The Washington Post and the New York Times offered highlights from Bill Gates’ address earlier today at the UN’s International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD) Farmers’ Forum, where he called for the creation of common measurable targets for agricultural productivity in order to establish accountability and enable investors to identify the most effective methods of development.
He stressed the importance of employing high-tech agricultural solutions, saying the “use of such techniques can make the difference between suffering and self-sufficiency” for small farmers in developing countries. Gates also announced $20 million in new grants that will go towards both new and pre-existing projects whose aim is to reduce poverty through agricultural productivity.
The scientific, economic and social benefits of biotechnology are clear, yet government regulations continue to stifle new biotech innovations that will help our economy grow. Dr. Nina Fedoroff, former science and technology advisor for the U.S. State Department and professor of biology at Pennsylvania State University, emphasized this in a New York Times op-ed article about the safety and efficacy of biotech crops.
She points out GM crops lower costs for farmers by producing higher yields on less land, while also benefiting the environment with reduced pesticide use and tilling. These advances are particularly important to help feed a quickly growing world population, but because of complicated regulatory hurdles there are only a handful of varieties of approved biotech crops. Dr. Fedoroff sums it up and writes, “It is time to relieve the regulatory burden slowing down the development of genetically modified crops. ” Read more.
This week New York Times focused in on pertinent issue of food security, with three articles on how we are going to meet the challenge of feeding the growing population at a time when a warming planet already threatens food supply. In a front page article for the Times titled “A Warming Planet Struggles to Feed Itself”, reporter Justin Gillis details some of the challenges facing farmers around the world today, from unpredictable rains to volatile food prices. He writes about the “divine intervention of technology” for many rice farmers in India, who have been part of a field trial for a new variety of rice that is submergence-tolerant and can grow in floods. Read more.
Mr. Gillis followed-up on his piece with a blog post for New York Times Green that dives into the question of how farmers around the world - particularly those in developing countries - can meet food demand. In a post titled “Can the Yield Gap be Closed Sustainably”, he looks at agriculture in Africa and the effort by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to provide Africans farmers with advanced crop technologies, such as a genetically modified corn variety that is designed to resist drought. Read more.
In a second blog post, Justin Gillis looks at the effect a growing population, improved diets, scarce water and a shortage of land will have on the future of agriculture, food prices and the environment. To counteract this “clash” he writes that “the list of innovations needed to produce food on a warming planet is long and daunting.” Furthermore, he writes that the innovations need to come not just from private companies, but also governments, universities and foundations. He explains that we need a broad array of institutions working together to develop the next big idea to meet this challenge. Read more.
Lastly, keeping in the theme of innovations that will help us meet future food supply challenges, we wanted to share this very cool infographic produced in partnership by GOOD and the Gates Foundation. The infographic looks at the innovations that will help African farmers thrive. In particular, it shows that with better maize (corn) varieties that have been genetically engineered to survive on less water, farmers in Africa can achieve 30% more yield in drought-prone areas.
Study shows biotech crops help increase yields
According to VOA News, a study by the journal Science shows that technology - such as genetic modification - is necessary to improve crop yields as global temperatures rise and weather patterns change. Wolfram Schlenker, an economist at Columbia University and a co-author of the study, said, “If you’re worried about rising food prices, it might be good to funnel some research into doing breeding for heat tolerance, and maybe even drought tolerance.” Read more.
USDA announces plans to consider approval of drought-resistant GM corn
Paul Voosen reports for The New York Times that the USDA is likely to approve the unlimited sale of a drought-resistant genetically modified corn. Tests of the corn show that the corn can resist stressful environmental conditions, which the article says could help farmers reduce yield losses even in drought-prone regions. If approved, the variety would be the first biotech crop designed to meet environmental challenges, rather than pests or herbicides. Read more.
Research on GM wheat could improve yields and drought tolerance
The New York Times reports that GM research by private companies could lead to drought-tolerant and high-yield genetically modified wheat. Research focuses on “strengthening the rooting structure of wheat, enhancing the intake of water, increasing the plant’s biomass and facilitating CO2 absorption.” Read more.
Increasing number of African countries conducting GM crop trials
According to Reuters, more African countries are likely to start growing genetically modified crops. Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, Mali, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Ghana are conducting research and field trials of GM crops such as rice, wheat and sorghum, which may lead to their adoption. Ephraim Mukisira, a director at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, said, “We should rely on biotechnology to prevent further losses in yields and performance of crops. We need to expedite scientific methods that reduce time needed to develop new crop varieties.” Read more.
Forbes blog: Regulation of GM crops hurts agricultural trade
In a Forbes blog, Dr. Henry Miller, founding director of the Office of Biotechnology at the FDA and current fellow at the Hoover Institution, says that “discriminatory” government regulations of genetically modified crops around the world have unintended economic consequences, such as disrupting billions of dollars of agricultural trade in export markets.
“The best and most definitive solution of all would be for the harmonization of regulatory approaches in order to eliminate the existing discrimination against and excessive regulation of innocuous genetically engineered plants.” Read more.