Critics argue that agro-biotechnology, and in particular genetic engineering, only provides large multinational corporations with the means to continue their dominance of the global food system, disadvantaging smallholder farmers, and ultimately — consumers. Proponents argue that agro-biotechnology, like the genome editing CRISPR-Cas9 system, should be made more accessible to smallholder farmers who will benefit from advanced breeding efforts in their own countries, using these precise tools to improve the crops of most interest to them.
The hope is that these new effective breeding tools could enable new collaboration, where researchers work hand-in-hand with farmers to develop crops and livestock more resistant to diseases and droughts, adapted to specific local needs. In South America, for example, researchers could assist potato farmers across the Andes Mountains create crops more tolerant to climate change, while at the same time protecting the region’s highly valuable agrobiodiversity.
And so the future is already here, but it’s not evenly distributed and we’re not ready. This is why we need to step up capacity-building efforts and strengthen and broaden the innovation agenda, enabling the benefits of modern biosciences to reach smallholder farmers in the southern hemisphere.
Editor’s note: Ivar Virgin is a senior researcher at the Stockholm Environment Institute
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