Is biotech the answer to the coming food and water shortages?

04.09.2012

The contribution of agricultural biotech to face global food and water challenges is the focus of a piece published on 4 September 2012 on PublicServiceEurope.com.

With major demographic and climate change challenges lying ahead of us, it is now time for Europeans to reconsider what has been put aside for 15 years now – biotechnology - argues industry expert

Biotechnology in agriculture is a wide area of scientific research that brings new applications and breeding methods to farmers, enabling them to solve issues around food production - such as yield losses caused by crop diseases, water shortages and other climate change-related stresses. Agriculture accounts for 70 per cent of all water use. If current trends continue, predicted water shortages in agriculture have been identified as the single most significant constraint on crop production over the next 50 years.

Climate change is increasing the potential for drought or excessive rainfall and flooding, which can destroy crops. In Europe, high water stress areas are expected to increase from 19 per cent today to 35 per cent by 2070 - implying "significant changes in the quality and availability of water resources", as stated in a 2009 European Commission report on agriculture and adaptation to climate change. In other parts of the world, water scarcity is already a reality affecting 40 per cent of people and by 2025, two-thirds of the world's population could be living under water-stressed conditions.

Today, more than 900 million people suffer from hunger and two billion more people face serious health risks from undernourishment. According to United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation figures, the world's population is predicted to rise to at least nine billion by 2050 - which can be translated into the challenge of producing 70 per cent more food, and up to 100 per cent more food in developing countries.

Against this background, climate smart agriculture seems to be the way forward. So, what exactly can biotech do? Agricultural biotechnology can play a significant role in enabling farmers to improve yield by using water more sustainably and helping to scope with water scarcity. The two main ways in which this works are by reducing water loss and improving drought tolerance.

 

The full article is available here.