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Daily Archives: October 5, 2018

Seeds of Doubt, Harvest of Hope: Misguided Opposition to GM Crops Threatens a Vital Food Security and Environmental Savior

Seeds of Doubt, Harvest of Hope: Misguided Opposition to GM Crops Threatens a Vital Food Security and Environmental Savior


The world in 2100 will look and feel like a different place than the one we know today. The global population is projected to rise by three billion people—the population of more than two new Chinas. At the same time, extreme global weather events, precipitation variability, and mean temperatures will also increase. These changes will bring new challenges for the global food system.

But what if I told you that there’s a technology that could safely raise crop yields while also allowing for rapid adaption to changing environments? What if this same technology could also reduce the environment impacts of farming by reducing pesticide applications and water requirements; improve the health of millions in the developing world; and lower costs for farmers and consumers? Finally, what if I told you that the same environmental groups that are so adamant about protecting the planet are actually blocking the potential of this tool? This is no hypothetical scenario. This is the reality for genetically modified (GM) crops.

Vitamin A-enriched rice, virus-resistant cassava, and salt-tolerant barley are just some of the GM varieties that already exist but have not been made available. Why aren’t developing countries and food security organizations clamoring to distribute these and develop new varieties? It comes down to misinformation, fear, and poor choices by the biotech sector.

Much of the public worries about the consumptive safety and environmental impacts of GM products. A 2016 Pew public opinion poll found that 49% of the American public believes that GMOs are likely to create health and environmental problems (although concern decreases among groups with higher scientific knowledge). In response, retailers ranging from Whole Foods to Chipotle have stopped selling GMOs, and labeling organizations like the “Non-GMO Project” are thriving. However, a Harvard review of over 100 studies examining the health impacts of GM crops found no evidence that eating GM foods leads to health problems. A 2014 review in the Journal of Animal Science tracked the health effects of GMOs on over 100 billion livestock and also found no health implications. The World Health Organization, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Medical Association, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science all consider GM crops safe.

Similarly, environmental alarmism foretelling GM genes spreading beyond the field has also proved unfounded. Scientists have debunked the most attention-grabbing environmental claim, which wrongly linked pollen from GM corn to the decline of the monarch butterfly population. Since farmers spray less insecticide on GM fields, this technology even has the potential to reduce harm to non-pest insect species. Moreover, criticisms levied against “GM” monocultures—agricultural systems with only one type of crop—unfairly target GMOs. In fact, monocultures are a product of industrialized agricultural systems, and farmers have cultivated monoculture systems since long before the development of GMOs.

Environmental groups have stoked fear through constant vilification of this  technology, and by making claims about the “unnaturalness” of GMOs. It is true that GMOs aren’t natural—but neither are corn, bananas, or Brussels sprouts. Most of the food we eat today is actually the product of millennia of selective breeding. Like many products of modern life—from lifesaving drugs to cosmetic tooth whitening—there’s little that’s natural about it. The advantage of genetic modification is that it allows scientists to make precise changes by targeting single genes, which means that far less occurs by chance than it does by throwing tens of thousands of genes together through “natural” crossbreeding. Moreover, when it comes to consumption, not all that is “natural” is good. Raw milk is natural, but it has sickened and killed many children; the apple you ate for lunch isn’t natural, yet we can all agree that it’s a nutritious choice.

While the extent and strength of the pushback by consumers and environmental groups took biotech firms by surprise, they themselves made initial missteps that emboldened their critics. Although biotech firms couldn’t have predicted the significant wave of fear sparked by Mad Cow Disease that peaked at the same time that GM crops went on the market, they are to blame for poorly introducing the technology. The image of Green Revolution crops, such as high-yielding dwarf strains of wheat and rice, benefited from their deployment by respected nonprofits such as the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations, and their direct mitigation of an impending global food crisis. Conversely, large agribusinesses developed GMOs during a time of relative food security and marketed the technology to wealthy Western farmers rather than consumers, which created a far less welcoming implementation environment.

Firms like Monsanto have focused on creating corn, soybean, and cotton varieties for Western markets and protected their technology with militant litigation. While this maximized their profits in the short-term, this approach has caused Monsanto and its peers long-term image and market penetration problems. Instead, biotech firms should have paired their strategy in the developed world with partnerships with foundations and research institutions to support the development of GM varieties most needed by farmers in the developing world. Rather than establishing a positive initial image, GM technology and firms must now face an uphill battle to access markets that would benefit the most.

The opposition to GM crops entails real, though asymmetric, costs. In the developed world, opposition to this technology translates into slightly higher costs for farmers and consumers, as well as greater pesticide application. Elsewhere, GM crops that are currently banned have the potential to decrease hunger, alleviate nutritional deficits, preserve scarce groundwater, protect nutritious staple crops from disease, and allow farmers on marginal land to escape poverty. Today, GM crops may seem superfluous, but in 50 years, they will be a necessity. While GM crops cannot end food insecurity alone, they can play a central role in a new generation of farming that marries biotechnological advances with industrial efficiency and sustainable agro-ecological practices. It’s time to give GM crops a chance.

Griffin Smith is a recent graduate of MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning where he focused on environmental and social policy issues. Before graduate school, he worked for a negotiation and mediation consulting firm, helping find and build bipartisan solutions for divisive policy issues. Griffin is particularly interested in bringing divergent groups together to achieve environmental, electoral, and social policy victories. 

Edited by Jana Pohorelsky

Photo by Lukas Budimaier on Unsplash

The post Seeds of Doubt, Harvest of Hope: Misguided Opposition to GM Crops Threatens a Vital Food Security and Environmental Savior appeared first on KENNEDY SCHOOL REVIEW.

Odisha State Food Security Scheme (SFSS): poor to get rice at 1 rupee/kg

Odisha State Food Security Scheme (SFSS): poor to get rice at 1 rupee/kg

Odisha State Food Security Scheme (SFSS): poor to get rice at 1 rupee/kg

Odisha State Food Security Scheme (SFSS)

Costa Rica-trained graduates roll out initiative to boost food security

A group of local graduates has joined hands to help boost food security and increase sustainable farming practices in the country.

The trio of Annet Mukamurenzi, Gerard Ndayishimiye and Yvette Abizeyimana are graduates from EARTH University, Costa Rica, where they studied agricultural science and natural resource management. 

After identifying key challenges in the local agricultural scene, the youths set up Rwanda Youth Initiative for Agricultural Transformation (RYIAT) in 2015 while they were still students.

The idea was to help increase food production, provide clean energy to farmers, and create employment for youth through a sustainable farming model.

Over 80 per cent of the country’s population depends on agriculture for livelihood, and the sector is suffering from volatile weather patterns, use of traditional farming methods, and population pressure.  

“As young agronomists, we wanted to contribute toward efforts to address the challenges facing the country’s agriculture sector. When a team from the Ministry of Agriculture visited EARTH University in 2015, we saw an opportunity to share the knowledge gained in Costa Rica with our compatriots back home,” Annet Mukamurenzi said.

The organisation’s vision has caught the eye of several development partners, including MasterCard Foundation.

This was largely due to their academic know-how, the social consciousness of the initiative and vision, which targets opening at least one sustainable teaching farm in each of Rwanda’s four provinces as well as Kigali city.

In 2017, RYIAT won the Resolution Social Venture Challenge at the MasterCard Foundation Baobab Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, a competition that recognises compelling leadership and promising social ventures led by youth.

The trio earned a fellowship that includes seed funding, mentorship, and access to a network of young global change-makers to pursue impactful projects in their communities. 

The collaboration between the MasterCard Foundation and The Resolution Project, the Resolution Social Venture Challenge provides a pathway to action for socially responsible young leaders who want to create a positive change in their communities.

RYIAT has already put together a team of young Rwandan agricultural experts, which will be deployed across the country to equip farmers with sustainable and modern farming skills, roll out new strategies as well as the technologies to develop sustainable solutions to hunger while protecting the environment.

The training centre is based in Kigali, where a project prototype of an urban farm is being used to demonstrate different food growing techniques in small areas for maximum and quality yields.

“We believe it’s a sustainable model farm because it will be socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable. You can use recycled materials like plastic bags or bottles. With this system, farmers may not need soil. Farmers can use rice husks mixed with organic fertiliser from animal waste and cultivate without a need for soil,” explained Gerard Ndayishimiye.

The team plans on boosting the productivity of land using the latest agricultural practices.

For instance, a hectare of land produces 800 kilogrammes of maize yet with better practices, it can produce two to three tonnes, they say.

The training will empower women with skills to produce enough food that will allow them to sell the surplus.

Among the farming methods that the agronomists are introducing include the Mandala system, which originated in India and allows farmers to cultivate different crops in a circle form, with crop rings moving from the centre to the outside of the circle.

The project will also train families on how to use biogas as a clean energy source, helping communities to make the leap from wood fuel.

According to Ndayishimiye, up to 90 per cent of Rwandans depend on wood fuel as a source of energy, which contributes to deforestation and shifting rainfall patterns, creating conditions for environmental catastrophes like mudslides. Burning wood has also been cited as a contributor to air pollution and negatively impacting climate change.

Mukamurenzi is confident that the project will be self-sustaining as it will generate funds through several avenues, like farm produce, agri-tourism, internships and workshops, and funding from NGOs and government ministries.

“We teach by example. We set the example of how farming generates money. This will be done through efficient and market-oriented production, which also covers value addition for our products to ensure high income,” said Mukamurenzi.

“Youth have to develop an approach to farming that is profitable. We teach that approach with examples, showing farmers that their crops can generate revenue for them.

“We intend to work with farmers to get involved in other aspects of agricultural production, namely by getting farmers involved in all activities, from harvesting and processing to packaging and marketing. By creating greater value for farmers’ crops, they can earn a higher income,” she added.

The team is also sharing skills and best practices by hosting farmers, partners and experts at their demonstration farm.

They say they want to earn income by charging different fees to learn various agricultural skills, selling arts and crafts products made under their brand name, RYIAT Rwanda, and by adding value to products from their farm.

Profits generated by RYIAT will sustain the cooperative, they say, “laying the financial groundwork for the organisation to grant scholarships and teach deserving youth who may not otherwise have the means to learn the craft of farming.”

Young Rwandans who have been enlisted to participate in the initiative are upbeat about the initiative.

Thomas Simbankayo, a graduate in veterinary medicine from Umutara Polytechnic, said the initiative gives the youth involved in agriculture a chance to maximise the sector’s potential.


Mercy Corps Applauds Global Food Security Reauthorization Act Passage

Mercy Corps Applauds Global Food Security Reauthorization Act Passage

Image from the Gates Global Food Crisis Response Program grant to Mercy Corps in the Central African Republic. (Jenny Vaughan/Mercy Corps)

We urge the President to quickly sign it into law. Doing so will make a vital difference to meeting the needs of the 821 million people who go to bed hungry every night.


In response to the final passage of the Global Food Security Reauthorization Act (S.2269) by the House of Representatives on September 28, 2018, Mercy Corps issued the following statement from Dina Esposito, Vice President of Technical Leadership:

“The Global Food Security Reauthorization Act reaffirms the United States’ commitment to leading the fight against global hunger and Mercy Corps welcomes the passage of this important bill. We applaud the bipartisan Congressional leadership that ensured its passage and we urge the President to quickly sign it into law. Doing so will make a vital difference to meeting the needs of the 821 million people who go to bed hungry every night.

“Mercy Corps is proud to partner with the U.S. Government in implementing the Global Food Security Strategy. Through our work in places like Nepal, Ethiopia, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, we are working in partnership with governments, the private sector, civil society and communities to address the root causes of hunger, improving agriculture techniques, boosting production and ensuring better nutrition for households—so people no longer need aid. We prioritize work with communities that are regularly hit by shocks like drought, flood and conflict, so they can cope and adapt to these challenges without outside help.

“We look forward to continuing to help communities and families provide for themselves and thrive in the face of adversity.”


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