Biotechnology for raising farm yield
LOW productivity in agriculture is a major cause of poverty, food insecurity, and poor nutrition in low-income developing countries. Agricultural biotechnology offers great potential as an instrument for achieving food security and poverty reduction.. It uses advanced plant-breeding techniques to introduce beneficial traits to the crops grown for food and fibre.
The need for food security and economic value of agricultural products highlights their significance for all countries of the world, no matter at what stage of development they may be. It has been estimated that around 70 per cent of poor and food-insecure people reside in rural areas and depend directly or indirectly on agriculture for their livelihoods. Whether in rural or urban areas, poor people spend as much as 50–70 per cent of their incomes on food.
In spite of the past advances in food production 800 million people, mostly in developing countries go to bed hungry everyday. Micronutrient deficiencies affect three billion people. Malnutrition hinders the development of human potential and the nation’s social and economic development.
To face these situations of food scarcity and insecurity to farmers, considerable attention has been focused on the use of biotechnology to improve the quantity and quality of food supply. This interest is fueled, in part, by a growing world population that is expected to double by the year 2025, coupled with the realisation that there are limited options for increasing the amount of land under cultivation for the production of food crops without imposing undesirable environmental costs.
Productivity gains are also essential to assure that food supplies remain adequate as world population increases by 25 per cent to 7.5 billion in 2020. And it is estimated that over 97 per cent of the projected growth will take place in the developing countries.
Applications of agricultural biotechnology to developing countries could address some of these very issues if research focuses on how to reduce the need for inputs and increase efficiency of input use. This could lead to the development of crops that utilise water more efficiently, fix nitrogen from the air, extract phosphate from the soil more effectively, and resist pests without the use of synthetic pesticides.
Successful efforts in this direction would reduce dependence on access to inputs, making the technology more readily available to poor farmers. It is possible that the introduction of agricultural biotechnology in the developing countries like Pakistan can contribute to increased productivity, lower unit costs and prices for food, preservation of forests and fragile land, poverty reduction, and improved nutrition. This depends on whether the research is relevant to poor people, on the economic and social policy environment, and on the nature of the intellectual property rights arrangements governing the technology.
In these days, the emphasis is being put up on using crops that have been evolved by biotechnological ways. So, genetically modified organisms have been produced and used commercially. Globally over 70 different commercially important species of plants have been modified to incorporate mainly seven transgenic traits i.e. herbicide tolerance, insect resistance, viral disease tolerance, fungal disease tolerance, product quality improvements, male sterility traits, others i.e. production of metabolites/chemicals, improvement of nutritional traits, incorporation of marker genes, stress resistance properties etc.
The important crops that have been modified genetically include maize, soybean, cotton, tomato, potato, alphalpha, petunia, rapeseed and mustard, rice, wheat, beet, barley, chickpea, cabbage and tobacco. But at present, four plant species (soybean, maize, cotton and rapeseed) dominate with two traits (herbicide tolerance and insect resistance).
Modern biotechnology is not a silver bullet for achieving food security, but used in conjunction with traditional knowledge and conventional agricultural research methods; it may be a powerful tool in the fight against poverty that should be made available to poor farmers and consumers. It has the potential to help enhance agricultural productivity in developing countries in a way that further reduces poverty, improves food security and nutrition, and promotes sustainable use of natural resources. Solutions to the problems facing small farmers in developing countries will benefit both farmers and consumers.
Biotechnology may offer cost-effective solutions to micronutrient malnutrition, such as vitamin A- and iron-rich crops. By raising productivity in food production, agricultural biotechnology could help further reduce the need to cultivate new lands and help conserve biodiversity and protect fragile ecosystems. Policies must expand and guide research and technology development to solve problems of importance to poor people. Research should focus on crops relevant to small farmers and poor consumers in Pakistan, such as cotton, rice, maize, wheat, and millet, along with livestock.
Expanded enlightened adaptive research on agricultural biotechnology can contribute to food security in developing countries, provided that it focuses on the needs of poor farmers and consumers in those countries, identified in consultation with poor people themselves. Public sector research, particularly through international agricultural research centres and national agricultural research systems, is essential for assuring that molecular biology-based science can fulfill the needs of poor people. Yet at present, public international agricultural research centres are devoting less than 10 per cent of their research budgets to biotechnology.
Agricultural biotechnology must be viewed as one element in a comprehensive sustainable poverty alleviation strategy focused on broad-based agricultural growth, not a technological quick fix for world hunger. There is considerable potential for biotechnology to contribute to improved yields and reduced risks for poor farmers, as well as more plentiful, affordable, and nutritious food for poor consumers. It is not, as some critics have charged, ‘a solution looking for a problem.’ The problems are genuine and momentous.
The biggest risk of modern biotechnology for developing countries is that technological development will bypass poor people. In such a case, if agricultural biotechnology research is prohibited in the developed countries, opportunities for reducing poverty, food insecurity, child malnutrition, and natural resource degradation will be missed, and the productivity gap between developing and developed country agriculture will widen.
So, it is obvious that the governments and funding agencies should continue and increase their investments in biotechnology as a means of achieving their goals of poverty reduction and food security.
Biotechnology for raising farm yield -DAWN - Business; January 07, 2008