GMOs and World Poverty

The problem of world hunger and poverty is a recurring phenomenon that is prevalent in most parts of the developing world. Indeed, poverty is a vicious cycle whose elimination has proved elusive over the recent past. In a bid to solve the problem of poverty in the world, biotechnology has been proposed as an important player through such applications as genetic modification of crops. Studies have shown that genetic modified organism have the potential of reversing global food shortages. The process involves the modification of plant and animal species to possess genetic makeup from different species. Despite the development attracting initial excitement about the potential for better and larger harvests for farmers, the concept remains controversial (Ho, 1998). In particular, the benefits of these crops are in question in relation to ending hunger and poverty in the developing world. This paper analyzes the potential of genetically modified organisms in suppressing world poverty.

In the 20th century, a diverse array of hybrids and varieties were produced through conventional breeding. These developments resulted in the improvement of farm income as well as higher grain production and stable harvests. That notwithstanding, attempts to feed the millions of poor and hungry people in the world have not been achieved. Hunger is closely related to world poverty and any attempts to end the phenomenon must be aligned towards the eradication or reduction of world poverty. Increase in population, coupled with poor poverty eradication interventions have reversed most of the gains achieved through the conventional breeding technology. Despite these challenges, the success of concept is still within reach if explored within the confines stipulated. In fact, biotechnology has the potential to improve crop production in almost all the components of farming such as crop tillage and wed and pest control. Suffice to say, the improvement of crop production through biotechnology and conventional breeding has the potential of reducing world poverty by significant margins.

It is expected that biotechnology will produce immense benefits in the coming decades. In part, these benefits are expecte3d to help in meeting the future needs of food and fiber in the world thus ostensibly reducing the level of poverty in the world. Scientists in the field of biotechnology have given the genetically modified crops a clean bill of health for their potential benefits. The commercialization of transgenic crops by farmers is an indication of the diffusion of technology in agricultural production. In the period between 1996 and 1999, the acreage of genetically modified crops had increased ten-fold from a meager 1.7 million to about 40 million hectares (Qaim & Zilberman, 2003). Following this trend, biotechnology has improved scientific methodologies and products resulting in increased yields and better produce. Indeed, the success of biotechnology in agriculture follows similar improvements in medicine and public health. In the last twenty years, several developments have been developed in the agricultural sector.

One of the most cited cases of biotechnological success is the incorporation of genes from Bacillus thuringiensis in producing transgenic hybrids and varieties of potatoes, cotton and maize. The genes extracted from the bacteria are effective in controlling insect pests that invade such plantation and have been used in large plantations in the US and the world. In essence, the use of such hybrids and varieties of crops has reduced the need to use insecticides thus improving crop yields. The benefit of these developments is also seen in climate change mitigation as the absence of insecticides is viewed as an environmental gain in the long run. Similar developments have been made in cotton, soybeans, wheat and even maize thus improving their tolerance to a number of herbicides. Incidentally, the use of such hybrids and varieties is also effective in reducing the number of herbicides used in the process of food production. Again, this development has both environmental and cost reduction advantages as it lowers the negative environmental impacts while increasing the cost benefit of food production.

The potential of genetic modification of crops in reducing world poverty is evidenced in the production of cereal varieties that have improved tolerance to alkalinity in soil, iron toxicities as well as free aluminum. The existence of such hybrid varieties have helped in reducing the negative effects of soil degradation that are prevalent in developing countries. Moreover, the developments are a plus in the irrigation process through reduced soil degradation. The increased technology further makes it possible for crops to thrive in acidic areas that were traditionally not suitable for crop production. The development is also advantageous as it increases the acreage of arable land thereby improving the total global production of crop yields. The potential of these similar varieties to tolerate abiotic factors such as cold, heat and drought make genetically modified crops a valuable alternative in agricultural production. The efficiency of crops in water retention is further improved through crops that are adapted to reduced water requirements (Borlaug, 2000). Ultimately, the problem of hunger and world poverty is tackled slowly but surely through the use of biotechnology.

The implementation of genetic engineering in agricultural aspects has also resulted in the improvement of fertilizer-use efficiency through the modification of such crops as wheat. In the process of engineering, these crops are facilitated to have high levels of Glu dehydrogenase. Studies have observed that crops with such compounds are more efficient in fertilizer usage as they produce higher yields for similar fertilizer applications compared to those that do not have the compound. For instance, wheat with the transgenic Glu dehydrogenase have been reported to have produced yields higher by 30% compared to wheat that is not transgenic even when similar amounts of fertilizers are used. In similar fashion, some transgenic plants capable of controlling fungal and viral diseases have also been designed through biotechnology. For instance, some of the potatoes and rice grains have been infused with particular virus coat genes according them higher protection. Scientists have also replicated the process in other important crops in resisting diseases through transgenic manipulations. Such developments can only mean well for the prospects of global agricultural production resulting in the eradication of poverty in the long run.

The potential for genetic modification of crops is a burgeoning concept with applications in almost all types of crops. Scientists have for instance built on the fact that rice is the only cereal with immunity to a particular species of rust making other crops highly vulnerable to the same. In view of this development, scientists have toyed with the idea of transferring the specific genes to plants such as sorghum, millet and wheat in an attempt to reduce their vulnerability (Qaim & Kouser, 2013). Although the concept has not been implemented yet, it poses immense opportunities for increased resistance and the eventual improvement of crop yields within the world. The successful implementation of the concept would result in the eradication of rusts in the world and the ultimate improvement of crop yields. Also, famine and hunger would be given a huge blow as one of the primary sources of famine and hunger is the rusts. Consequently, the reduction in world hunger and famine would result in a more prosperous world free from vicious poverty.

Evidently, the power of biotechnology and most specifically genetic modified organisms in improving the nutritional quality of food crop species is highly important. The improvement of the quality of maize protein has for instance been within the reach of scientists for the longest time. Essentially, these improvements have been based on the search for certain types of amino acids deemed fit for human consumption. In this regard therefore, attempts to infuse certain nutrients in food crops are not a new thing but have been practiced for the last century. These attempts were however hindered by the absence of genetic engineering techniques that are in use today. For instance, genetic infusion was not discovered until after many years of research thus hindering the transfer of specific genes from certain crops to others. However, the advent of new genetic engineering tools has facilitated better nutritional quality in food crops through insertion of desired genes in target crops. Ultimately, improvements in food crop quality have the implication of improving nutritional value in the world and thus reducing the poverty levels in the process.

The recent modification of rice by scientists from Zurich and The Philippines is a testimony of the role of biotechnology in alleviating world poverty and hunger. In this development, the quantities of vitamin A in rice are improved through the transfer of desired genes into the target crops (Borlaug, 2000). The product, otherwise known as golden rice, incorporates three foreign genes that are essential in the production of provitamin A. This development follows numerous vitamin deficiencies in developing countries resulting in the underdevelopment of more than 150 million children. In addition, most of the affected children are from poor backgrounds making them even more vulnerable as their access to healthcare is limited. The potential for diseases in these children especially premature blindness is a public health problem affecting more than 450,000 people. Today, the rice is available for mass distribution to different countries thus increasing the level of vitamin A in children from poor backgrounds. In addition, the waiving of patent rights by the responsible biotechnology firms has increased its penetration making it available to more people. The solution proposed by this development is one of the manifestations of the success of biotechnology in reducing world poverty and hunger.

Despite the potential and actual gains of biotechnology, the concept faces immense challenges related to its implementation. Currently, a large proportion of genetic engineering is done through private firms which own most of the patents. The problem with this alignment is that it limits access to the technology and the increase in prices of the innovations. Agricultural policy makers are thus faced with serious limitations in ensuring the use of genetic modifications to attain the real benefits to the poor people. Most of the poor farmers are limited in their access to the innovations availed through genetic engineering making these developments a reserve for a few firms and individuals. Today, the technological landscape in genetic engineering of food crops is extensively controlled by a few members of the private and public sector. The issuance of patents for such innovations allows the contributing firms unlimited control over plant genes resulting in cumbersome applications of the developments. In effect, farmers have to purchase seeds every planting season thus exposing them to financial exploitation and eventual losses in farm management.

The developing countries are worst hit by the implementation of intellectual property rights through patents on plant genes (Ho, 1998). The processes used in making these crops better are also patented and limited to the contributing firms. The result is that farmers have minimal access to the benefits of genetic engineering with the most benefits being enjoyed by the controlling firms. Today, it is rare to use a biotechnological concept in improving crop production without infringing on a patent within the process. This alignment makes it almost impossible to separate the business interest of firms from the prospects of biotechnology. Also, the use of patents is limiting to developing countries as most of the technological improvements have been patented locking them out of any real benefits. In particular, countries that have not yet invested in biotechnology face a huge task in overcoming the challenges of low crop yield at competitive rates. Essentially, the privatization of plant genes by some few firms is an affront on the benefits of genetic modification. Agricultural research in developing countries is thus impaired thus threatening the livelihoods of millions of small-scale farmers in these countries.

The implementation of biotechnology in agricultural improvement holds a key to the unlocking of opportunities in the developing world. The application of pest and disease resistant, yet high yielding crops has the benefit of improving food security and ameliorating poverty. Still, the role of genetically modified organisms in improving environmental conservation has been observed with a potential of cushioning poor people from the negative impacts of environmental degradation. The idea is that genetically modified crops can produce more yields on smaller land thus improving the overall production of global food. Essentially, developing countries, which are worst hit by low food, can sustain their citizens while contributing to the reduction of world hunger. Today, more than ninety percent of the biotech farmers in the world are based in the developing countries with India leading the pack with over 7.5 million hectares (Qaim & Kouser, 2013). The result is that most of the crops planted have the ability to protect themselves from insect infestations in the absence of external pesticides. Eventually, biotech crops have 31% better yields and a decrease of 38% in the use of insecticides thus improving profits and helping in poverty alleviation.

Although not yet applied on a large scale, the use of biotech has applications in the extraction of oil. Indeed, genetic engineering can be applied in the process of oil extraction from plants thus increasing the yield by up to 90%. The development is motivated by the increased depletion of the global levels of hydrocarbons. Today, the reserves of such hydrocarbons as oil and coal have reduced tremendously raising concerns over future sustainability of the world. In the future, it is probable that the world will shift its use of fuel to incorporate the readily available biodiesel. These innovations cannot be enhanced without the use of genetic engineering to infuse desired genes into the target crops. Despite the probable benefits of such applications, there is controversy over the use of such methodologies in productions. In fact, there is growing dissent against the use of genetic modification in biodiesel production as oil cartels control the world’s fuel trade. According to them, the use of biodiesel represents threat to their profitability and such attempts must be resisted from the onset. Nevertheless, the future benefits of genetic engineering in facilitating extraction of biodiesel remain certain.

The reason that genetically modified organisms face opposition stems from the fact that the supply of food in the world is not scarce but abundant. Indeed, the world produces enough foods and grains to sustain about 4.3 pounds of food per day per person (Ho, 1998). The only real reason why the world is faced with hunger is because of the concept of world poverty. In this scenario, the rich have an abundant supply of food while the poor do not thus resulting in world hunger. In fact, part of the reasons why there is scarcity of food in the world is due to wastages and misuse of available food by the few minorities. The fact that hunger strikes the poor most put the women and children in immense danger as they are the most affected. Steadies have shown that the resolution of world hunger can only be achieved through political solutions and not technological solutions. While these assertions are partially true, the role of genetic engineering cannot be underestimated per se.

The role of biotechnology in increasing production and resistance of crops to pests and diseases cannot be assumed. The result is that the use of genetically modified crops reduces malnutrition thus ensuring that the poor do not remain hungry. There is a direct relationship between hunger and poverty with the most hungry facing the most negative impacts of world hunger. However, the greater biotechnology industry has invested its resources into a small array of products that have no intention of solving world poverty. A large proportion of the genetically modified crops in developed countries are meant for livestock yet millions of poor people in Africa die of hunger and poverty every single day. This is not to say that biotechnology has npo role in alleviating hunger and poverty in the world. It is the application and control of biotechnology techniques that is questionable but its role is certain.

It is no doubt that genetically modified crops have the potential of increasing yields and crop resistant to pests and diseases. It has been observed that genetic engineering has the potential of reversing global food shortages through increased production (Qaim & Kouser, 2013). Regardless of these potentials, the world is still hungry and poor in part due to the running of biotechnology industries. The issue of intellectual rights and patents has limited access of the technology to the poor farmers. In addition, a large part of biotech farms are dedicated for the growing of livestock feeds leaving the poor and hungry people more vulnerable. While genetic engineering has the potential of increasing yields and reducing poverty levels i9n the world, it remains farfetched as it is currently constituted. A change in priorities is required for any meaningful gains to be achieved. Eventually, genetically modified crops have the potential of reversing world hunger and poverty levels.



Qaim, M., & Zilberman, D. (2003). Yield effects of genetically modified crops in developing countries. Science, 299(5608), 900-902.

Ho, M. W. (1998). Genetic engineering-dream or nightmare?: the brave new world of bad science and big business. Gateway Books.

Borlaug, N. E. (2000). Ending world hunger. The promise of biotechnology and the threat of antiscience zealotry. Plant Physiology, 124(2), 487-490.

Qaim, M., & Kouser, S. (2013). Genetically modified crops and food security. PloS one, 8(6), e64879.


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