Every year, Forbes list of the richest people in the world makes it seem like the number of billionaires continue to grow. The trend has particularly increased due to rapid advancements in internet technologies over the last two decades as well as globalization. Yet we are nowhere near the goal of eliminating hunger and malnutrition in the world which is unfortunate because we have the resources as well as the solutions. What may be lacking is education and will and that also applies to genetically-modified food. Genetically-modified food has the potential to solve the global food crisis yet it remains a controversial issue because its shortcomings are often exaggerated and its benefits are poorly understood. The production and consumption of genetically-modified food should be encouraged because its benefits far outweigh the costs.
Common sense tells us that some resources are fixed by nature and land is one of them. The world population continues to grow but the supply of land remains fixed. Director of Global Food Issues at the Hudson Institute, Dennis Avery claims that except Africa, most of the irrigable land is already being utilized, thus, it is not possible to achieve significant gains in farming output without biotech (Rauch). Further complicating the issue is the fact that agricultural sectors have been declining worldwide and it is especially true in developed as well as emerging economies. Thus, the only possible solution is to increase the average productivity of the remaining land area used for agricultural production. While it is possible to grow agricultural production through more efficient processing and storage techniques that minimize wastage, the difference will not be enough to meet the needs of the ever increasing population which is expected to reach 9.2 billion by 2050 (Dupont and Thirlwell). Thus, the most feasible solution is genetically-modified crops which do not only yield greater average productivity in a given area but also withstand adverse climatic conditions for longer periods of time as the example of a wheat grower in Virginia demonstrates.
When we think about food shortage or hunger, we immediately think of poor countries but unless productivity is increased significantly, food shortage will also become a common phenomenon in developed countries as the supply levels won’t be able to keep pace with demand. The price of rice grew by more than 300 percent in less than a year between May 2007 and April 2008 and food price index rose by 50 percent during the same period (Dupont and Thirlwell) which is a sign that supply is not keeping up pace with demand. The only way to control prices is to significantly increase agricultural productivity and genetically-modified crops probably offer the best solution.
Author Jonathan Rauch reports that a wheat grower in Virginia generates double the yield of wheat on flat soil with fewer efforts than conventional wheat growers. The cultivation of genetically-modified wheat requires no plowing as well as use of fertilizer, herbicides, and pesticides. In addition, biotechnology techniques can produce salt-tolerant crops to be planted on approx. 25 million acres of land which is lost to salinity annually (Rauch). Thus, genetically-modified crops also have the benefit of coping well with climatic changes being imposed by global warming.
Genetically-modified crops offer the best hope to alleviating global hunger and have already generated very encouraging results. Sir David King the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at the Oxford University reported that genetically-modified crops in India and China helped achieve 7 to 10 times the productivity of what is possible through conventional farming in a given area. Thus, genetically-modified crops should be adopted because they will also be much cheaper due to economies of scale as well as minimum waste (Sharife).
Genetically-modified crops will not only help us lower hunger rates but also prevent malnutrition in the populations of poor countries. In addition, genetically-modified crops are also easy to be grown by populations not familiar with modern agricultural practices including the use of pesticides. There are already genetically-modified crops being grown by African farmers who previously suffered from poor yield such as insect-resistant maize, insect-resistant cotton, and drought-tolerant crops. Another benefit of genetically-modified crops is that they can be genetically engineered to incorporate desirable traits into any crop species such as adding certain nutritional genes to tackle nutritional deficiencies such as Starch and Vitamin A (Thomson).Being able to genetically engineer crops is a huge benefit because malnutrition is not only a challenge in Africa but also other countries including those in Asia. It is estimated that almost 854 million people were malnourished during the period 2001-2003 out of which 820 million people resided in developing countries. In countries like India and Bangladesh, underweight children under-five are well above the regional average and even higher than those in Africa (Pinstrup-Anderson and Cheng).
Another benefit of genetically-modified crops is that they may even help us find reliable alternatives to burning fossil fuels which impose high cost on the environment and are major contributors to global warming. Certain alternative fuel technologies such as ethanol require agricultural crops like corn and, thus, have the potential of undesirable side effects such as rising food prices. Genetically-modified crops are the best way to support research in alternative fuel technologies without having unwelcome consequences such as rising food prices by ensuring that the supply is able to match demand levels of agricultural products such as corn.
Thus, genetically-modified crops should be promoted and one way is to educate the public more about it. Genetically-modified crops have the potential to significantly lower hunger and malnutrition rates all over the world and even prevent food price rises in developed countries. In addition, they may also help speed up the development of reliable, cleaner, and cheaper fuel technologies that could replace burning fossil fuels such as oil and coal.
- Dupont, Alan and Mark Thirlwell. “A New Era of Food Insecurity?” Survival June/July 2009: 71-98.
- Morgan, Timothy C. and Isaac Phiri. “Hunger Isn’t History.” Christianity Today November 2008: 26-33.
- Pinstrup-Anderson, Per and Fuzhi Cheng. “Still Hungry.” Scientific American September 2007: 96-103.
- Rauch, Jonathan. “Will Frankenfood Save the Planet?” Science and Society 2007: 152-163.
- Sharife, Khadija. “Is GM food the future for Africa? .” New African 2009: 8-13.
- Thomson, Jennifer. “Genetically modified crops – good or bad for Africa?” Biologist 2007: 129-133.