Fighting Global Hunger: The Possibilities of Biotechnology

October 14, 2011
Corn Field in Iowa

I was privileged to be part of a U.S. government delegation that traveled to Iowa this week for events surrounding the World Food Prize. This year marks the 25th Anniversary of the prize, which recognizes the achievements of individuals who have advanced human development by improving the quality, quantity, or availability of food in the world. The winners, former President of Ghana, H.E. John Agyekum Kufuor, and the former President of Brazil, H.E. Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, were honored for the remarkable improvements in food security and poverty alleviation achieved under their leadership by investing in agriculture and agricultural workers.

The World Food Prize is a fantastic event, bringing in government, private sector, non-governmental organization leaders, academia, and media from around the globe to discuss agricultural innovation and food security. These are vital issues: nearly one billion people -- one seventh of the world's population -- suffer from chronic hunger. Because of extreme hunger and poverty, children, adults, and indeed entire societies are hindered from achieving their full potential. And agricultural productivity and food security will only become more critical in the coming decades -- the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that a doubling of agricultural output will be needed by 2050 to feed a population of more than 9 billion people. That doubling of production will need to occur despite challenges caused by climate change, including water shortages and increased salinity of soil. We have an enormous task ahead of us to maintain and expand our economic growth in the agricultural sector.

But we can meet this challenge. Through a multi-pronged approach, and efforts by governments, business, and civil society, we are adapting to change and moving forward. Through technology, we are making seeds more drought tolerant and pest resistant. Through development projects, we are improving farmers' practices, access to credit and to markets, and addressing gender inequalities that inhibit agricultural production. Through knowledge sharing, we are improving the quality, reliability, accuracy, timeliness, and comparability of data on agricultural markets. And through improvements in supply chains, we are reducing pre- and post-harvest losses and ensuring more food reaches consumers. As a global community, we will need to continue and expand these programs in order to meet our future challenges.

While I was in Iowa, I had an opportunity to focus on one of several tools that can contribute solutions: agricultural biotechnology. Since the adoption of biotechnology in agriculture 15 years ago, the impact has been tremendous both in terms of agricultural productivity and the world economy. New agricultural technologies have doubled the production of food since 1960 and increased per-capita food supplies in the developing world by 25 percent. Biotech crops can, and have, increased productivity and incomes significantly. They have served as an engine of rural economic growth and contribute to the alleviation of poverty for the world's small and resource-poor farmers. There are also environmental and sustainable benefits: less pesticides, less water, and less tillage. Plus, there's the bonus of better nutritional value of crops. Despite all of these gains and benefits, the adoption of agricultural biotechnology has not been a smooth path. It has been, and remains, fraught with political debate that in many countries overshadows the science. New crops are waiting to move from labs to the farmer, but lack a clear pathway. Functioning, science-based regulatory systems are necessary to make such transfers possible.

Governments play an indispensable role in this. They can attract investment and facilitate access to new technologies. They can design and implement predictable, transparent, and science-based regulatory frameworks. Government commitment can help leverage private sector investment for the latest scientific innovations and technologies. With the knowledge gained over the past 15 years, it is possible to design appropriate regulatory systems that are responsible and rigorous, but not onerous, therefore requiring modest resources within the means of most developing countries. If we and the rest of the world are to accelerate food production to the levels necessary, countries will need such systems not only to facilitate trade, but to pave the way for the greater use of biotechnology. The United States wants to work in partnership with the developing world to expand the role of biotechnology.

While in Des Moines, I had productive discussions with visiting African ministers of agriculture, joining U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. I asked them to think about how we can turn our discussions into concrete actions to advance the role of biotechnology in ways that are beneficial to their home nations.

During this trip, I also participated in several outreach events to advance the dialogue on the promise of biotechnology:
• At a rural roundtable, I had a stimulating discussion with agricultural businesspeople, community leaders, farmers, and ranchers about how to further improve the economy and create jobs.
• Another highlight was meeting with students from the Political Science Department and the Center for Prairie Studies at Grinnell College and getting their thoughts on feeding a growing world.
• I shared views with agricultural CEOs on how the next generation must confront hunger.
• Joining a distinguished panel, I participated in a lively webcast discussion on innovation's role in food security.
• I enjoyed meeting with several journalists, both local and international, and talking about public perceptions of this issue.

The week's events demonstrated how powerful it can be when the interests of governments, companies, farmers, and consumers intersect. In the case of food security, all sectors will benefit from reforms and increased use of biotechnology. I hope that nations who have concerns about the use of these products will continue discussing those concerns with us and learn from the application and successes of biotechnology. Together, we can tackle the challenges of our changing world.

Comments

Comments

Betty G.
|
United States
October 15, 2011

Betty G. in the U.S.A. writes:

The FDA, the USDA are the most corrupt agencies in Washington DC! Genetically Modified foods, plants and animals should be banned in the United States. Monsanto, Dupont and the biotech industry should not be allowed to write policy and regulate thru the FDA and the USDA, regulating the very freaking products they profit from!! Monsanto is evil to the core. The FDA and the USDA should be abolished, the staff of those agencies should be arrested, tried , convicted and imprisoned for murder, theft, destruction of the environment and terrorism of the people via food, water and pharmaceuticals. There would not be any global hunger if the globalists would stop their freaking agenda and leave people the heck alone!!!!

Betty G.
|
United States
October 15, 2011

Betty G. in the U.S.A. writes:

I'll bet they don't post my previous comment.

Dan S.
|
New Mexico, USA
October 14, 2011

Dan S. in New Mexico writes:

I'm very disappointed to have this administration promoting 'biotechnology' aka GMO's. We all know the lawsuits against everyday farmers that Monsanto is conducting, and I believe that it is a violation of human rights and another example of big business running our country. Its nice that you are keeping us up to date on how Biotech companies are buying you off though... Bad. Shame on you. This fight will not stop here. I like this administration, but this is one issue that has to change. Farmers should be sued so they are required to grow GMO!!

Marks
October 15, 2011

Mark S. writes:

We have tremendous amount of land water and resources! Still people are dying of hunger. There are so many programs and agendas are made to save a tiger or to save an endanger species. But what about human? Why every government of every country always ignore poor common man?

Zharkov
|
United States
October 15, 2011

Zharkov in the U.S.A. writes:

What you are doing to the world's food chain is sickening. GMO seed development should have been designated a crime against humanity.

Anyone who has researched the outcomes and effects of GMO food on the human body would know it is far too dangerous, and that is why there is a seed vault set up to protect the original DNA of the food supply, but as the inevitable destruction of our natural food chain occurs, that seed vault will be too little and too late.

Food producers know they can't label products as GMO because the public won't buy it if they do. Nobody wants to eat that stuff, not even lab rats.

There is nothing good that can be said about this "bioweapon" food. If you mess with nature, nature messes with you. One modified gene in the food chain changes thousands of genes in humans. GMO is a man-made curse on humanity.

Jeremy S.
|
Texas, USA
October 22, 2011

Jeremy S. in Texas writes:

How can you talk about the interests of consumers then discuss increased use of biotechnology in the same paragraph? GMOs are horrible. You are literally trying to poison your own countrymen, that is tantamount to treason. Sure Monsanto pays lots of money into the US government, money they made during the Agent Orange lottery, but that money does not sway the ideal of many other nations.

It is you, Mr. Jose W. Fernandez who is responsible for holding back this country and keeping the United States of America from performing at its greatest potential and you sir should be ashamed of yourself.

GMO products should be labeled. In a free society, the free market would decide what it wants, not you deciding for the masses based on your own financial gain. How dare you.

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