GM food not a 'silver bullet'

2011-12-07 12:26

Cape Town - There is no "silver bullet" to ensure food security, particularly in developing countries, a researcher has said.

The food crisis in developing countries has led some to propose that widespread use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) might be effective in ensuring that the poor have guaranteed access to food.

"Most of uses of GMOs are on large scale farms - for commodity crops - and not the crops such as indigenous vegetables and grains, that could help improve nutrition and income," senior researcher Danielle Nierenberg at the World Watch Institute told News24.

As negotiators from nearly 200 countries debate the future of a global deal to mitigate the impact of climate change, food security and access for the poor has emerged as a key concern.

"I think there's been too much of a focus on silver bullets and simply increasing yields. It's not the quantity of food grown that needs to be increased, but necessary investments, especially in agricultural research, infrastructure, marketing and storage, need to be made, to 'feed the world'," Nierenberg said.


Earthlife Africa also expressed its opposition to GMOs.

"GMOs are a sin against humanity because firstly, we're not short on food on this planet. If we took current food production and shared it equitably with every woman, man and child, then each human being could get a kilo of grain, half a kilo of fresh food, and half a kilo of all the others: Egg, cheese and such like every day," said Muna Lakhani, Cape Town branch co-ordinator for Earthlife Africa.

As vulnerable communities are exposed to extreme weather events related to climate change, the price of food increases, leading to famine.

"Since 2010, food prices have increased  by nearly 40% in many developing countries - these higher than normal prices impact the poor the most," said Nierenberg.

She has extensive experience in Africa, having spent time evaluating 300 food projects in 25 countries and urged policy makers to adopt practices that promote diversification of farming on the continent.

She suggested that one of the strategies that could employed to mitigate against the effects of climate change was to plant trees that absorbed carbon from the atmosphere.

"Incorporating trees on farms can help increase yields by building soil fertility, reducing erosion, retaining water, or providing shade. And many species produce high-value fruits, timber, fodder, or medicine that can be sold or used to meet household needs. Ecosystem benefits like habitat creation and carbon sequestration are added benefits," Nierenberg added.


She said that there were many projects on the continent that demonstrated the willingness to compensate farmers to take measures to mitigate the effects of climate change.

"There are at least 75 projects in 22 countries across Africa [that] are in the works to begin compensating farmers and rural communities for storing carbon in their soils, including a proposal to create an African Agricultural Carbon Facility that could incubate projects in rural communities and help connect them with buyers."

One of the sticking points of the COP 17 conference is the structure and funding of a proposed $100bn climate fund that would fund climate change projects in the developing world.

But against the backdrop of a deepening debt crisis and sluggish global economy, it is unclear how the fund will be financed.

Nierenberg said that African farmers were employing local solutions to alleviate the effects of climate on food production.

"Farmers all over sub-Saharan Africa are doing things like - in Malawi - where subsidies have made farmers dependent on fossil-fuel based fertiliser, many farmers are choosing an alternative. Instead of using artificial fertiliser, they're planting leguminous trees among crops."

She added that an overlooked strategy for dealing with food production was a waste.

Africa is particularly susceptible to waste because of inefficiencies in transportation systems, poor governance and dependence on the pricing in world markets.

"Twenty to 50% of all food is wasted before it ever reaches people's stomachs. Waste tends to be insidious - a few percent is lost in the field, a few percent is lost in storage, a few percent is lost in transport, and a few percent is lost at home," said Nierenberg.

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  • Horst - 2011-12-07 19:50

    GMO may not be the silver bullet, but surely it helps. Especially if one thinks of crops bred for drought-resistance.

  • ludlowdj - 2011-12-15 10:41

    GM crops, another American initiative, has a poor history, and from case history is most definitely not aimed at the poor population. Most current GM seed are sterile and must be bought on an annual basis from the developer. The long term effects of GM crops on humans is also still largely unknown. Most importantly one needs to understand and realize nearly 90% of first world crops are sterile due to the freezing and preservation process followed before distribution, this effectively means that although you can use seed from fruit trees in your yard to grow new trees, very few seeds from store bought products will germinate if cultivated. The main threat is therefor the American attempt to control and monopolize the seed market through artificial intervention aimed at making them the only supplier of viable seeds going forward.

      wesleywt - 2012-03-02 11:43

      The reason why these seeds are sterile is because the green activist demanded that it should be made so. So really as a green activist you can't used it as a disadvantage. You asked for it. There is just too many people who don't know what they are talking about masquerading as experts.

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