Discusses Agriculture-Biodiversity Link
The director of IFPRI’s Program on Biosafety Systems (PBS), Judy Chambers, participated in an October 12 panel discussion on sustainable agriculture and biodiversity practices at Iowa State University in Des Moines, Iowa. Hosted by Iowa State, CropLife International, CropLife America, and Truth about Trade and Technology, the lively town hall meeting kicked off the three-city Biodiversity World Tour, which moves on to Brussels, Belgium and Nagoya, Japan, where the fifth meeting of the global convention on biodiversity will be held.
Dr. Chambers shared her thoughts on the role that agriculture can play in supporting biodiversity with co-panelists and attendees, which included farmers, agricultural experts, researchers, and policymakers. In addition to Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, her co-panelists were Rajesh Kumar, a vegetable farmer from Tamil Nadu, India; Camila Illich, a field crop farmer from Guarapuava, Brazil; Pam Johnson, a corn and soybean farmer from Central Iowa, and Gary Munkvold, the chair of Iowa State University’s Graduate Program in Seed Technology and Business. Moderated by Orion Samuelson, the host of the National Farm Report, the panel fielded questions about a wide range of issues. Comments by Dr. Chambers are highlighted below.
On her background in agriculture:
My interest in agriculture is really what has been driving me all along. I was fortunate to have a fellowship with the United States Agency for International Development. It was really life changing: It allowed me to travel all over the world and spend time with resource-poor farmers on their farms, looking at ways to get better technology to them—to help them actually conserve the biodiversity around them and their farm. I continue in that role today at the International Food Policy Research Institute. I look at issues affecting access of technology–in particular, policy issues and regulatory systems that allow farmers to access the best technology from around the world.
On the benefits of globalization and partnerships:
What has impressed me most about the last several years is the globalization we’re seeing in the area of technology and technology dissemination and how important this has been for resource-poor farmers around the world, the majority of whom are women. So I see the conversation really moving toward the point where we are talking about bringing diverse institutions together—the public sector, the private sector working with the international community—to really address the issues we have facing us, the challenge of feeding a growing population while still maintaining and preserving our natural resource base. I think the issue of partnerships, which probably 20 years ago wasn’t as nearly emphasized as it is now—is really critical to us moving forward in this area.
On using new technologies to address challenges in crop biodiversity:
In West Africa, there’s a minor crop called the cocoyam, which has extremely limited genetic potential within its germplasm. Traditional breeding approaches to achieve a solution to a pest or a stress issue really wouldn’t be possible with this particular crop. You almost need a new type of technology to be able to introduce the biodiversity in this particular germplasm that doesn’t naturally exist. So, in that case, a biotech approach would make sense. But I really think the situation that we face today is open to all types of opportunities and solutions.