Developing Countries and GM Crops
- Projections are that food production currently could feed 6.5 billion
(assuming perfectly efficient distribution) but that we will need to feed
9 billion by 2050.
- We therefore need to double food production by 2050 (because of changes
in diet in rapidly modernising countries like China).
- Global food deficit predicted for 2020 - a relatively short period interms
of scientific advance and technological application.
- Pests and diseases cause up to 40% losses in many tropical crops.
- Cultural and dietary preferences in under producing countries often differs
from crops and varieties in over producing countries, e.g. white and yellow
maize, and locally within a country e.g. basmati rice in India.
- Grain reserves are historically low in relation to demand.
- There are no major new prime lands for grain production (except possibly
the Ukraine). Therefore, increases must come almost entirely from technology.
- The technology challenge is amplified by progressive loss of prime arable
land by erosion, desertification and urbanisation and by global climate
change and associated uncertainties in environmental concerns.
- Small farmers in many developing countries benefited from the first Green
Revolution but not in Sub-Saharan Africa.
- Developing country farmers, breeders and agronomists are not averse to
biotechnology- e.g., virus free banana from tissue culture, marker-assisted
breeding of rice.
- International Research Institutes, National programmes and Extension
services provide networks for transferring technologies attuned to local
What is needed- overview and specific examples
- Conway’s article on the small-scale woman farmer and her needs for stress
resilient and disease/pest resistant crops, to secure food supply and generate
income reliably, even in bad years.
- No available genetic resistance to many pests and pathogens e.g. insect
damage in cowpeas, virus infection of crops such as rice, maize, cassava
or yams or fungus or nematode diseases of plantain.
- Resilience to adverse environmental conditions- drought, salinity, poor
soils, temperature fluctuations.
The Experience so Far
Bt cotton in China, South
Africa and India leads the way.
- Both Monsanto and Chinese transgenic lines in use in China , Monsanto
lines in South Africa and Monsanto-derived lines in India .
- Substantial decrease in the need for pesticide applications.
- Slight increase in yield in China (c. 10%); increased yield in South
Africa (up to 80%) and India .
- Increased income to farmers because of reduced input costs and increased
yields- in China the difference between modest profits and barely breaking
even, in South Africa and India significant profits.
- Less field work for women in South Africa .
- Reduced health problems for farm workers from reduced exposure to pesticides.
- Benefited small-scale farmers; in South Africa pump-priming the economy
so that farmers can afford to buy new seed.
- Possibility of developing money-generating associated commercial activities,
e.g. local seed industry, product distribution system.
Examples of hurdles to uptake of GM crops
- Release of sweet potato modified to give resistance to feathery mottle
virus in Kenya was delayed for many years because of confusion over granting
regulatory permission (defect in regulatory structure and impact of European
concerns). Although proved effective very slow uptake because of infrastructural
- Attempts to produce transgenic papaya resistant to ringspot virus in
South East Asia delayed because of need for characterization of the local
strains of virus and inadequate research funding and infrastructure.
Examples of potential of currently available technologies
- Immunization through direct delivery of vaccines- e.g., via banana- efficacy,
- Enhanced nutrition- golden rice for vitamin A, alleviation of iron deficiencies
- Resistance to important insect pests and diseases.
- Enhanced agronomic performance for locally preferred varieties where
conventional breeding has failed, e.g. semi-dwarf yield gene into Basmati
Potential of emerging technologies and fundamental insights
- The short term major needs are for control of pests and diseases. Many
technologies are available or emerging but need to be adapted to specific
- The longer term needs include resistance to abiotic stresses such as
drought and salinity so that poor unproductive land can be used and to adapt
crops for post-harvest storage and processing so that the food flow from
rural to urban areas is more effective.
- Preservation of choice in open seed markets and ability of subsistence
farmers to save seed if desired. Development of uptake pathways in many
- Renewed investment needed in R&D for poor people’s ("orphan
crops") crops- cowpea, millet, plantain, cassava, etc.
- Renewed investment needed in research on developing country agronomic
problems, e.g., the parasitic weed Stryga, environmental stress
- Creative mechanisms to bridge technology gaps and develop crop R&D
capacity in developing countries such as collaboration between industrialized
and developing countries capitalizing on their strengths - advanced technologies
in industrialized countries and agronomic aspects in developing countries.
- Education of developing country farmers and consumers to create a “pull”
environment for the technologies. This should reduce the “hurdles” for the
uptake of potentially beneficial technologies.
- Development of robust bio-safety regulations and protocols in developing
countries together with stewardship schemes - would involve enhancing extension
services that, in turn, would increase farmer education.
- Resolution of impact of GM controversy in Europe .
- Resolution of IP and FTO issues.
- Conway , G. (2000) Environment 42 (1): 9-18
- Qaim,M. and Zilberman, D. (2003) Science 299, 900-902
- Conway, G, Toenniessen G (2003) Science 299, 1187-1188
- Toenniessen, G.H., O’Toole, J.C. and DeVries, J. (2003). Current Opinion
in Plant Biology (in press).
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