Technology is the key to solving the food security problem
Writing exclusively for Endeavour Public Affairs, Julie Girling MEP writes that technology is the key to solving the food security problem and to feeding an ever growing world population. In her article she argues that Europe is in grave danger of getting left behind as member states in the EU take very different stances on technological development and the result is stalemate.
Julie Girling is a Conservative Party member of the European Parliament representing the South West of England and Gibraltar. She is a member of the European Parliament’s Agriculture and Rural Development Committee and spokesman on agriculture for the Conservative MEPs.
To follow Julie Girling on Twitter – @juliegirling
For a long time, there was a feeling that we had discovered everything about plant technology, that the massive increases in agricultural yields since the 1950’s could not be repeated. In the face of potential massive future demand for food this was a bleak and depressing prognosis. However the news that scientists have unlocked key parts of the genetic code of wheat suggests that in reality we are a long way from being at the limits of agricultural science. In fact we may be at the start of a new revolution, one which has the potential to transform agriculture.
Since the 1960’s the world has raised cereal production by almost a billion tonnes, yet in the next thirty years it will have to do it again as the world population spikes upwards towards nine or possibly 10 billion. Food security is the most pressing challenge facing modern agriculture; world food prices have risen by 10 per cent in the last few months alone. Unlocking wheat’s complex genetic code firmly points to the fact that technological advancement will be the only way that we can meet the coming growth in demand.
Wheat provides a fifth of the world’s intake of calories and at 681 million tonnes a year, it is the third most produced food crop in the world. It is grown throughout the world, yet in common with many crops; harvests can be decimated by drought, floods and disease. The discovery of the genetic code opens the door to researchers identifying key traits in wheat which can allow them to create variants which are drought or flood resistant, and which can provide high yields, something which to date has not been successful. They could be in our fields within five years. The potential is almost limitless and if similar advances are made with other crops we could soon have higher yields, less damage from climatic changes and the possibility of using fewer pesticides and fertilisers and less water. These would all be huge leaps forward for agriculture, for food security and most significantly for the environment.
Agricultural technology is controversial; we must be vigilant to ensure that we do not go too far or cut too many corners. Safety from an environmental and human health point of view is our first concern and so we must proceed with caution. We must ensure that caution does not turn into lack of progress as this technology offers huge potential and can, if done in the right way, allow us to meet the great food security challenges of our age without undermining the environment. Europe is in grave danger of getting left behind as member states in the EU take very different stances on development and the result is stalemate. The unlocking of the genetic code of wheat is just the start, but it could herald new and even greater discoveries in the future. With nine billion hungry mouths to feed, such discoveries cannot come soon enough.