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Biotechnology seen as a key to solving food crisis
ROME (Reuters) - Biotechnology can help solve the world's food crisis with benefits such as flood-resistant rice in Bangladesh or higher cotton yields in Burkina Faso, a senior U.S. official said at a U.N. food summit on Tuesday.
"Biotechnology is one of the most promising tools for improving the productivity of agriculture and increasing the incomes of the rural poor," U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer said.
"We are convinced of the benefits it offers to developing countries and small farmers," he told a U.S.-led briefing on the sidelines of the June 3-5 summit seeking ways to combat high food prices when climate change may aggravate shortages.
Some green groups say genetically-engineered crops threaten biodiversity while many European consumers are wary of eating products dubbed by critics as "Frankenfoods".
Schafer said biotechnology, including genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), could help produce more food by raising yields and producing crops in developing nations that are resistant to disease and pests.
"Genetic engineering offers long-term solutions to some of our major crop production problems," said Philippine Agriculture Minister Arthur Yap. But he said that it was not a panacea for all of his country's agricultural problems.
Progress being made in the Philippines included research into rice and coconuts resistant to disease, he said.
"We're also working on virus-resistant papaya, papaya hybrids with a longer shelf life that should be ready for market in 2009," he said.
Climate change could aggravate production around the world with more droughts, floods, disruptions to monsoons and rising sea levels, says the U.N. Climate Panel. In Africa alone, 250 million people could face extra stress on water supplies by 2020.
Burkina Faso Agriculture Minister Laurent Sedogo said the African country had worked with U.S. agriculture group Monsanto to battle pests that blighted the cotton crop.
"We are about to plant 15,000 hectares" of a new crop that was resistant to pests, he said. That would also cut down on the use of pesticides that could damage the health of farmers.
The World Bank and aid agencies estimate that soaring food prices could push as many as 100 million more people into hunger. About 850 million are already hungry.
Bangladesh said that it was going ahead with efforts to make crops able to survive floods and more salinity in the soil.
A cyclone last year "is a wake-up call for all of us", said C.S. Karim, an adviser to Bangladesh's agriculture ministry. "It shows the vulnerability of Bangladesh. "
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