On July 3rd this year, William G. Moseley, Professor and Chair of Geography, and Director of the African Studies Program, at Macalester College in Minnesota, published a paper in the Geographical Review with the title: ‘A Risky Solution for the Wrong Problem: Why GMOs won’t Feed the Hungry of the World’.
His basic thesis is that GMO technology is so expensive that it is inaccessible to the poorest of the poor for whom food insecurity is the great issue.
He opens: “There’s a standard setup that many food-policy experts use to frame the global hunger problem and its solution. It typically goes like this. We have a global population of 7.5 billion today of which nearly a billion suffer from chronic hunger. With a projected world population of approximately 10 billion by 2050, we simply have to produce more food to meet demand and feed the hungry. As such, we must use all available technologies, including genetically modified organisms (GMOs), to achieve this end (Pinstrup-Andersen and Schiøler 2003; Collier 2008; Juma 2011).
Moseley reminds us that Amartya Sen showed the policy community that though plenty of food might be available on the market, poor people might not have access to that food because of limited incomes (1981).
He adds that geographer William Dando was also making similar points around the same time, based on archival research, showing that food was often available on the market during famines, and even being exported (1980).
A Cambridge reader sent a link to an appraisal of Moseley’s paper by Charles Benbrook (Hygeia Analytics), who elaborates on Moseley’s next point, adding more detail:
“How many times have we read both in science journals and the media that GE breakthrough X or Y can increase production of Z crop by so much, or overcome some well-known problem limiting crop yields (e.g. drought, saline soils, Black Sigatoka, wheat viral disease, lack of N, etc etc). All of these widely-exaggerated claims are based on a huge assumption – that all other constraints to yield will be simultaneously overcome to support the promised, much higher crop yields after adoption of some GE-based genetic or production-input technology.
“No one told the farmer that the new seeds will be super-charged for production under ideal conditions and when ample soil nutrients and water are available, but will be vulnerable and weak in responding to drought and a host of pest and disease problems that live in the neighborhood and must be dealt with, year in and year out.
“So, a farmer in Mali buys the new GE corn seed capable of tripling her corn yield, based on careful and rigorous field trails touted by the seed company (and all too often, Gates Foundation funded agronomists). But no one told her she would have to find a way to add 80 units of nitrogen per acre, or that to produce 3-X higher yields, the crop will need three-times the water, with no significant periods of drought, especially during key steps in pollination and ear formation.
“And last and most important – no one told her that if she bypassed spending the extra money for the potentially higher-yielding, GE seeds, and instead spent it on proven agroecological methods to overcome her most important yield constraints, whether they be worn out soils, nasty weeds, or drought, that she would be more likely to end the season with a bigger crop than possible in most years out of 10, had she planted the GE seeds, as well as having more profit left to support her family”.