Archived news articles - 2008

The Business Times, 30 June 2008

GM crops may be answer to food crisis: ecologist

By Jamie Lee

Genetically modified (GM) crops could solve the world's food crisis in the long term, an agricultural ecologist said last Friday.

The current surge in food prices is not a one-off event, said Royal Geographical Society president Gordon Conway. 'Such blips may recur and may become worse in the future.'

Mr Conway, in Singapore for a lecture on 'How to feed the world', said such jumps in prices come on the back of increases in population and per capita income, particularly in places such as China.

' China now consumes half of the world's pork, so that's a big factor,' he said. 'GM food is going to become necessary in the future. There's already a large amount being grown in China, India, Mexico and South America, but it's mostly maize and cotton.'

China has about 30 GM crops that Mr Conway expects to be released in a couple of years. Of 40 million hectares of biotech plantations, more than a third are in developing countries, he said. Existing GM crops include 'Golden Rice' - rice that contains beta-carotene, a precursor of Vitamin A - and pest-resistant cabbages.

But obstacles to GM development remain - lengthy tests and public resistance are some challenges that GM food producers need to overcome, said Mr Conway.

As climate change will affect food production, technology that can help protect crops from inclement weather such as droughts and floods will be crucial, he added.

At present, some farmers are not using fertilisers to raise yields because fertiliser prices have jumped. Diammonium phosphate fertiliser, for instance, now costs US$1,200 a tonne - six times the US$200 a tonne just 18 months ago.

Offering subsidies is an option, said Mr Conway. In the African state of Malawi, the government offered 70 per cent subsidies to farmers, who in turn raised crop production to three million tonnes from two million tonnes in a single year, he said.

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