Alliance sending delegation to UN biodiversity conference

By Pablo Orozco

November 8, 2018

The Cornell Alliance for Science is sending a delegation to the Nov. 17-29 United Nation’s Biodiversity Conference, where the future of precise, innovative crop breeding technologies is at stake.

Representatives from 196 countries and many key actors are gathering in Sharm El-Sheik, Egypt, to work synergistically towards fulfilling the world’s most significant commitment to the conservation of biological diversity.

In order to advance this global effort, the parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity and its supplementary agreements have convened periodically since it came into force on Dec. 29, 1993. The upcoming event will host the 14th meeting of the parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, the ninth meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and the third meeting of the Parties to the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit-sharing.

These treaties consider “access to and transfer of technology” essential to conserving biological diversity. However, this year’s proceedings may see decisions that could impede adoption of new, more precise applications that have potential to improve our environmental stewardship. The Alliance supports the idea, enshrined within the preamble of the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol, that modern biotechnology has great potential for human well-being if developed and used with adequate safety measures.

Cornell University has collaborated in responsible trans-boundary technology sharing projects that have improved the livelihoods of smallholder farmers, such as the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project II, now called the South Asia Eggplant Improvement Partnership (SAEIP). Outcomes of the projects have included pesticide reduction and outreach to farmers to delay pest resistance to the technology through sound agronomic practices.

As a communications initiative, the Alliance has covered and will continue to share stories of people engaged in the implementation of agricultural biotechnology to minimize farming’s ecological footprint, deliver food security and inspire young people to pursue careers in agriculture and science.

The agreements that will be discussed in Egypt heavily underscore the importance of public awareness, education and participation. The Alliance for Science delegation hopes to contribute to creating an environment that promotes scientifically sound and transparent decisions at the UN Biodiversity Conference.

The delegation consists of the following Alliance for Science Global Leadership Fellows:

Isaac Ubani Nkechi

Nkechi Isaac is a journalist with Leadership Newspaper, a national newspaper based in Abuja, Nigeria. Nkechi has been actively practicing journalism for over eight years and heads the science and technology desk for her newspaper, with special emphasis in modern agricultural biotechnology.

Joseph Opoku Gakpo

Joseph is a Ghana-based communications and public relations consultant. He is director of RM Communications and a journalist whose area of interest centers on agriculture, environment and rural development. With a first degree in agricultural biotechnology and a maste’rs degree in communication studies, Joseph is a specialist in agricultural communication and is passionate about how communication can be used to transform the agricultural sector.

Arif Hossain

 Arif is managing director of Farming Future Bangladesh and leads the Bangladesh Alliance for Science. He has experience working on Bt brinjal (eggplant), Golden Rice and late blight-resistant GM potato projects in Bangladesh for Cornell University, the International Rice Research Institute and Michigan State University.

Jayson C. Merkley

Jayson Merkley has a master’s degree in business administration with an emphasis in marketing management. He has professional expertise in grassroots organizing and is a director of Vegan GMO. He is motivated to participate in the 2018 UN Biodiversity Conference because of his personal commitment to social justice, challenging institutional power structures where they fail to wield that power in a just and equitable manner.

Pablo Orozco

 Pablo is the Alliance’s legal affairs Fellow and an attorney with a background in international law, as well as experience in the development of public-private endeavors. He holds a master’s degree in international law from the University of Bristol and believes that innovation can lead to progress and development with less inequality and more opportunities for everyone. Pablo has experience with the UN’s framework for multilateral environmental negotiations, having attended IN Convention on Biological Diversity in Cancun, Mexico, in 2016; the 22nd SBSTTA and the 2nd SBI earlier this year in Canada.

Luis Ventura

Luis Ventura is a plant biologist at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, UNAM. He has conducted research on plant biotechnology and worked in regulatory issues for the safe use and handling of biotechnology. Ventura leads “Cmasa” (Mexican Scientist Allies for the Knowledge in Agriculture) a non-profit entity dedicated to science communication in Mexico. Luis has experience with the UN’s framework for multilateral environmental negotiations, having attended the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity in Cancun, Mexico, in 2016; the 22nd SBSTTA and the 2nd SBI in Montreal, Canada, and the Preparatory Meeting for the COP-MOP 9 held by the IICA in San Jose, Costa Rica, both this year.

Another member of the delegation is Noemi Santamaria, a master’s student whose research on mechanisms of bacterial tolerance at the Biozentrum in Basel, Switzerland, targets an increasingly pressing global issue. Noemi has further experience with the Zika virus from her studies at the National University of Singapore. Her interest is therefore focused on alleviating health, social and environmental issues. For that purpose, she has volunteered in various organizations across the globe, including teaching English to children and protecting wildlife in Cambodia and integrating refugees in Switzerland. She has a multicultural background, speaks five languages and aims to contribute to sustainable development.

Image: American Natural History Museum