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Global agriculture at the cross roads

24 September 2004

1000 Crop Scientists to meet in Brisbane, Australia

Managing change is fundamental to further progress in improving the productivity, profitability and sustainability of major cropping systems according to the ‘father of the Green Revolution’ and World Food Prize winner, Professor M S Swaminathan.

Professor Swaminathan, an acknowledged world leader in the field of sustainable food security, will be speaking on Monday at the 4th International Crop Science Congress in Brisbane. The Congress is held only once every four years and will bring together over 1000 delegates from 65 countries to focus on the key issues for cropping systems that provide food, feed and fibre for the world.

“Global agriculture is witnessing many challenges and it has become essential to learn to manage them. The challenges are multi-dimensional, ranging from technology to ethics and equity,” says Professor Swaminathan, who is giving the keynote address at the official opening (at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre at 9.00am on Monday, 27 September). 

Swaminathan has been acclaimed by TIME magazine as one of the twenty most influential Asians of the 20th century. He is also co-chair of the UN Hunger Task Force with Dr Pedro Sanchez, another World Food Prize winner, who will be addressing the Congress on Tuesday morning.

In his address on Monday, Swaminathan will be examining recent progress in yield and area of the major world crops, and the general underlying technologies that have driven this progress.

“Despite the successes of crop science, yield growth rates have now fallen to levels below those needed to both substantially alleviate the remaining serious malnutrition and poverty in the developing world and protect non-cropped areas,’ he warns.

“The necessary technological change includes harnessing the power of biotechnology and information technology for enhancing the yield potential of major crops,” says Professor Swaminathan. 

His address highlights some of the challenges facing cropping, including sustainability, climate change, and the debate about GMOs.

“We should neither worship nor discard any research tool just because it is either new or old.  We need the best in modern science as well as traditional wisdom for launching an ever-green revolution movement based on improving productivity in perpetuity without ecological harm,” he says. 

“Public acceptance of genetically modified crops is still low.  Organic foods and GM foods are being placed at two ends of a table.  The way ahead lies in harmonising organic agriculture and the breeding methods based on the new genetics.“

“At the same time we should ensure that all economically under privileged farming families have access to new technologies.  There should be a provision under IPR regulations for compulsory licensing of rights in cases where the discoveries have profound significance for human food and health security,” says Dr Swaminathan.

“An insurance scheme, specially tailored for the GM crops should be put in place as GM seeds and new technology entailed enhanced risk areas. 

Swaminathan suggests the following quote from his countryman Mahatma Gandhi provides a good yardstick for determining scientific research for development:

“Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you have ever seen, and ask yourself, if the steps you contemplate are going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore to him control over his own life and destiny?”

“If biotechnology research can be promoted keeping in mind the guidelines Gandhi gave, it will become a powerful tool in ensuring sustainable food security in the world” concludes Dr Swaminathan.


In addition to key Australian speakers, some of the plenary speakers from around the world include:

  • Professor Frank Rijsberman, International Water Management Institute, Sri Lanka
  • Dr Yanhua Liu, Vice Minister, Ministry Of Science &Technology, PR China
  • Professor John Snape, Head of Crop Genetics, John Innes Centre, UK

Many issues are involved in the Congress themes of:

  • addressing water scarcity
  • sustainable management of soil and the environment
  • harnessing genetics and crop genetic improvement in all its guises
  • effecting desirable change by and for farmers

4ICSC would like to thank all its supporters including the following major sponsors:
AusAID, CSIRO, Pioneer Hi-Bred International and QDPI

More information:
Cathy Reade, Media Manager, 4th International Crop Science Congress
Mobile: 0413 575 934

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