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Mar 30, 2010

Race Against Climate Change To Release GM & Hybridized Drought Tolerant (DT) Maize in Africa

The New York Times has reported in its Climate Wire on the race to develop drought tolerant corn, a staple to approximately 300 million people in Africa.  Based on climate findings from the U.K. Department for International Development  the article looks at the need to develop drought tolerant corn using both conventionally breeding and gene-modified (GM) technologies.  It notes that seeds from both technologies will be available in the future and will be available royalty-free.  In order for the GM seeds to reach the market, biosafety regulations must be passed by their estimated commercial release date in 2017.

This article is based upon U.K. Department for International Development and LTS International findings that include: 

"[c]limate change will deliver a triple curse on agriculture, forcing crops to deal with rising temperatures, droughts and the rising salinity of water in parts of the world. The numbers speak for themselves. By the end of the century, the average global temperature will be 3.5 degree Celsius above normal.

The optimal temperature for photosynthesis is 20 to 25 degrees Celsius. By 2080, the average temperature in Uganda, for example, will rise to 29 degree Celsius (an increase of 4.3 degrees above the current average).

The rise in temperature will be accompanied by erratic rainfall and increasing drought.
The article provides a short interview with Sylvester Oikeh, agricultural scientist and the project manager for the drought-tolerant maize initiative based in Kenya known as Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA).  This research is funded by the African Agricultural Technology Foundation with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Howard G. Buffett Foundation.

Nina Fedoroff, science and technology advisor at the U.S. State Department supports efforts to factor in climate change into international discussions about food security and international aid.  According to Federoff,
"The food crisis of 2008 was a harbinger of things to come ... The impact of climate change is just beginning to be factored in.
With a burgeoning population, water scarcity, rising numbers of meat-eaters in the developing world, and greater competition for land, agricultural productivity needs to increase dramatically. The first green revolution of the 1970s was an easy accomplishment in comparison to this one....

A third of the world's population already lives in dry lands.  The shape of the future is pretty daunting."

Charles Godfray, professor of entomology in the Department of Zoology at Oxford University notes that the impact of climate change on agriculture will be negative. He concludes that  "[t]he current system of agriculture is not sustainable," he said. "Water is arterial. We will run out of water in parts of the world."  He concludes that the way to greater productivity include: 1) precision farming, 2) conventional breeding techniques aided by biotechnology, 3) improved irrigation and 4) genetically engineered crops.

The article concludes with a review of: 1) how conventional crossbreeding is being enhanced with molecular biology techniques (a technique called "marker assisted breeding"); 2) genetic research on the relatives of wild crops; 3) the development of the 2nd generation of gene-engineered crops; 3) research on plants that tolerate stress such as bacillus subtillis; and 4) the need to pass biosafety regulations in time to bring drought tolerant crops to market.

Photo credits:

Dr. Nina Fedoroff, Science and Technology Advisor courtesy of the U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C.

Dr. Charles Godfray, Professor of Entomology, Department of Zoology courtesy of Jesus College, Oxford University

For more see: Vaidyanathan, Gayathri. "A Race to Introduce GM Corn Before Africa's Climate Worsens," New York Times, 30 March 2010.

About Margaret


CEO and Curator (The Food Museum) | Managing Director and Chief Editor (GR2 Global LLC) | Educator (UCLA PhD) | Researching and writing on global food issues, nutrition and health, sustainability, history (preservation), conservation (natural resources), and design.
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