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GM crops have role to play in feeding the world – Prof Leaver

By Jimoh Babatunde

An  Emeritus Professor of Plant Science, University of Oxford , Prof. Christopher Leaver, has said that  Genetically Modified (GM) crops will have a role to play in order to beat the growing population demand.

Leaver said people are dying because of hunger, “we need to give them the capacity and an opportunity to let them grow their own food to feed themselves and their families but also let them improve their income as well.”

Speaking in  Abuja at the recently concluded  training workshop on Plant Breeding, Genetics and Biosciences for Farming in Africa,  he  said there are  challenges about population growth and we are completely dependent on crops to feed the people. ”

The major challenge for the future is to feed a predicted world population of 9 billion by 2050, 80% of whom will live in developing and transition countries with the majority living in an urban environment in mega-cities. Each hectare of land in 2050 will need to feed 5 people compared to just 2 people in 1960. “

There are challenges about population growth and we are completely dependent on crops to feed us. In Africa the yield have been flat for a long time while the population continues to grow, GM crops will have a role to play in order to beat the growing population demand.”

He disclosed that during the last 25 years there has been a revolution in plant science and the skills of the plant breeders have been enhanced by two new technologies, marker assisted plant breeding and genetic modification (GM).

While acknowledging the fact  that there is lack of knowledge with regards to GM crops, he said pests resistant crops can be developed through GM technology as well as  improve efficiency of specific metabolism.

“So we need to give the people an opportunity to look at the technology and see if they can adopt it.” Speaking on the misconception on GM food, he said as  with many new technologies, people are keen to embrace the benefits but are concerned about the potential risks. “I know about GM crops and I know where they grow and if I know any problem of health risk I would be the first to point it out.”

He added that there are a lot of NGO’s who don’t like globalization and dislike multinational corporations. “They have thus denied people the opportunity to increase their income. There is also lack of education and understanding about GM crops but if we can raise the quality of lives of people let us try it, people have the choice.” He added that  Americans have been eating GM food  for the past 16 years and they haven’t had any unhealthy challenges.

Leaver quickly added that GM crops are not a ‘silver bullet’ and alone cannot solve the global challenges, “ We must evaluate all available technologies and, subject to appropriate and realistic evidence-based,biosafety regulations and in combination with conventional approaches, deploy those which are most effective and sustainable.

“This will include sustainable farming practices and appropriate use of agrochemical inputs, wherever possible moving from chemical to biological solutions.”

These technologies must not only be applied to improving food production in major world crops but also adapted to improving orphan crops which can address food security and nutrition as well as providing economic benefits to farmers in the developing world. However we must invest now as time is not on our side. Science and its application is not a quick fix and cannot be switched on and off like a tap.


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