In-gene-uity may help farmers outsmart drought

GRAND ISLAND, Nebraska — Rain dances might well be a thing of the past. Instead of praying for precipitation, Monsanto engineers are working hard to produce corn that resists dry conditions. They predict that in four years farmers could have access to a variety of corn that yields ten percent more crop than conventional species during water-scarce periods, reports the New York Times.

With global warming comes unpredictable weather patterns, making it difficult for farmers to know just when and from where to source water for optimal irrigation. Genetic engineering proposes an answer that some farmers eagerly embrace. “We pump water like there’s no end, and that’s not going to last forever,” farmer Tom Schuele of Cedar Rapids, Nebraska told the Times.

While farmers in the drier regions of the U.S. cornbelt embrace the prospect of new biotechnology, others across the globe remain skeptical. Growers from the continent of Africa traditionally resist genetically engineered comestibles, opting for more trusted and affordable methods of alteration — such as conventional breeding.

Ugandan farm manager Moses Timbiti Wanyakha points out that, “in Africa people have found that indigenous crops planted after the harvest of genetically modified crops do not grow as well as before.”

He also asks, “Who owns the rights to sell African farmers this corn? A common farmer usually saves his seeds to plant for the next season. Many people in Africa cannot afford to buy new seeds every time they want to grow corn. If they cannot even buy salt, then how can they buy genetically modified seeds?”

“Many communities in Africa do not depend on corn,” he adds. Most Africans consume a diversity of crops, such as bananas, millet, sorghum, cassava, wild fruits and sweet potatoes. “And how does Monsanto intend to ensure demand and proper investment to make such corn viable?”

But according to Harvard’s international development professor Calestous Juma drought tolerance “is the most critical entry point.” Juma, an advisor to African governments on biotechnology, believes that climate change and the current food crisis could very well reopen “the window for genetic modification.”

Read more here.

Source: The New York Times

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