By Amy Grundling
Photo by Annika van Zyl & Jaco Kruger
It was recognized, during the 2009 World Summit on Food Security, that food demand will increase with 34%-70% by 2050 (FAO, 2019). It is estimated that the population will increase to 9 billion people, causing an additional annual consumption of 200 million metric tons of meat and 1 billion metric tons of cereals for food and feed (Floros, 2010). To meet the increasing food needs, it is necessary for the agricultural sector to become more efficient and productive. Biotechnology provides the potential to support the increase of production and yield and to develop commodities that are richer in nutrients.
Since the first genetically modified (GM) organisms were introduced in the late 1980s, the debate arose whether gene technology is beneficial or detrimental to human health. However, the debate has failed to clarify an agreed direction of policy (Azadi, Hossein, 2010). The use of GMO’s has divided important stakeholders with conflicting opinions, while the public is left in the side-lines. Despite no scientific evidence published on the detrimental use of GMOs, activists in many countries have continued to fight against the use of GM crops. These groups state that safety, ethnical, religious and environmental concerns are more important than the benefits of increased productivity and improved nutritional value (Azadi, Hossein, 2010). Due to the uncertainty created by these groups, many developing countries have not planted any GM crops – because of the fear of biosafety (Azadi, Hossein, 2010). The new European Union regulations, requiring all GM products to be labelled, will further discourage the planting of GM crops in poor countries (Paarlberg, 2002).
The issue is the impact of international regulations on the food security in the developing countries. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization, approximately 820 million people remain malnourished, including at least 250 million children (FAO, 2019). Nevertheless, biotechnology provides the potential to increase yields and nutritional value of crops, which is vital for resource-poor and small-scale-farmers. Biotechnology can be used to genetically modify plant and animal species. For example, to increase the nutritional value of cereal grains and rDNA biotechnology can be used to increase the protein quality. With the increasing challenges developing countries face due to climate change, more resources are needed to produce food. By using drought tolerant crops, such as maize, it enables small-scale to adapt to the changing environment (Floros, 2010). The increase in yield and the shorter growth period in GM crops also decrease the use of chemical fertilizers and pest management, therefore improving cost efficiency.
The uncertainties regarding GMO’s have affected policy development and the publics opinion of the use of GM crops significantly. People fear the things which they do not know, it is therefore important that scientific research must be conducted to prevent further uncertainties regarding GM crops and to share these findings with the public. By educating the public and policy makers on what biotechnology is, it will eliminate any myths which prevents the use of GM crops. Biotechnology is an important tool that needs to be incorporated in developing countries’ agricultural sectors. Through the benefits of biotechnology, food security can be improved, especially in developing countries. This will not only reduce famine but also malnutrition globally.
Azadi, H., 2010. Genetically modified and organic crops in developing countries: A review of options. Biotechnology Advances, I(28), pp. 160-168.
FAO, 2019. Food Insecurity is More than Just Hunger. [Online]
Available at: http://www.fao.org/state-of-food-security-nutrition
[Accessed 3 May 2020].
Floros et al., 2010. Feeding the World Today and Tomorrow: The Importance of Food Science and Technology. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, 9, 572-599.
Paarlberg, RL., 2002. The real threat to GM crops in poor countries: consumer and policy resistance to GM foods in rich countries. Food Policy, 27, pp247–50.