The Food and Agricultural Agency of the United Nations (FAO) convened a regional conference in Mali today on meeting the threats to agriculture in Africa, as its Rome headquarters appealed for $40 million to provide recovery, humanitarian and development assistance to post-conflict areas of Sudan.The 24th Regional Conference for Africa was examining such issues as seeds and biotechnology, agrarian reform, enhancing the competitiveness of agriculture and natural resources management in a globalized world and reducing the growing number of fires that endanger agricultural production.Since African farmers have been experiencing difficulty in getting high quality seeds, FAO has proposed a project develop the seed sector at the country and regional levels. In that context, the organization looked at the concerns about cultivating genetically modified organisms (GMOs).“It has been widely acknowledged that modern biotechnology, if appropriately developed, could offer new and broad potential for contributing to food security,” FAO said. “At the same time, the speed of genetic change made possible by genetic engineering may represent a new potential impact on the biosphere. These developments, while offering to extend progress in food security, have posed concerns, both real and perceived, about the safety of these technologies, especially in Africa, where legislation on biotechnology and GMOs is lacking and few countries have any regulatory framework concerning GMOs.” The meeting will also consider the threat of avian flu to farmers and their domestic bird production, as well as the response to a possible outbreak. The FAO Regional Conference meets every two years and is attended by ministers of agriculture and other senior officials from 53 African countries.In Sudan, about 87 per cent of the population is dependent on agriculture for food and income, according to FAO. The agency’s appeal is part of the 2006 Work Plan for Sudan, which outlines the activities to be carried out by the UN and its partners in the country this year, including aiding a population on the move at the end of a civil war that lasted more than two decades. “Supporting returnees seeking to resettle will be a top priority, and ensuring adequate materials and services to enable returnees to engage in agricultural, livestock- or fisheries-based livelihoods upon their return will be central to this process,” FAO’s Anne Bauer said.FAO’s proposed humanitarian assistance for Sudan this year includes distributing seeds, tools, fishing equipment and livestock medicines to hundreds of thousands of farming families, especially returnees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), as well as the overall coordination of agricultural relief assistance in the country.