Genetically Modified Crops: The Seeds of Hope

According to data from the World Food Programme, around 795 million people do not have enough food to live a healthy life. Thanks to factors both naturally occurring and man-made, it is one of the shocking statistics of our age that so many people are still suffering from starvation and malnutrition when technology has brought agriculture and farming methods so far forward.

As populations continue to grow, conflicts devastate regions and the effects of global warming take effect, we cannot wait for solutions to mass hunger to simply pop out of nowhere. Rather, the more developed countries have a humanitarian duty to share what we have produced with those born in places that are less fortunate. Whilst this has for many decades taken the form of rapid emergency aid, it is a disservice to those in need to only intervene once a crisis is ongoing. That is not to mention the debilitating impact flooding the market with free food has on local economies, and whilst such assistance has a time and place, it can no longer be our first method of action.

Instead, it is long overdue that genetically modified (GM) crops take their place in the spotlight as the future of farming. This union of the bounty of nature and the ingenuity of man is the epitome of technology working in harmony with the environment and has no limits as to its potential. Already earmarked to play a crucial role supplying food for humanities’ ambition to head for the stars, GM crops can prove just as influential here on earth.

The primary reason that so much is expected of such biotechnology, is because GM crops have already demonstrated their worth many times over. Critics of fusing the organic with the inorganic often ignore the fact that if there was a better alternative or major risk to public well-being, such a crop would not be cultivated as widely as it currently is. Indeed, the total value of GM crops since the mid 90’s is estimated to be around $133.4 billion, a sum that would not be generated if there were serious concerns over safety. If researchers had  cut corners in the development process or obfuscated data, then by now we would know as millions would have felt the repercussions. There is nothing worthwhile for producers to gain by not testing their work time and time again, as the backlash could topple even the largest corporation.

Furthermore, it’s not as if new GM seeds are just thrown to the wind the moment they come out of a laboratory. Every country will no doubt want to do their own assessment of these newcomers, especially those with delicately balanced ecosystems such as Australia. The European Union has already decided to devolve decision making authority over such matters to each member state, and the fact that GM crops are on sale in some of these nations is testament to their quality.

 

Bangladesh is one such rapidly developing nation that has been at the forefront of the move towards GM crops as not only does it have t a large population given its comparatively small size, but many of these suffer from poverty and a lack of food. That’s not to mention the monsoon season, which repeatedly renders large parts of the country unsuitable for farming and displaces residents.

Therefore since the successful introduction of the”Bt Brinjal” (eggplant) in 2013, authorities in Bangladesh have been more willing to place their trust in science and have begun the testing of other GM crops. It is the Government’s primary hope right now that a potato can be produced that can withstand the impact of ”late blight”, a fungus causing disease that has devastated potato production around the world for centuries. Plans are also in place for modified variants of cotton to be commissioned for the textiles industry, as improved yields are not just for agriculture alone.

Expanding the reach of plants tailored to the world’s harshest environments would also do wonders in desert regions where water is the number one commodity. 1.2 billion people lack the availability of clean water for drinking, washing and farming, and this has been a contributing element to numerous conflicts. Such an occurrence has happened in recent years within Nigeria, as once-fertile lands to the north have dried up, forcing farmers and herdsmen south where they clash with those in the country’s ‘Middle Belt’. Admittedly not the only cause for conflict, water scarcity is exacerbating tensions that are already heavily frayed. If GM crops could be introduced to Nigeria and other areas facing similar problems, then land currently deemed barren could in many places be cultivated. Bred to be durable and to require lesser amounts of water, GM plants can be prepared as a solution for virtually anywhere on the planet.

Since time immemorial competition for vital resources such as food and water has been ongoing. It is always the weak and those who cannot help themselves no matter how hard they work that get left behind, but for the first time an opportunity exists to ensure that no-one is left to struggle alone. Not only have GM crops proved their worth and flourished on the front lines of the struggle between farmers and the perils of nature, but it is a technology that is easily available. Development should of course come with a large level of oversight and we should never get carried away on our achievements, but GM crops, more than any other new creation, will prove the key to feeding the world.

 

This article was written by Justin Fox. Justin Fox is a history graduate from the University of Kent who enjoys analyzing key current affairs, especially concerning geopolitics and food security. He is seeking to not only broaden his understanding of food security through his research, but to create a wider dialogue on something that affects so many people, so that a fair and sustainable solution can be found as quickly as possible.

All opinions expressed belong solely to the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS).

14/03/2017 17:00

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