The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that production of grain, fishery, fuel wood, round wood, and meat in developing countries needs to increase at 70, 40, 27, 83, and 100%, respectively, to meet the demand of more than two billion people projected to be born in the next 30 years (FAO, 1999). The projected increase is to be made with limited land and water resources. This requires technological innovation, in addition to conventional technologies such as the technological packages of the green revolution (GR) that have allowed food production to meet world food demand. However, there are signs that the GR technology has reached its plateau due to the decline in yields of rice and wheat (the GR crops) in the last decade. In addition, the GR has not met the needs of resource-poor farmers working the marginal environment, and there are still 800 million people who are malnourished due to inadequate food distribution. To meet their needs and those of future generations, the modern biotechnology tools of recombinant DNA, including genetic engineering, can form part of such innovation.
Indeed, modern biotechnology is revolutionizing the way in which the necessities of life—food, feed, fiber, fuel, and medical drugs—are being produced. In the agricultural arena, biotechnology tools have been used for animal and plant disease diagnostics, for production of recombinant vaccines against animal diseases, and for the improvement of livestock and crops. While the use of genetically engineered (GE) drugs and vaccines has not stirred much controversy, the deployment of genetically modified (GM) crops has met with fierce resistance, particularly in Europe, on ethical grounds and on concerns of perceived negative impacts of GM crops on the environment and food safety. Ethical considerations revolve around topics such as: (1) the "unnatural" nature of gene transfers across species, (2) possible widening of the gap between the rich and poor farmers and countries, and (3) the increase in global food supply's dependency on a few multinational corporations that control agricultural biotechnology and the seed industry. There are concerns that the negative publicity of and the resistance to GM crops by consumers in Europe may have hindered the transfer of this new innovation to the developing countries where increasing crop productivity is most urgent.
The importance of biotechnology for improving agricultural productivity was emphasized during the World Food Summit: Five Years Later (WFS:fyl) when the Heads of State and their governments renewed the pledge made in the 1996 WFS to halve the number of hungry people by 2015. However, the current low rate of hunger reduction indicates that to reach the goal, more commitments accompanied by concerted actions are required, and technological innovation is an important component of this effort Indeed, governments have "called on the FAO, in conjunction with the CGIAR and other international research institutes, to advance agricultural research and research into new technologies, including biotechnology. The introduction of tried and tested new technologies including biotechnology should be accomplished in a safe manner and adapted to local conditions to help improve agricultural productivity in developing countries. We are committed to study, share and facilitate the responsible use of biotechnology in addressing development needs" (FAO, 2002).
This chapter explores the potential contribution of biotechnology to food security and poverty alleviation. While the focus is on crop biotechnology, attention will also be given to forest, animal, and fishery biotechnology, when appropriate. The chapter is an updated version of a case study entitled "The Potential of Agricultural Biotechnology" originally written for a 2001 joint FAO/World Bank publication entitled Farming Systems and Poverty: Improving Livelihoods in a Changing World (Le, 2001).
Was this article helpful?