Tuesday, February 17

Frankenstein or Frankincense crops

Quite an interesting story. And personally speaking, I like the idea of having more GM food around the world. Just because the prices are falling a bit, does not mean that the pressure for more food has gone away. The middle classes of the world are demanding higher quality food, meat and the lot. They still need to be fed and watered. Given the lack of additional farm land, water, the only thing to do is to improve productivity of the existing cropland. GM foods provides one with a way to do this. Here are some interesting quotes:

The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) said the global area of GM crops increased from 114m ha in 2007 to 125m ha in 2008, producing a harvest worth $7.5bn. The number of farmers planting GM crops rose from 12m in 22 countries to 13.3m in 25 countries.

Clive James, ISAAA chairman, said the most significant development last year was the first commercial planting of biotech crops in two African countries: maize in Egypt and cotton in Burkina Faso. Both crops contain “Bt genes” from bacteria, which kill insect pests. In 2007 South Africa had been the only country on the continent with GM plants (cotton, maize and soya).

Look at some of the benefits:

Of the cumulative economic gains of $44bn over 10 years of growing GM crops, the report attributed 44 per cent to yield increases and 56 per cent to reduced production costs, including the use of 359,000 tonnes less pesticide.

Now isn't that just peachy? Good stuff to read that not only you increase productivity, but production costs are reduced and less pesticide is used therefore reducing pollution as well. Yes, there are quite a lot of issues in this relating to the sale of patented seeds, potential for gene mutation, and the lot, but I think the risks are well worth it. Here is a good report from Friends of the Earth as a counterpoint to this argument. Anyway, I really dont want to get into a head banging argument about this.

One thing which is quite interesting is that if you increase the usage of GM foods, then the sustainability size factor of farms reduces as well. What do I mean by this? Well, in vast swathes of the world, you will see that the actual plot sizes are tiny. Plus with more and more children, the plots of land become smaller and smaller down every generation, till the end where the land is practically too small to support even one family and poverty increases dramatically. But with increase in crop productivity, less production costs, the level at which land sizes are no longer sustainable or able to support even one family increases. So for countries like India and China, this is good news indeed.

But beyond that, countries are now getting desperate for food security. Here’s a great example of what South Korea is planning to do in Madagascar. I quote:

South Korea's Daewoo Logistics this week announced that it had negotiated a 99-year lease on some 3.2 million acres of farmland on the dirt-poor tropical island of Madagascar…….Daewoo plans to put about three quarters of it under corn. The remainder will be used to produce palm oil — a key commodity for the global biofuels market. A Daewoo manager, Hong Jong-wan, told the Financial Times that the crops would "ensure our food security" and would use "totally undeveloped land which had been left untouched."

Here is another example of how Saudi Arabia is doing the same in Pakistan. I quote:

To this end, the Saudis, the Emiratis, and the Bahrainis have been in talks with Egypt, Pakistan, Ukraine, Sudan, Turkey, Yemen, South Africa, the Philippines and Thailand to buy up or rent arable land and expand agricultural production in these countries.

This is actually good, I dont have an issue with this. This is pushing investments in poorer countries and combined with new types of crops, the food situation in the world will get a desperately needed fillip. So instead of these crops being Frankenstein type of horror for the world, I suspect they will more be frankincense.

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