Summary of "Feeding the World in the Twenty-First Century"

by yeldarbnessumsar on March 31, 2014 - 11:12pm

         The article “Feeding the World in the Twenty-First Century” by agricultural ecologist Dr. Gordon Conway and microbiologist Dr. Gary Toenniessen has the main idea that genetically modified crops are a solution to world hunger problems as well as nutrient deficiencies in poverty stricken areas. First, they explain that advances in plant biotechnology resulting in large crop yields have peaked while the population of developing countries continues to grow. The article also describes the way that “since the 1970s, world food prices have declined [...] by over 70 per cent” (Conway and Toenniessen 153). This is advantageous to poorer people but they are still lacking in nutrients such as vitamin A. Next, they explain how food s not distributed equally around the planet and there is no sign of this changing in the future. This, combined with the fact that many of the poorest areas rely on agriculture for sustenance are reasons supporting the need for a second Green Revolution. This second Green Revolution would require newer biotechnology to increase crop yields and the aid of the farmers to maintain a good relationship with the environment. The next part of the article explains that crops need to be modified so that they can be more resistant to pests, weeds and low quality soil seeing as most poor farmers are in areas with unfavourable soil. Sadly, all of these genetically modified crops are created by large corporations that do not care for poor farmers so can have high prices. Therefore there is a need to find a way for the private companies and the public to collaborate. The authors then go to defining the concept of input versus output, where better input means it is easier to grow while higher output means that there will be higher yields. As stated earlier, vitamin A deficiency is a big problem but a potential solution has been found in “the introduction of genes into rice that result in the production of the vitamin A precursor ϸ-carotene” (156). The next big problem concerning food in developing countries is the large biotechnology companies always need a monetary incentive. To accomplish this they create plants that cannot reproduce naturally so that the farmers need to purchase new seed after each harvest. A potential solution can be found in selling hybrid plants that produce usable seed but that simply become less productive the more they are re-used. The next big problem arises because companies can now patent certain biological advances which can allow them to exploit the farmers. The success of the last Green Revolution can be attributed to the fact that everyone worked together to help solve world hunger and genetic technologies were free to be reproduced by different companies. Finally, some solutions are discussed such as the companies allowing their technologies to be used at no cost in developing countries or for these same companies to stop creating plants that cannot produce viable seed. Most importantly, the companies as well as the farmers need to start working with one another to find sustainable ways to inexpensively raise crop yields. This collaboration should also help to gain the public acceptance of genetically modified crops which are often seen as health and environmental hazards.

         Do you think that the private companies will be able to work with one another as well as with the farmers to create a more financially and environmentally sustainable way of farming? Why or why not?


GMO (genetically modified organisms) are fairly recent to agriculture. The main advantage of these crops is that they are a lot cheaper and easier to produce. They make it much easier to produce pharmaceutical compounds which lowers the price significantly. As mentioned, they can help stop world poverty due to their use. On the other hand, these plants cause what is called a genetic drift. When GMOs interact with other unmodified crops, they tend to mutate. Scientists are still unaware of the affects of grown GMOs in our bodies. This is because food is not yet labeled with its proper production path in order to trace certain side effects back to these plants. With the rate at which they are being produced, and the money these crops are bringing to corporations, I believe they will not stop their production. Unless specific environmental laws control the use of these plants, corporations will continue to grow them.

I really like Kevin's point that GMO's are a recent technology and I'd like to add that this means that we still do not completely understand them. There are many potential dangers associated with GMO's that are unknown simply because there has not been enough time to conduct proper studies on their consumption. I take your point, Kevin, that these organisms are able to mutate outside of human control. Still, surely the advantages of solving world hunger outweigh these consequences. Do you think they are worth the risk? Why or why not? If not, what environmental laws do you think could be imposed to restrict their distribution?

You are right Bradley, that the advantages definitely outweigh the disadvantages. World hunger is very important issue and if GMO's are the solution then they must be implemented. The long term goal must be kept in mind when making such a huge decision. If GMO's can produce more food now; however, destroy natural food supply, then we are simply making a decision that will not benefit us in the long run. The solution to genetic drift could be greenhouses. If enough money is invested to create large greenhouses that would grow GMO's, there would be a large supply of food and no genetic drift. The remaining problem is, how could we know if GMO's are harmful to consume? What do you think of large greenhouses?

Although large greenhouses are a potential solution to genetic drift, I do not believe they are a useful solution for world hunger. They simply can not make enough large greenhouses to supply food for a constantly growing number of people. As Kevin says, the problem is knowing whether or not GMOs are harmful if consumed. Sadly, the only way to know of long-term negative effects are studies taken over a long period of time. As these GMOs are a recent technology, there is no way for science to conduct these studies to properly assess the risks. Do you think there are ways to help solve world hunger other than using genetically modified crops? If so, in what ways? Or why not?

Currently, there is a conflict between farmers and the private companies that is being addressed. Farmers buy OGM seeds from these companies and plant their crops for the year. At the end of the year, they take the seeds that their crops have created and save them for the following season. The private companies however, are against this and have sued the farmers for doing so. According to contracts/agreements between the two parties, these seeds are not to be reused. In other words, in order for the farmers to grow their crops the next year, they must buy a whole other year's worth of seeds, instead of using the environmentally and financially friendly method of using the previous year's seeds.

Is it right that the companies are winning this battle over "property"?

I agree with Lucky's point that there is conflict between farmers and private companies and, in my opinion, the companies are winning. Not only do they have support of the governments for aiding in world hunger and providing jobs, but their genetically modified crops are able to overtake neighbouring fields and replace those crops with themselves. This results in all of the farmers needing to purchase seed from the companies year after year. Do you think introducing environmental laws will be the only way to stop the companies from doing this and instead help the problem of global hunger? Why or why not?

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