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Genomics and Biology. Biotechnology and genomics.
Modern biotechnology- Sustainable growth

Modern biotechnology is purported to have a number of products for addressing certain food-security problems of developing countries. It offers the possibility of an agricultural system that is more reliant on biological processes rather than chemical applications. The potential uses of modern biotechnology in agriculture include: increasing yields while reducing inputs of fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides; conferring drought or salt tolerance on crop plants; increasing shelf-life; reducing post harvest losses; increasing the nutrient content of produce; and delivering vaccines . The availability of such products could not only have an important role in reducing hunger and increasing food security, but also have the potential to address some of the health problems of the developing world.

Achieving the improvements in crop yields expected in developing countries can help to alleviate poverty: directly by increasing the household incomes of small farmers who adopt these technologies; and indirectly, through their positive impact as evidenced in the price slumps of herbicides and insecticides.

Indeed, some developing countries have identified priority areas such as tolerances to alkaline earth metals, drought and soil salinity, disease resistance, crop yields and nutritionally enhanced crops. The adoption of technologies designed to prolong shelf-life could be valuable in helping to reduce post harvest losses in regionally important crops. Prime candidates in terms of crops of choice for development are the so-called ‘orphan crops’, such as cassava, sweet potato, millet, sorghum and yam.

Currently, the many promises of modern biotechnology that could have an impact on food security have not been realized in most developing countries. In fact, the uptake of modern biotechnology has been remarkably low owing to the number of factors that underpin food security issues. In part, this could be because the first generation of commercially available crops using modern biotechnology were modified with single genes to impart resistance to pests, weed and insects, and not complex characteristics that would modify the growth of crops in harsh conditions. Secondly, the technologies are developed by companies in industrialized countries with little or no direct investment in, and which derive little economic benefit from, developing countries.

Although current commercial GM crops are not designed to address the specific issues of developing countries, their adoption has shown that they can be relevant in some developing countries — for example, the planting of herbicide-tolerant soybeans in Argentina and Bt cotton as a cash crop by resource-poor farmers in China and South Africa have resulted in significant gains for farmers. On average, the Bt cotton farmers in China reduced pesticide spraying by 70%, producing a kilogram of cotton at 28% less cost than the non-Bt farmers. These benefits have had a significant impact on the agronomic, environmental, health and economic situations of approximately 5 million resource-poor farmers over eight provinces.

Several agro-economic studies have been commissioned since the introduction of seed derived from modern biotechnology in the USA. One report illustrates that the greatest yield increases were achieved with insect-resistant maize, while the greatest reduction of input costs was seen in herbicide-tolerant soybean.

There is lot more research required to be devoted to find specific solutions to food problems and use of biotechnology techniques in the area. Developing countries have more stake in these technologies and hence they would need to take lead in that.


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