By MARGARITA DE GENNARO.
Genetically modified (GM) crops could be the new solution needed to help address many of the world’s most challenging issues such as hunger, malnutrition, disease and poverty.
Principal Research Scientist at CSIRO Ian Dry doubts whether GM crops are the sole solution when it comes to solving world hunger problems.
“It can be one of a number of strategies in contributing towards solving world hunger problems particularly in areas like Africa where there is great need,” Dr Dry said.
“A lot of the problems they have in Africa are to do with reliability of crops with climate change, drought and controlling pests and diseases.
“They don’t have access to a lot of technologies which we have and use in Australia to get a good crop at the end of the year.”
In developing countries almost one billion people are chronically undernourished and up to three billion suffer from malnutrition due to micronutrient deficiency.
The global food crisis of 2008 highlighted the importance of improvement in agriculture to address global challenges such as population growth and climate change.
The Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations report shows overall food production will need to be raised by 70% between the years 2005/07 and 2050 to feed a world population of 9.1 billion people in 2050.
As the rate of population growth exceeds the rate of yield growth for crop staples, the world faces a food crisis that will require intellectual financial and material investment.
Around the world, tens of billions of meals containing GM foods have been made and eaten.
Australian Academy of Science president Jim Peacock observes that this has caused no documented ill effects on human health.
Dr Peacock believes investments into plant science are needed and funders and policymakers have realised that they have got to direct more investment into plant science so that more crops can be produced.
Dr Peacock also believes investments will lead to more robust crops in different environments which will help when it comes to addressing a global food crisis.
Current plant breeding techniques need to be developed in order to improve crop productivity and sustainability.
Principal Research scientist at CSIRO Ian Dry believes new crops which are more disease resistant need to be generated.
“This is so that they can give better resistance in the field and rely less heavily on chemicals,” Dr Dry said.
“People that struggle to afford expensive tools need crops with less intensive work.
“If we could engineer crops to have better drought tolerance in places like Africa where they don’t have access to regular amounts of water like we have here (irrigation and dams) they can still get crops even if they have low levels of rainfall.”
Multinational companies are quickening the pace and widening the variety of innovation they are undertaking in order to compete with each other as well as outpace low-cost competitors in emerging economies that are producing innovations of their own.
Developing countries grew close to 50% of the world’s transgenic crops with China, India, Brazil, Argentina and South Africa contributing 44%.
A total of 16.7 million farmers planted transgenic seeds last year, up from 1.3 million in 2010.
In the past ten years research and patenting in new plant breeding techniques have been developing, suggesting it may become more widely used by commercial breeders in the future.