Rejecting biotech could endanger world food supply

By Marlo Asis

March 1, 2017

Marlo Asis, left, asks a question at a biotech conference in Indonesia.

Shunning biotechnology might lead to an insufficient food supply for the human race, warned Dr. Tantono Subagyo, regulatory director for Crop Life Asia, at a recent workshop in Indonesia.

The danger of not adopting modern biotechnology and GM crops is that the current agricultural sector might not be able to produce enough food to sustain the needs of the rapidly increasing world population, according to Subagyo.

Subagyo and other biotechnology experts stressed the importance of biotech crops to help address food security and environmental woes in the Southeast Asia region during a two-day regional biotechnology workshop held at Novotel Bogor Golf Resort and Convention Center in Bogor, Indonesia.

According to them, using a combination of technologies is key to attaining food sustainability.

These require not only traditional breeders skills, but the use of novel molecular techniques and transgenic crops, Subagyo added.

In 2012, developing countries for the first time cultivated more biotech crops than industrial nations, with 17 million farmers culturing 170 million hectares of biotech crops in 28 countries.

The adoption of biotech crops since it started in 1996 up to 2011 has resulted in less stress to the environment and increased global farm income, Subagyo said.

Cultivating biotech crops reduced pesticide use by 474 million kg (which translates to an 18.1 percent cut in associated environmental impact), while increasing farmers income to $98.2 billion.

The current challenge in agriculture is to produce enough food over the next 40 years to meet the expected requirement of over 9 billion people on less land area, water, and nutrients, according to Dr. Randy Hautea, global coordinator for the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA).

Biotech crops are the fastest adopted agricultural technology contributing to global food security and sustainability while conserving biodiversity, Hautea said.

From 1996-2011, a 49 percent increase in productivity gains was recorded on the four major biotech crops (soybean, cotton, maize, and canola) while saving valuable agricultural land and reducing production costs by 51 percent, thus yielding US $98.2 billion in economic benefit.

Moreover, GM crops conserve the environment, reduce pesticide use, and help mitigate effects of climate change, Hautea added.

Other topics discussed during the workshop included trends, advancements of biotechnology and biosafety, and their current and potential contributions to food security and sustainable agriculture in the Southeast Asia region.

The workshop, which was co-organized by Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA), BIOTROP, ISAAA, Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project II (ABSP II), and Indonesian Biotechnology Information Centre (IndoBIC), was attended by delegates from Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar.

Resources: Dr. Randy Hautea, global coordinator and SEAsia Center Director, International Service for the Acquisition of Agribiotech Applications (ISAAA); Dr. Tantono Subagyo, seed regulatory director CropLife Asia; and Dr. Frank Shotkoski, director, Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project II (ABSP II)