Calestous Juma: GM is an important tool..

Calestous Juma directs the Harvard-based Agricultural Innovation in Africa project, which is funded by the Gates Foundation and supports the use of GM crops.

Calestous Juma directs the Harvard-based Agricultural Innovation in Africa project, which is funded by the Gates Foundation and supports the use of GM crops.

“In 30 years we’ll have a population of nine billion people to feed and that will increase demand for the quantity and diversity of the food that we need – that’s why we have to consider GM as one of the tools – but not the only tool – that would help humanity to address those challenges.
“[Opposition to GM is] not irrational. Farmers who are opposed to GM crops because they might have negative impacts on their income – you can say they are not being irrational. And then people who think that we are changing the environment in ways that are not predictable, they have reasons for doing that.
“[But] I think it’s unhelpful because it’s driven by present day observations, but does not take into account long-term considerations. I strongly believe that, as problems expand, you also expand your toolbox.
“I don’t think that genetic engineering in itself embodies a particular farming system. Yes, it is true that the way the technology is developed initially could exclude some sections of the population, but the response is not to suppress the technology, it’s to make other farmers have access to it.
“By defining this as a product of large corporations, you end up undermining local enterprises who have no connection whatsoever with large corporations. In fact the bulk of the biotech research that’s carried out in African countries is funded by local governments and conducted by local researchers.”
For example, one bacterial disease wipes out much of the Ugandan banana crop every year. The Gates Foundation funds local scientists’ attempts to develop a new resistant variety: “This is work done by Ugandan scientists themselves on a crop that has no connection with large corporations.
“They did not invent genetic modification but they have taken the techniques and applied them to solve a local problem – and yet there are organisations that are fighting it because it’s genetically modified.”

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