Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Efforts to ‘Turbocharge’ Rice and Reduce World Hunger Enter Important New Phase

Released: 1-Dec-2015 10:05 AM EST
Source Newsroom: Donald Danforth Plant Science Cente

Newswise — A long-term project aimed at improving photosynthesis in rice is entering its third stage, marking another step on the road to significantly increased crop yields that will help meet the food needs of billions of people across the developing world.

Led by scientists at Oxford University, this phase of the project will build on the work carried out in the first two stages, with the ultimate aim being to ‘supercharge’ photosynthesis in rice by introducing more efficient traits found in other crops.

Rice uses the C3 photosynthetic pathway, which in hot dry environments is much less efficient than the C4 pathway used in plants such as maize and sorghum. If rice could be ‘switched’ to use C4 photosynthesis, it would theoretically increase productivity by 50%.

“This project will allow us to move in earnest with the engineering of improved photosynthetic performance in rice and the re-wiring of genetic circuits on a scale never before attempted in plants,” said Tom Brutnell, Ph.D., Director of the Enterprise Rent-A-Car Institute for Renewable Fuels at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.

As well as an increase in photosynthetic efficiency, introduction of C4 traits into rice is predicted to improve nitrogen use efficiency, double water use efficiency, and increase tolerance to high temperatures.

And with almost a billion people around the world living in hunger, boosting rice productivity is crucial to achieving long-term food security – particularly in areas such as South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where 80% of the food supply is provided by smallholder farmers.

Professor Jane Langdale, Professor of Plant Development in the Department of Plant Sciences at Oxford University, and Principal Investigator on Phase III of the C4 Rice Project, said: ‘Over 3 billion people depend on rice for survival, and, owing to predicted population increases and a general trend towards urbanization, land that currently provides enough rice to feed 27 people will need to support 43 by 2050.

‘In this context, rice yields need to increase by 50% over the next 35 years. Given that traditional breeding programmes currently achieve around a 1% increase in yield per annum, the world is facing an unprecedented level of food shortages.’

Professor Langdale added: ‘The intrinsic yield of rice, a C3-type grass, is limited by the inherent inefficiency of C3 photosynthesis. Notably, evolution surmounted this inefficiency through the establishment of the C4 photosynthetic pathway, and importantly it did so on multiple independent occasions. This suggests that the switch from C3 to C4 is relatively straightforward. As such, the C4 programme is one of the most plausible approaches to enhancing crop yield and increasing resilience in the face of reduced land area, decreased use of fertilizers, and less predictable supplies of water’.

Phases I and II of the programme were focused on identifying new components of the C4 pathway – both biochemical and morphological – as well as validating the functionality of known C4 enzymes in rice. Phase III will refine the genetic toolkit that has been assembled and will focus both on understanding the regulatory mechanisms that establish the pathway in C4 plants and on engineering the pathway in rice.

Robert Zeigler of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) described the project as ‘one of the great undertakings in plant sciences of the early 21st century’. He said: ‘Unless we can translate our work into meaningful products adopted by rice farmers worldwide, this will remain simply an academic pursuit. The unique partnerships that characterise this programme should make sure this happens.’

The C4 Rice Project was initiated in 2008 with funding from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, following discussions led by IRRI. Phase III of the project is a collaboration between 12 institutions in eight countries –Oxford University, IRRI, Cambridge University, Australian National University, Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, Washington State University, University of Minnesota, University of Toronto, Heinrich Heine University, Max Planck Institute of Plant Physiology, Academica Sinica, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences-Max Planck Partner Institute for Computational Biology. This phase has been funded by a grant of over £4.5 million from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to the University of Oxford.
About The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center
Founded in 1998, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center is a not-for-profit research institute with a mission to improve the human condition through plant science. Research, education and outreach aim to have impact at the nexus of food security and the environment, and position the St. Louis region as a world center for plant science. The Center’s work is funded through competitive grants from many sources, including the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Find out more at www.C4Rice.com.
Images and a copy of the C4 Rice Project logo are available here (please credit images to Jane Langdale):www.dropbox.com/sh/rfdvuzk0xzmtb4q/AAC0uVrng3Xpc6k0f_PFzs1ta?dl=0.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Many G.M.O.-Free Labels, Little Clarity Over Rules

Photo
Products with packaging that states, in different ways, that they do not contain genetically modified ingredients. CreditJames Nieves/The New York Times
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Few industry debates are as heated these days as the one about labeling foods that contain genetically modified ingredients.
And while interest groups and advocates wage war in state legislatures, on ballots and in Congress over what should be disclosed on product labels, products certified as containing no genetically modified organisms are proliferating on grocery shelves without any nationwide mandatory regulations.
Moreover, many manufacturers are nodding to the public debate, adding the phrase “non-G.M.O.” to their packaging without a verification process.
“We’ve put it on our labels because it was something our customers wanted to know,” said Hitesh Hajarnavis, chief executive of Popcorn Indiana, which sells ready-to-eat popcorn.
So if more companies elect to put labels on their products stating that they are G.M.O.-free, whether verified or not, does that make the fierce policy debate increasingly moot?
“It’s an interesting question,” said Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives at Consumers Union, which lobbies for mandatory labeling.
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The shift toward voluntary labeling has also led to a lot of consumer confusion, as different labels, organizations and agencies issue seals or stamps that attest to compliance with few, if any, uniform standards. In addition, food companies are tacking the words “non-G.M.O.” on items that would never be considered in need of such labeling.
The Non-GMO Project, the leading certification group in the United States, has verified more than 24,500 products, while the average grocery store contains 40,000 to 50,000 items, some of which are not food, according to the Food Marketing Institute.
Even more products have packaging that simply contains language stating that they are G.M.O.-free. Boxes of the original Cheerios, for example, state “not made with genetically modified ingredients” on a side panel.
Nielsen, which conducts consumer research and analysis, said sales of non-G.M.O. products exceeded $10 billion last year and grew at a faster pace than sales of gluten-free items over the last four years.
In a Nielsen study of 30,000 consumers published this month, 80 percent of respondents said they would pay more for foods with labels like “non-G.M.O.” even though most of them do not necessarily trust food labels. And 61 percent of those consumers said it was “very” or “moderately” important to buy products with a non-G.M.O. label, exceeded only by those saying it was important to buy products without high-fructose corn syrup.
Granted, the average store is unlikely to carry a full complement of the certified products, while food cooperatives, natural food stores and chains like Sprouts Farmers Market and Whole Foods Market have a higher proportion of items that have been officially certified.
Proponents of labeling note that while sales of products certified by the Non-GMO Project almost tripled last year, to more than $8.5 billion, that represents a small fraction of grocery stores’ total sales of $620 billion in 2013. “Unfortunately, we’re still a long way from the point at which voluntary labeling tackles the problem,” said Ms. Halloran of Consumers Union.
Michael R. Gruber, vice president for federal affairs at the Grocery Manufacturers Association, a trade association representing major food manufacturers, said its members wanted the Food and Drug Administration to be the main regulator of food labeling, a role it has had historically. The industry spent more than $100 million last year to narrowly defeat various ballot initiatives to require more stringent labeling, and it is backing a federal law that would pre-empt state laws on the issue.
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Labeling on the side panel of Cheerios boxes, stating that the cereal is "not made with genetically modified ingredients."CreditJames Nieves/The New York Times
“The political reality is that we are fighting the potential for a multistate patchwork of food-labeling laws and regulations for G.M.O.s that would look very different from one state to the next,” Mr. Gruber said. “We would like the F.D.A. to provide the industry with guidance.”
Yet in poll after poll, consumers have overwhelmingly said they want labels on foods that contain genetically modified ingredients. Most recently, 66 percent of respondents to an Associated Press-GfK polllast month said they wanted foods containing genetically modified ingredients to be labeled. Only 7 percent did not want such labeling.
Research by the Hartman Group found that 52 percent of consumers said they knew what genetically modified organisms were but less than a third could identify the crops that now are grown using genetically modified seeds.
“There’s no doubt that the industry is fighting a rear-guard action on this and trying to put it to rest,” said Carl Jorgensen, director of global consumer strategy for wellness at Daymon Worldwide, a consumer research and consulting firm. “But there’s an aura of inevitability about it now.”
Most corn, soy, canola and sugar beets, which are used to produce common food ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup, xanthan gum and ascorbic acid, are grown from genetically altered seeds, and papaya from Hawaii is largely genetically modified.
“It’s hard for the average consumer to remember, ‘Oh, I need to worry about corn and soy but I don’t have to worry about blueberries,’ ” said Jared Simon, who heads the snack foods business at the Hain Celestial Group, which owns brands like Arrowhead Mills and Earth’s Best. “There’s no easy way to navigate right now.”
Hain Celestial recently redesigned its packaging for Terra Chips, and it added the phrase “non-G.M.O.” out of concern that consumers seeking to avoid genetically altered ingredients might wonder about the canola oil used.
“Canola oil happens to be a high-risk ingredient in terms of G.M.O. contamination,” Mr. Simon said. “We felt it would be helpful to make it crystal clear.”
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This Campbell's soup contains genetically modified ingredients.CreditJames Nieves/The New York Times
The chips will eventually go through Non-GMO Project certification, but the backlog of products waiting for approval is getting longer and longer, said Courtney Pineau, the project’s associate director. “We’re still verifying on average about 600 products a month, but demand is intense,” she said.
“We’re also having a lot of conversations with bigger, more conventional retailers, grocery stores, about how to get their private-label products verified,” she said, although she declined to identify them. “That’s going to be a big trend this year.”
Trader Joe’s already takes steps to ensure that its private-label inventory, which accounts for most of its sales, is free of genetically engineered products, and all products sold in Whole Foods are to be labeled by 2018.
If a traditional grocery chain like Kroger or Safeway were to begin labeling its private-label products, “that would be a game changer,” Mr. Jorgensen of Daymon Worldwide said, noting that, unlike food manufacturers, grocery stores interact directly with consumers and thus see trends as they develop.
Other groups are springing up to check on well-known products. For example, a new advocacy group, GMO Free USA, is starting to have items like Kellogg’s Froot Loops cereal tested for G.M.O.s and for the presence of glyphosate, a herbicide widely used on genetically modified crops like corn and soybeans.
Before the Non-GMO Project verified its first product in 2010, companies like Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods and Clif Bar & Company put their ingredients through what is known as identity verification to ensure they were not genetically altered.
Some of them are now putting products through the certification process because they think consumers are beginning to look for the project’s butterfly seal. Today, 32 of Bob’s Red Mill products carry the Non-GMO Project seal, and the company plans to have all its products verified.
Clif Bar & Company, however, worries that the Non-GMO Project seal has inadvertently created confusion among consumers about the meaning of another seal, the Department of Agriculture’s organic seal. The organic seal, governed by a federal law, is a guarantee that a product contains no genetically engineered ingredients — but many consumers do not know that.
“The organic seal is an assurance that food is grown without synthetic and toxic chemicals and in a manner good for the environment, as well as being non-G.M.O.,” said Matthew Dillon, senior manager for agriculture policy and programs at Clif. “While the intent of the Non-GMO Project is good, they have inadvertently caused more confusion in the marketplace.”
About three-quarters of the ingredients Clif uses are organic, and the company’s goal is to be 100 percent organic. So it intends to stick with its current labeling practice, including the phrase “We source ingredients that are not genetically engineered” in the ingredients list on its packaging, Mr. Dillon said.

Global biotech plantings increase in 2014

Record number of biotech acres grown in 2014; 28 countries grow biotech crops with the U.S. leading the way in production

Published on: Feb 2, 2015
A record 181.5 million hectares (448 million acres) of biotech crops were grown globally in 2014, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications said in its annual report released last month.
Twenty-eight countries grow biotech crops, the report said – 20 developing and eight industrial. The countries where biotech crops are produced represent more than 60% of the world's population, the report said.
"The accumulated hectarage of biotech crops grown in 1996 to 2014 equals, roughly, 80% more than the total land mass of China," said Clive James, ISAAA Founder and report author.
Record number of biotech acres grown in 2014; 28 countries grow biotech crops with the U.S. leading the way in production
Record number of biotech acres grown in 2014; 28 countries grow biotech crops with the U.S. leading the way in production
He said global hectarage has increased more than 100-fold since the first plantings of biotech crops. Since 1996, more than 10 food and fiber biotech crops have been approved and commercialized around the world.
According to the report, the United States continues to lead production at 73.1 million hectares. Up 3 million hectares – a growth rate of 4% – from 2013, the United States recorded the highest year-over-year increase, surpassing Brazil, which has recorded the highest annual increase for the past five years, the report said.
A milestone for the U.S. in 2014 was the introduction of the Innate GM potato, which decreases production of acrylamide, a potential carcinogen, when potatoes are cooked at high temperatures. It also increases consumer satisfaction while precluding up to 40% yield loss as the potato will not discolor when peeled and has fewer bruising spots, the report said.
For developing countries, China and India lead with 3.9 million hectares of biotech crops and 11.6 million hectares planted in 2014, respectively.
Global biotech plantings increase in 2014
The adoption rate of biotech cotton in China increased from 90 to 93% in 2014, while virus resistant papaya plantings increased approximately 50%. The latest economic data available indicates farmers in the country have gained US$16.2 billion since the introduction of biotech in 1996, the report said.
Developing countries Vietnam and Indonesia granted approval for commercialization of biotech crops to begin in 2015. This includes several hybrids of biotech maize for importing and planting in Vietnam and drought tolerant sugarcane for planting as a food crop in Indonesia.
Growth also continues in Africa, where South Africa ranks as the leading developing country with 2.7 million hectares of biotech crops cultivated in 2014.
In Latin America, Brazil ranked second, behind only the United States, for biotech crops planted in 2014. At 42.2 million hectares, this represents an increase of 5% from 2013.
Editor's note: 1 hectare equals roughly 2.47 acres.
Read more about the Global Status of Commercialized Biotech/GM Crops report on the ISAAA blog.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Bjørn Lomborg: India’s GM crop success

Bjørn Lomborg, National Post | March 20, 2014 | Last Updated: Mar 19 6:15 PM ET

Despite sensationalist headlines, genetically modified crops have been a great boon to Indian farmers.Sam Panthaky/AFP/Getty Images


Despite sensationalist headlines, genetically modified crops have been a great boon to Indian farmers.


Too often, we let emotion crowd out the facts of a news story. We base our opinions on the most attention-generating headlines, and deeply held convictions are shaped by only a few highly publicized stories. Recently, I was at a major New England university discussing the state of the world when we touched on nutrition. I made the point that the Green Revolution from the 1970s was a technological solution which has reaped huge benefits for both mankind and the environment.
First a bit of history: Spearheaded by Norman Borlaug, the Green Revolution found ways to make the yield of staple crops much higher, so we could grow much more food on the same agricultural land. The Green Revolution made food cheaper, and allowed countries like India to shift from imminent starvation to surplus food production. Higher yields also reaped environmental benefits, as there was less need to cut down forests and intrude on nature. For his work, Borlaug earned the nickname “The Man Who Saved a Billion Lives” and was awarded with the Nobel Peace Prize.
And yet, at this discussion, a college professor remarked that is was debatable whether the Green Revolution had been an overall good for India, since “there are so many suicides.”
The Indian farmer suicides the professor alluded to tie into the controversy around genetically modified (GM) crops. While not part of the original Green Revolution, the advent of GM crops became possible because of the legacy of agricultural technological innovation. In recent years these stories have generated numerous headlines and follow a now-familiar pattern.
Opponents claim that the proliferation of GM crops like Bt cotton has placed enormous financial strain on India’s smallholder farmers, driving them to suicide. A popular proponent of this narrative is Vandana Shiva, a prominent Indian environmentalist. Shiva and others argue that “corporate seeds” were foisted upon Indian farmers during India’s liberalization in the 1990s. Whereas farmers had once saved seeds from season to season, the need to buy new seeds every year, plus the additional costs of fertilizers and pesticides, drove impoverished Indian farmers into a spiral of debt. This eventually has led to an epidemic in which a quarter million of them have taken their own lives since the mid-1990s.
No one wants to trivialize the tragedy of families who have lost loved ones, but this narrative doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Several academics have undertaken studies to get to the heart of the suicide “epidemic,” and their findings paint a far different picture.
It’s best two dissect two separate strains of the argument: first, that there is a wave of farmer suicides and second that GM cotton has been a failure for India.
Perhaps the most comprehensive study on Indian suicides was published by the medical journal The Lancet. It found that although most suicide deaths do occur in rural areas, the prevalence of suicide is not any higher among agricultural workers than any other sector of Indian society. And in fact, the researchers found that more suicide deaths occurred in richer areas and among more highly educated individuals than among those with only a basic education.


These needlessly provocative stories make us lose sight of the fact that better crops both give more food and higher incomes while using less land
Meanwhile political economist Anoop Sadanadan shows that new banking practices implemented in the same period of reforms, rather than a GMO crop failure, was a far greater contributor to suicides. And indeed, The New York Times cites part of the problem as greater reliance on village money lenders, who can charge upwards of 24% interest on their loans. The Lancet piece supports this notion, citing a combination of social factors including family problems and financial difficulties as the most common triggers of suicide in India.
As for Bt cotton, detailed studies on the ground indicate that, far from failure, it has been a boon for Indian farmers, raising yields per acre by nearly one-quarter and raising smallholder profits by one-half, and lowering health-care costs by helping avoid millions of cases of pesticide poisoning.
And other GM crops like golden rice, also opposed by Shiva, have potential to help millions more in India, giving poor citizens better nutrition and staving off the effects of hunger and vitamin A deficiencies. Two recent studies show that just 50g (2oz) golden rice can provide 60% of daily vitamin A. Golden rice would cost just $100 for every life saved from vitamin A deficiency compared to over $4,000 for supplementation programs.


‘Bt’ cotton has raised yields by nearly one-quarter and small farm profits by one-half. Millions of cases of pesticide poisoning have been prevented

Although it’s brought sustainable social and economic benefits to India, Bt cotton, or any other GM crop, is not a panacea. None of this should detract from the very real problems facing India’s smallholder farmers, nor does it suggest that green technologies can’t lead to their own set of problems. But we need to look at the hard evidence and decouple the stories of farmer suicides and GM crops. These needlessly provocative stories make us lose sight of the fact that better crops both give more food and higher incomes while using less land.
Before the Green Revolution, India faced the very real prospect of mass famine. Today, millions have been pulled back from the brink of starvation and generational cycles of poverty through the advent and spread of green technologies. Let’s not let sensational headlines cloud this reality.
National Post


Bjørn Lomborg is director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center and an adjunct professor at the Copenhagen Business School.



Thursday, October 31, 2013

Investing in the future: international scientific collaboration

Jun 2013
Dr. Shanta Karki studies rice plants being grown at IRRI's Biotech labs.
The weight of global investment in science and technology is shifting. Strong R&D growth in countries like China, India, South Korea, Singapore and Malaysia means Asia is fast catching up to the traditional scientific centres of Europe, North America and Japan. This is a pivotal period.
Nowhere is this more evident than China. According to former Chinese President Hu Jintao, ‘China has set the goal to become an innovation-driven economy by 2020′. The Chinese are backing their rhetoric with action, with real growth in R&D spending exceeding 18% per annum since 2000.
Scientific research is now a truly global enterprise. The General Electric 2011 Global Innovation Barometer forecasts that 40% of global innovation over the next decade will be driven by collaboration across national and institutional boundaries. This is because research is conducted most efficiently when ideas, data, facilities, equipment, talent and risks are shared on a competitive basis. Despite that, the Government has made decisions in recent years to retreat from strategic collaborative engagement.
Past investments in science and scientific collaboration have made Australia a world-classknowledge producer, problem solver and therefore an attractive partner. But past performance is no guarantee of future success. While overseas representatives seek opportunities to engage, we’ve taken ourselves to the sidelines at this fertile time, unable to properly respond to collaborative requests or to initiate strategic engagements of our own.
In 15 years, the Australian middle class consumer market is likely to be less than 1% of the size of that in the Asia region. Our larger neighbours are eager to collaborate because our scientific capacity affords us a standing far greater than the size of our population or markets. Our decision to retreat doesn’t meet the expectations of our traditional collaborators in Europe and North America and is confusing the emerging scientific communities in Asia.
In Canberra today, over a dozen foreign embassies have science counsellors or attachés whose task is to join Australia’s research efforts with their national interests. Collaboration requires shared goals but, as a Parliamentary Committee found, our roughly $9 billion annual public science investment supports the local science base and some limited overseas activities, but little, if any, reciprocal impact abroad.
Nations such as China and Korea are part of a growing group of countries that’ve taken deliberate steps to strategically foster science collaboration. That’s because they know that this has a multiplier effect on their own domestic investment, leading to greater innovation, productivity and social wellbeing. The scientific community in Australia expects to be able to deliver similar benefits.
With 0.3% of the global population, Australia produces 3% of global research. Because of our standards and past commitment to international linkages, Australia has enjoyed strong ties to the remaining 97% of new research produced elsewhere. As the global balance of R&D investment and growth shifts, our existing ties are rapidly expiring.
As noted by Nobel Laureate Professor Brian Schmidt: ‘part of Australia continuing to succeed in the rapidly evolving world of science and technology is looking beyond our borders to work cooperatively with colleagues overseas’.
Government and industry must take steps to improve our international science engagement. The scientific community looks to Government to set out a clear strategy, backed by directing a small fraction (perhaps 0.25%) of our existing science budget specifically towards strategic international science engagement.
To gain situational awareness of what’s going on and planned in the 97% of the world research scene that doesn’t occur in Australia, we need an effective network of Science Counsellors and locally engaged staff at our posts. Since 1995, our network of posted Science Counsellors hasdropped from a peak of 16 in 1995 to part responsibility of a few posted staff today.
Recently, an overseas network, posted or locally engaged by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, has been established to provide support for Australia’s education and training services. Education exports are important and value adding and deserving of strategic support. We could similarly benefit from investing in support for our strategic interests in scientific collaboration.
The USA 2010 Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review noted that ‘science and technology must be enlisted in an unprecedented fashion’. The US State Department backs this rhetoric with approximately 50 Foreign Service officers in their embassies, including several in China, to focus exclusively on environment, science, technology and health issues.
In contrast, Australia has a Counsellor and a Minister Counsellor for Education in China. As a matter of some urgency, we need to build an effective network. Scale alone suggests we ought to be proactive. The annual gross expenditure on R&D in Australia is approximately US$22 billion,compared with almost half a trillion expended by China ($220b), India (US$45b), Japan ($161b) and South Korea ($57b).
The Government’s laudable 2025 goal is to have ten of our universities in the world’s top 100. Given the importance of research and international outlook to such rankings, this is unlikely to happen without a science collaboration policy and the means to implement it.
Leveraging science and diplomacy not only amplifies and augments our domestic investment, but it also builds very strong bilateral relationships and contributes to broader foreign policy objectives. Key among the critical strategic opportunities facing our country is the choice to compete in the field of new knowledge (PDF). The science community seeks a Government policy in this important area.
We believe there’s a closing window of opportunity for Australia to maximise our intellectual contribution to the twenty-first century. Action to remain engaged and collaborative wouldn’t be a new initiative; it would be restoration of past successful policy.
Andrew Holmes is the Foreign Secretary, Australian Academy of Science. Image courtesy of Flickr user IRRI Images.

SOURCE

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Thinking Outside The GMO Box

Genetically Modified Organisms.  Some argue they are the way to “feed the world” and that an exploding population will require them.  Others see GMO technology as part of a corporate plot to take over fields and drive farmers into debt, while everything from pesticide use to allergies are on the rise because of them.
And while that discussion is one we must have, the GMO debate is also distracting us from less sexy interventions which have worked to dramatically reduce hunger and malnutrition over the last fifty years, and are today in desperate need of our continued support.
These successful programs had a remarkable impact on the number in need today because they made small scale farmers more profitable and families more self reliant, diets more diverse and children and adults better educated.
“Success [is] not simply about increasing the physical supply of food,” states “Millions Fed,” a report by the International Food Policy Research Institute. “Rather, [successes] are about reductions in hunger that result…from a change in an individual’s ability to secure quality food.”
“Nutrition is multifaceted – it involves access to food, water and sanitation, hygiene, disease and infection, poverty,” says Nancy Haselow, Vice President of the Helen Keller International (HKI), and Regional Director for Asia Pacific. “There is no single solution to solve malnutrition, so we need to provide multiple and synergistic interventions, a combination of approaches is best.  Sustainable solutions that can be left in the community, are owned by the community, and put tools and knowledge and skills in the hands of mothers and fathers are important to addressing the problem.”
A myriad of initiatives, non-reliant on GMO technology, have already proven successful in reducing hunger.  For example, Helen Keller International has successfully impacted more than five million people with long lasting nutritional, economic and educational changes through their Homestead Food Program.  Another example is BRAC (formerly the Bangladesh Rehabilitation Assistance Committee) which now has 97,000 women “shasthya shebika” (health workers) in Bangladesh alone, working to bring micronutrient powders and basic health care services (including education on critical topics like breastfeeding) to extremely rural communities.
And by using already-available, proven, and cost effective storage methods, African small-scale farmers are able to safely store food, like cowpeas – a staple food high in iron and protein – and to therefore benefit from their consumption and sale.  Likewise in India and Tanzania, farmers are now using Zero Energy Cool Chamber technology to ensure valuable food is not wasted.
Perhaps most importantly, holistic, community based solutions like home gardens, diet diversification and better food storage (which means less waste of precious resources) are critical elements in creating a better future in a climate-changing world.
A new report released by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) found that “international policy discussions remain heavily focused on increasing industrial agricultural production, mostly under the slogan “growing more food at less cost to the environment.”  But, the study found, hunger is not caused by a lack of food but by “a lack of purchasing power and/or the inability of the rural poor to be self-sufficient.”
“The world needs a paradigm shift in agricultural development from a “green revolution” to an “ecological intensification” approach.  This implies a rapid and significant shift from conventional, monoculture-based and input-dependent industrial production towards…sustainable, regenerative production systems.”
Yet unlike “GMOs” – which do continue to promote conventional, monoculture-based, input dependent agriculture – most of us have never heard of “dietary diversification” projects.  We know nothing of the shasthya shebika health workers or of a system of crop intensification that increases rice, wheat and other crop yields while using less water and seed.  And that lack of discussion and knowledge is exemplified in a lack of support for these critical programs.
“It has been excruciatingly difficult to get funding for the Homestead Food Program.” says Nancy Haselow of HKI.  “For me, it’s a no brainer – you see a family growing vegetables, their kids looking chubby and healthy, and they have a sense of doing it themselves.  But over the past 10-15 years, we have raised only about $25-28 million for all our Homestead Food Production Programs in Asia Pacific.”

Instead, donors have been seduced by talk of “easy,” high tech solutions and despite the proven successes of these alternative programs, the drive to increase production via improved seeds and fertilizer, charges on.


SOURCE:  Forbes