Feeding the Future
We’re Not Modifying Crop Genes Fast Enough

Modern science has done wonders for agriculture, but it’s not doing enough to safeguard our future food security from the ill effects of climate change. That’s the conclusion of a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change this week, which found that surface temperatures on our planet are warming faster than we can deploy varieties of crops capable of sustaining high yields in these new conditions. The BBC reports:

In their paper, the researchers write that crop duration will become significantly shorter as early as 2018 in some regions but by 2031, the majority of maize-growing areas of Africa will be affected…”The durations will be shorter than what they were bred for – by the time they are in the field they are, in terms of temperature, out of date, [said University of Leeds professor Andy Challinor, the study’s lead author.]” New varieties of maize need between 10-30 years of development before they are ready to be grown by farmers.

The scientists say the lag is down to a combination of factors including the limited number of crops you can grow in a season, the need for government approved testing and there are also a number of problems of access to markets that can increase the time it takes before the farmers have the new seeds to plant.

Not being able to feed our planet’s teeming masses is, obviously, a big problem, but before you collapse into Malthusian teeth gnashing, remember that we have a tailor-made solution to this problem of growing crops in less hospitable and more extreme growing conditions: genetically modified crops. Challinor, the study’s lead author, acknowledged that, saying “GM does some things faster, so you would get a new variety of crop faster.” So how do we accelerate the development of GM technologies? By diverting more funds to them. The BBC has more:

Better techniques and more money for research are the keys according to others in this field, familiar with the study. “Investment in agricultural research to develop and disseminate new seed technologies is one of the best investments we can make for climate adaptation,” said Dr Andy Jarvis, from the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture. “Climate funds could be used to help the world’s farmers stay several steps ahead of climate change, with major benefits for global food security.”

Your average environmentalist will read this story and see it only as yet another example of climate change—a product of humanity’s hubris—wreaking havoc on our modern way of life. But if greens were as capable of identifying solutions as they are of depicting eco-doom and gloom, they’d be able to identify the real takeaway here: GMOs can boost crop yields even in more adverse weather and climate conditions, and we’re not spending enough money on their research and development.

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