At a conference of the FAO Biotechnology Forum in 2007, 78 participants from 24 countries offered their views on agricultural biotechnologies and water scarcity, addressing the pros and cons of various methods and their potential application. These viewpoints are represented in this discussion paper, along with an introductory section that defines the issues to be discussed. Funders in the WASH sector can use this document to educate themselves about the potential gains to be made in supporting different types of scientific research and agricultural technology development.
- Increasing efficiency of water use in agriculture can go a long way toward reducing water scarcity; in fact, most of the freshwater that is withdrawn for human use is for agriculture.
- Emphasis on plant and agriculture sciences in research and education is waning. While information in genomics grows exponentially, we are not seeing the collaborations with plant breeding and soil science that could use this information to effect impact on farmers in water-scarce regions.
- Marker-assisted selection has significant potential to increase plants' water-use efficiency, but it requires overcoming a number of technical and practical bottlenecks (including high costs).
- As many as 90% of farmers using genetically modified crops are in developing countries. This method also has potential, though ownership of genetic resources by international corporations may be a concern for communities.
- Micro-organisms can aid in wastewater treatment--especially important in developing countries where health and environmental problems are often created by using untreated wastewater in agriculture.