As climate change threatens food systems, it’s time to rethink GM crops

All of our food systems, such as agriculture, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture, are under pressure due to rising temperatures leading to wildfires, droughts, floods and storms. If no action is taken to limit the climate crisis, the world could end up suffering devastating crop losses.

With advances in technology and advancements in farming methods, scientists and farmers have altered and perfected almost all the foods we eat. The result is a lack of genetic diversity and dependence on one type or variety of crops.

Producing genetically similar crops has a major drawback. If a pathogen or climatic factor affects the crop, the entire production/population will be susceptible to it.

For example, the banana we eat today is genetically modified. It’s called the Cavendish banana and almost all the bananas we eat are similar or genetically identical. Recently, a deadly fungus called Panama 4 (which is being helped by higher temperature fueled by climate change) has infected trees of this variety and is threatening to wipe out entire productions.

It is spreading on all continents and more recently in Latin America, the world’s leading banana exporting region. History is repeating itself as the old popular variety called the Gros Michel banana was similarly wiped out by the Panama 1 fungus, the Guardian reported.

Another disadvantage of the lack of genetic diversity is the dependence on a single variety. As globalization progressed, crops were changed to become suitable for export and more and more countries became dependent on one type of crop. Avocados used to be exclusive to one region, but today the fruit is grown all over the world.

But if we take the example of wheat, a clear concern emerges. After the Green Revolution, the world saw an increase in wheat production and a decline in malnutrition. However, farmers were dependent on a single variety that was short-stemmed and able to withstand the weight of fertilizers.

Due to this type of dependency, prices of durum wheat (pasta) have recently soared by 90%, after Canada, one of the largest producers of cereals, experienced widespread drought and intense waves of heat. Farmers depended on a genetically similar high-yielding variety and therefore all production was affected.

The simple solution is to introduce more genetic variety into farmers’ fields, the Guardian said. However, this is easier said than done. Scientists have taken an alternative route by creating genebanks that store seeds of different will species and genetically diverse crops, vegetables and fruits.

However, this presents other complex and costly challenges, as seeds must be stored under controlled conditions and foods, including coffee, apples, peaches and vanilla, must be kept as plants or trees. .

Private companies employ biotechnology which involves gene editing and transgenesis which rely on publicly funded gene banks for raw material. Agroecologists and regenerative farmers, however, argue that the most efficient and sustainable food systems are those that use techniques that mimic nature, rather than artificial systems.

(Edited by : Shoma Bhattacharjee)


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