May 29, 2010

Contribution to environment, economy and food security

GENETICALLY Modified (GM) foods are derived from genetically modified organisms. Genetic modification involves the insertion or deletion of genes. GM crops are also known as biotech crops. The first commercially grown genetically modified crop is tomato (1994). Currently, there is a number of genetically modified food species. Some biotech crops alongwith their traits are: soyabean (herbicides tolerance, oil content), cotton (insect resistance), maize (herbicides, insects), canola (herbicides, fertility restored, oil content), rice (herbicides, insects, vitamin A, B1), wheat (herbicides), potato (insects and virus resistance), tomato and melon (delayed ripening), papaya, squash, sweet pepper and plum (virus resistance), linseed, sugar beets and alfalafa (herbicides tolerance), sugarcane (insecticides, high-sucrose), rose, petunia and carnation (modified flower colour), tobacco (herbicides tolerance, nicotine reduction).

Global hectarage
GM crops contribute to meeting some of the major challenges facing global society: Food self sufficiency (increasing production and productivity per hectare of national food crops) and food security (enough food for all), more affordable food, sustainability, alleviation of poverty and hunger. The biotech crops are grown in 50,000 hectares, or more in 15 biotech mega-countries: USA, Brazil, Argentina, India, Canada, China, Paraguay, South Africa, Uruguay, Bolivia, the Philippines, Australia, Burkina Faso, Spain and Mexico. The other biotech crop planting countries are Chile, Colombia, Honduras, Czech Republic, Portugal, Romania, Poland, Costa Rica, Egypt and Slovakia. They produced biotech crops in less than 0.1 million hectares of land. Global hectarage of biotech crops reached 134 million hectares in 2009.
Consistent and substantial economic, environmental and welfare benefits have been generated from biotech crops over the last fourteen years. Millions of large, small and resource poor farmers in both industrial and developing countries continued to plant more hectare of biotech crops in 2009 than ever before. Soybean, cotton, maize and canola were the four major biotech crops. More than three-quarters (77%) of the 90 million hectares of soybean grown globally were biotech; for cotton, almost half (49%) of the 33 million hectares were biotech; for maize, over a quarter (26%) of the 158 million hectare grown globally were biotech; and finally for canola, 21% of the 31 million hectares were biotech.
Contribution to environment
Conventional agriculture has impacted significantly on the environment and biotechnology can be used to reduce the environmental footprint of agriculture. Progress in the first decade includes a significant reduction in pesticides, saving on fossil fuels, and decreasing CO2 emissions through no/less ploughing, and conserving soil and moisture by optimizing the practice of 'no till through application of herbicide tolerance'. The accumulative reduction in pesticides for the period 1996 to 2008 was estimated at 356 million kilograms of active ingredient -- a saving of 8.4% in pesticides, which is equivalent to a 16.1% reduction in the associated environmental impact of pesticide use on these crops (Brooks and Barfoot, 2010).
The important and urgent concerns about the environment have implications for biotech crops. It can contribute to a reduction of greenhouse gases and help mitigate climate change in two principal ways. First, permanent savings in carbondioxide emissions through reduced use of fossil-based fuels. Associated with fewer insecticide and herbicide sprays in 2008, this was an estimated saving of 1.22 billion kg of carbondioxide (CO2), equivalent to reducing the number of cars on the roads by 0.53 million. Secondly, additional savings from conservation tillage (need for less or no ploughing facilitated by herbicide tolerant biotech crops) for biotech food, feed and fiber crops led to an additional soil carbon sequestration equivalent in 2008 to 13.2 billion kg of CO2, or removing 6.41 million cars off the road.
GM crops benefit the environment and conserve natural habitat for wildlife. Biotech crops have played an important role in boosting the productivity of existing farm land enough to allow for the protection of at least 400 million acres of prairies, forests and other natural areas from cultivation over the past decade. These areas provide food and shelter for wildlife and preserve biodiversity.
Economic growth: Potential contribution
The largest increase in the number of beneficiary farmers in 2009 was in India where an additional 0.6 million more small farmers planted Bt cotton which now occupies 87% of total cotton, up from 80% in 2008. The increased income from biotech crops for small and resource-poor farmers represents an initial modest contribution towards the alleviation of their poverty. During the second decade of commercialisation, 2006 to 2015, biotech crops have an enormous potential for contributing to the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) of reducing poverty by 50%. Initial research in China indicates that up to 10 million more small and resource-poor farmers may be secondary beneficiaries of Bt cotton in China.
Rice is the most important food crop in the world. Bt rice can deliver estimated benefits of US$4 billion per year to up to 110 million rice households in China alone. Increased yield and farmer income from Bt rice can contribute to a better quality of life and a safer and more sustainable environment due to less dependency on insecticides.
In the absence of agricultural growth, national economic growth is not possible in the agriculture based countries. The 2008 World Bank Development Report concluded that, using agriculture as the basis for economic growth in the agriculture-based countries requires a productivity revolution in small holder farming. In summary, biotech crops have already demonstrated their capacity to increase productivity and income significantly.
Food self-sufficiency and food security
During the 2008 price crisis when key food exporting countries, like Thailand and Vietnam for rice, and Argentina for soybean and maize, blocked food exports, trust in the international rice market by importing developing countries eroded. Hence they are now negotiating directly with individual exporting countries; importantly, they are now also engaging in actions that will increase their own productivity and self-sufficiency in the major food staples. Philippines the world's largest importer of rice, aims to produce 98% of its rice in 2010. India, Malaysia, Honduras, Colombia and Senegal have declared similar strategies to achieve self-sufficiency in major foods.
International regulatory standards
Using well-established, internationally accepted standards of risk assessment, regulatory authorities worldwide have reviewed all biotech crops now in the market and determined that they pose no more risk than crops produced through traditional breeding methods. A proven 13-year history of safe use supports the conclusion that the regulatory process has been successful. Experts estimate more than one trillion meals containing ingredients from biotech crops have been consumed with no reliable documentation of any food safety issues for people or animals. Twenty-five Nobel Prize winners and 3,400 prominent scientists have expressed their support for the advantages and safety of genetically modified foods and crops as a "powerful and safe" way to improve agriculture and the environment.
Future prospects
Crops are the principal source of food, feed and fiber globally, producing approximately 6.5 billion metric tons annually. History confirms that technology can make a substantial contribution to crop productivity, to rural economic growth, food security and the alleviation of hunger, malnutrition and poverty and of course to protection of environment.
Nobel Peace laureate Norman Borlaug opined that over the past decade, we have been witnessing the success of plant biotechnology. This technology is helping farmers throughout the world achieve higher yield, while reducing pesticide use and soil erosion. The benefits and safety of biotechnology have been proven over the past decade in countries with more than half of the world's population. The Green Revolution and now plant biotechnology are helping meet the growing demand for food production, while preserving our environment for future generations.

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1 comment:

  1. We have already done enough harm to the environment…High time we woke up to see the damage we’ve caused.
    We may not be able to reduce global warming, end pollution and save endangered species single-handedly, but by choosing to live an earth-friendly lifestyle we can do a lot every day to help achieve those goals.
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