LAHORE – Speakers at a seminar highlighted benefits of using technology in agriculture, saying biotech crops were helpful in addressing global challenges of increasing food production in changing climatic conditions and improving environment. They were of the view that biotech crops would help meet needs of growing world population.
They were delivering speeches at a workshop on ‘International perspective about the future biotech crops’, which was organised by Agricultural Journalists’ Association (AJA) Lahore.
The participants were told that as many as 29 countries cultivated biotech crops till 2011. Since introduction of biotech crops, genetically modified produce contributed to food security and sustainability by increasing crop production valued at $78.4 billion, providing a better environment by reducing pesticides use and reducing carbon emissions. Biotech crops also lead to conserve biodiversity by saving 91 million hectares of land and helped alleviate poverty by helping 15 million small farmers. Biotech crops are essential but are not a panacea and adherence to good farming practices such as rotations and resistance management are a must for biotech crops.
Dr Rhodora Aldemita, Senior Programme Officer Global Knowledge Center on Crop Biotechnology and Dr Mariechel Navarro, Manager of the same programme, shared their views on different topics. These experts are working under International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA). A good number of journalists from print and electronic media covering agricultural sector in Lahore attended the capacity-building media workshop, which turned out to be a debate on this much talked about issue.
Speaking on the occasion, Munawar Hasan, President AJA, stressed the need of carrying out healthy debate on biotechnology. He observed that scientific evidence should openly be shared to support case of biotechnology.
Dr Rhodora Aldemita, Senior Programme Officer, ISAAA in her presentation said that the world population would reach 9.3 billion from current 6.5 billion in year 2050 and the growers will have to produce double of what is being produced today with the same resources. She said that it means growers had to focus on growing latest breeds of crops such as heat and drought tolerant varieties and those having resistance against pests and diseases. She said that out of 29 countries planting biotech crops in 2011, 19 were developing and 10 were industrial countries. In year 2011, a record 16.7 million farmers, up 1.3 million or 8 per cent from 2010, grew biotech crops-notably over 90 percent or 15 million were small resource-poor farmers in developing countries; farmers are the masters of risk aversion. In 2011, a record 7 million small farmers in China and another 7 million in India selected to plant 14.5 million hectares of BT cotton. In Pakistan BT cotton was sown on 26 million acres and Pakistan joined the club of biotech planting crop in year 2010.
Regarding future of these crops, she expected that 10 more countries would be added in the list soon. More varieties are coming including the first biotech based drought tolerant maize planned for release in North America in 2013 and in Africa by 2017, Golden rice in the Philippines in 2013/14; biotech maize in China with a potential of approximately 30 million hectares and thereafter BT rice.
Biotech crops have the potential to make a substantial contribution to the 2015 MDG goal of cutting poverty in half, by optimizing crop productivity. Regarding myths versus realities and issues about food and environmental safety, she said that there was no scientifically proved evidence presented ever by the opponents of the biotech crops.
Dr Mariechel Navarro said low to moderate understanding of biotechnology exists in Asia, adding that despite low exposure to information on biotechnology, high interests were shown to seek information on this emerging technology. She observed that mass media had been biggest source of information in this regard. Referring to experience of Philippines, she said, opposition of GM corn died down after initial hype due to sharing of science based facts and increasing flow of information. She admitted that media writers could play better role in biotech debate.