Over three thousand scientists, business-people and members of NGOs met at the Wageningen Knowledge Festival last week. They attended a series of lectures and discussions about world food problems, the agricultural policy of the European Union, environmental problems, the restructuring of the rural landscape, biotechnology and rural development. Companies and engineering consultants presented themselves at a Business Market and graduates were presented with information on employment prospects at a Job Market
About eight hundred million people in the world suffer unnecessarily from hunger and malnutrition, stated Dr Stein Bie of the International Service for National Agricultural Research (ISNAR) in The Hague. The world isn't full of people yet. We can feed fifteen billion people under current climate conditions. Food security could be improved by stimulating small farmers to increase production, by improving the prices of their products, stated Bie. Small farmers represent an enormous hidden potential for production capacity, if the obstacles for these producers are lifted.
Liberalisation of world trade may be the solution to improving production levels in the developing countries, but then the producers from the South should be allowed to produce and sell their products in the North without restrictions, according to Ineke Duijvestijn of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. When a business man from India wants to open a sales office in Amsterdam, he won't get permission to work in Holland easily. When a Dutch multinational gets no permission to open an office in India, diplomatic pressure from Holland will follow. Western countries have double standards when it comes to liberalisation of trade, concluded Duijvestijn
Scientists promise that biotechnology will solve lots of problems in agriculture and health care. They act like second hand car salesmen, stated research director Eric Claassen of the DLO institute of animal sciences. Scientists are ordinary people with pressure to achieve and will promise more than they can deliver. The WAU professor of Zoology, Jan Osse, added that biotechnologists hardly know what the effect of changing one gene is on the animal as a whole. We need more knowledge about these effects to avoid creating all sorts of monsters.
The promises of the biotechnologists mean that governments and companies invest a lot of money in new techniques, while most of the developing countries gain more benefits from classical plant breeding techniques, said Henk Hobbelink of the Genetic Resources Action International Network in another lecture. Hobbelink is afraid that the concentration of plant breeding and biotechnology in a few multinationals will ultimately have an adverse effect on biodiversity and food security. Director Roelof Reiling of the Dutch breeding company Cebeco disagrees: You want to sustain biodiversity to develop better plant varieties, but you qualify these new uniform varieties as a threat.