“Often lost in the debate about GMOs is the need for poor farmers to have choices in the face of hard conditions.”
With those words, the world’s greatest philanthropist and one of its richest men, Bill Gates, reminded his more than 10 million Twitter followers that using agricultural biotechnology is a choice that poor farmers around the world should be able to make. It’s a choice that some countries have chosen to deny to their farmers, unfortunately for political reasons rather than scientific ones.
Gates was calling attention to an article on the Gates Foundation blog by Sam Dryden, director of the foundation’s agricultural development team. A native of Kentucky, Dryden has worked all over the world and now oversees effort to help millions of the world’s poorest farming families raise their productivity and incomes.
“What is so often missed in the debate about GMOs is choice,” Dryden pointed out. “The choice for a poor farmer to consider planting a maize crop which could cope with droughts that are becoming ever more frequent; the choice to grow rice that provides the nutrition her child needs to prevent blindness; or put simply, a choice that we in the West take for granted.”
Giving farmers access to solutions that deliver more productive or more nutritious crops should be a “decision based on scientific debate and research” and subject to approval by national regulatory bodies, he wrote.
“Once proven (and so far, GMOs have been proven safe and effective), the use of these tools must be a choice for farmers to make,” he wrote. “And farmers are choosing GMOs in their millions: GMO crops are the fastest growing technology (in the U.S., in Brazil, in India, Argentina) - because when farmers have access to more productive, less resource-intensive crops, they seize the opportunity.”
Dryden also noted that 90% of the cotton crop in Indian is genetically modified. The 19 million acres of GM cotton in India were planted by six million farmers - meaning that the average GM cotton farm in India comprises only about three acres. These varieties require much less spraying of insecticide, he notes. It is “the farmers themselves who are seeing the benefits of all the tools in the box,” Dryden wrote. Read more.