriculture: the need to nourish a projected global population of 9 billion by 2050, declining sources of cheap energy, climate change, and the erosion of biodiversity, to name just a few.

To meet the food needs of a growing population, over the next 30 years agricultural production will need to increase by about 60 percent worldwide – and double in developing countries. FAO estimates that 80 percent of the additional production will have to come from yield increases achieved through advances in agricultural research.

“Many times in the course of human history, agricultural research and innovation have enabled a growing populace to avoid mass starvation by increasing food supplies,” said Nevena Alexandrova-Stefanova, FAO agricultural innovation systems and knowledge sharing officer. “We are convinced that research and innovation have a key role to play in addressing the multiple challenges of today and tomorrow.”

Technology by itself is not an effective solution, though. FAO emphasizes the importance of an environment that empowers farmers and society to benefit from technological innovations. To create and sustain such an environment, public dialogue on such knowledge-intense technologies as genetically modified organisms (GMOs), new breeding techniques, or even e-agriculture, is essential.

Until now, most government interventions have been limited to setting up the regulatory biosafety framework for GMOs, while agricultural education and public awareness of the science have lagged.

During the training in Ankara from 19 to 22 June, some 20 experts are discussing common challenges and opportunities for fostering public awareness, participation and risk communication on agricultural biotechnologies and biosafety. The course is part of FAO’s subregional technical cooperation programme on “Capacity development in biosafety”.

Participants will enlarge their knowledge of the regulatory requirements stemming from their countries’ international obligations on risk awareness, learn how different audiences may perceive risks differently, learn how to formulate their messages and build communication strategies, and learn how to organize public hearings and interact effectively with the media.

Policy choices on GMOs and other agricultural technologies are for each country to make, said Yuriko Shoji, FAO subregional representative in Central Asia.

“It is important to help governments build their own capacities in biotechnologies and continue the exchange of ideas at all levels,” Shoji said. “FAO is committed to both. We will continue to provide training and technical cooperation to countries, and provide balanced, science-based information to inform public discussion and decisions.”

The training event is also expected to strengthen regional collaboration and networking, with the experience of Turkey in risk assessment and socio-economic considerations on GMOs contributing significantly.