Last week, for the second time MARDI hosted the launch of the ISAAA’s Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops. The first one was in 2007. This time round the publication was launched by the Dato’ Mohd Mokhtar Ismail, the Secretary General of the Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry in the presence of Datuk Dr. Abd. Shukor Abd. Rahman, the DG of MARDI and Dr. Umi Kalsom Abu Bakar, the Director of Biotechnology Research Centre, MARDI. Both MABIC and ISAAA are pleased with the continued support rendered by MARDI towards promoting public awareness on biotechnology.
ISAAA has been tracking the trends of the adoption of GM crops since 1996 and this is one of the most cited literatures in agribiotechnology. The report is entirely funded by two European philanthropic organizations: a philanthropic unit within Ibercaja, one of the largest Spanish banks headquartered in the maize growing region of Spain; and the Bussolera-Branca Foundation from Italy, which supports the open-sharing of knowledge on biotech crops to aid decision-making by global society.
In 2008, ISAAA found that 13.3 million farmers in 25 countries were able to experience the benefits associated with biotech crops. Additionally, total planted area grew 10.7 million hectares. Most notably, in 2008 biotech farming began in the African nations of Egypt and Burkina Faso. Africa is considered the “final frontier” for biotech crops as it has perhaps the greatest need and most to gain. In 2008, Egypt planted 700 hectares of Bt maize and Burkina Faso planted 8,500 hectares of Bt cotton. They join South Africa, which since 1998 has benefited from biotech cotton, maize and soybean.
Political leaders globally are increasingly viewing biotech enhanced crops as a key part of the solution to critical social issues of food security and sustainability. For example, G-8 leaders in 2008 for the first time recognized the significance of biotech crops and called to “accelerate research and development and increase access to new agricultural technologies to boost agriculture production; we will promote science-based risk analysis, including on the contribution of seed varieties developed through biotechnology.”
The European Union also has acknowledged that biotech crops “can play an important role in mitigating the effects of the food crises.” In China, Premier Wen Jiabao has said “to solve the food problem, we have to rely on big science and technology measures, rely on biotechnology, rely on GM.” As a result, China has committed an additional US $3.5 billion over 12 years for continued research and development. Biotech rice alone, already developed and field tested in China, has the potential to increase food availability and net income by about US$100 per hectare for approximately 440 million people in the country.
“Biotech crops make two important contributions to global food security,” Dr. Clive James, the author of the report said. “First, they increase yields, which increase food availability and supply. Second, they reduce production costs, which will also ultimately help reduce food prices. With 9.2 billion people to be fed by 2050, biotechnology plays a crucial role in helping satisfy the growing demand.”
Further, biotechnology is beginning to identify solutions to the growing challenges with drought being seen in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. Drought is the single largest constraint to increased productivity. For example, Argentina currently faces a drought so severe that farmers have made a loss on their wheat crop. Drought-tolerant crops, maize in particular, are an emerging reality with seeds expected to be commercialized in the United States by 2012 or sooner and by 2017 for Africa.
In his speech during the launch, Datuk Dr. Shukor highlighted the various GM researches that are ongoing at MARDI and his hope to commercialize them. Whereas, the Secretary General stressed the importance of GM crops and their positive impact on the environment. He further envisaged its potential to the rural communities. He also urged all government agencies involved in agriculture to embrace this technology or face the reality of lagging behind countries like India, China, Philippines, Brazil and Argentina.
By Mahaletchumy Arujanan