COP27 should address use of tech in food security, beyond GMOs

Biotech maize growing at a research station. FILE PHOTO | NMG

As the global environmental conference, COP27, unfolds, looking, yet again, at what can be done to slow climate change, we can only hope it might untangle some of the conflicting calls from activists. For, abandoning food security for the world’s poorest in order to lengthen Earth’s viability for the richest is not the best answer humanity can manage.

Which makes it time, considering the gravity and pace of global warming, to face some tough questions about what we all really need to do: versus the fake debates that have captured policies and policy makers into a cycle of hunger games.

For COP26-inspired infographics even went viral, last year, showing that if we could stop food production, our planet would flourish. Yet population reduction through mass starvation is a solution that cannot sit in the subtext. And there are better answers. Indeed, China is, once again, showing how it has moved to dominate much of the world economy through planning and investment, with its latest five-year plan now focused on food security amidst climate change.

This has seen it embrace genetically modified organisms (GMOs), as we have also now done in Kenya. Maybe that’s a sign that when nonsense claims really start killing people, humanity still has the wherewithal to apply facts and logic.

For GMOs apply modern laboratory techniques to altering the way plants process water or fend off pests in changes that were previously achieved far more laboriously through crossbreeding.

There has never been a single study anywhere on any genetically modified crop that has found it gave humans or animals cancer or other health problems, but there have been a lot of activists’ salaries and homes paid for poking our fears about laboratory-made drought-resistant seed, versus ‘traditional’ human intervention through grafting, splicing seeds, and other crossbreeding.

Anti-GMO campaigners also argue that making stronger crops will stop farmers using lesser varieties, and that the new, strong crops may spread and choke out weeds and other crops. We need to work through this case for weaker crops, as climate change bites. But slogans and bans without evidence aren’t good enough.

Moreover, deploying technology to mitigate climate change goes far beyond GMOs. Our challenge is now to produce more food from fewer resources and in greater climate extremes. For China, this equation has delivered new priorities in developing alternatives to livestock by accelerating the production of cultivated meat, made in factories from animal cells, and of eggs made from plants.

COP27 must find answers on the ways we use resources to save us all, but let’s hear it for technology, in this, and ensure food security isn’t an afterthought or a piece that can be sacrificed.

The writer is a development communication specialist.

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