' /> The Truth about Trade
Jul 13, 2014


The Truth about Trade

RSS By: Dean Kleckner, AgWeb.com

Dean is Chairman Emeritus of 'Truth About Trade & Technology, a nonprofit advocacy group led by a volunteer board of American farmers.

Honoring a Wheat Scientist who has Helped Family Farmers Improve Their Lives

Jul 10, 2014

 By Hope Pjesky: Goltry, Oklahoma

 
Some nights it’s stressful enough to put dinner on the table for my family. Imagine being responsible for feeding millions of people.
 
That’s the achievement of Dr. Sanjaya Rajaram, announced as the winner of the 2014 World Food Prize. His wheat varieties have boosted global wheat production by 200 million tons.
 
Dr. Rajaram would be a fitting recipient of the World Food Prize at any time, but this year it is even more poignant and appropriate because it also marks the centennial of Dr. Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution. As Borlaug’s successor at CIMMYT, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, Rajaram is one of Borlaug’s most accomplished students.
 
Before Dr. Borlaug died five years ago, he praised Rajaram as "a scientist of great vision who made a significant contribution to the improvement of world wheat production, working for the benefit of hundreds of thousands of farmers in countries around the globe."
 
I’m one of them. On our family farm in Oklahoma, we grow a variety of Hard Red Winter Wheat, ideal for bread, which was developed at Oklahoma State University. We plant it toward the end of September and harvest it in June—and the success of each crop makes a big difference in my family’s bottom line.
 
That’s another reason I appreciate the selection of Rajaram this year: The United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization has decreed 2014 as the International Year of Family Farming. The work of scientists like Rajaram improves family farming.
 
I’m reminded of Borlaug’s final words: "Take it to the farmer." They were spoken to Dr. Bill Raun, one of his many friends at Oklahoma State University as he was showing Dr. Borlaug the technology his team had developed to help farmers better manage the use of nitrogen fertilizer. Today, the Greenseeker technology is helping farmers around the world cut costs and safeguards the environment.
 
Rajaram has embodied these words his whole life.
 
He started out on a family farm himself—a poor one, in rural India. His parents raised wheat, corn, and rice on a handful of acres. In that time and place, almost nobody received a formal education. Yet Rajaram’s parents were dedicated to their children—and in Rajaram, they saw a special intelligence and drive. So they sent him to school.
 
This was the start of a brilliant career. From the beginning, he was a top student who leaped from opportunity to opportunity. He eventually earned a Ph.D. in plant breeding from the University of Sydney in Australia. One of his professors there had studied with Borlaug in the United States and recommended Rajaram to his old friend. Soon, Rajaram was working by Borlaug’s side in Mexico as a member of CIMMYT’s team.
 
Rajaram was halfway around the world from his humble origins, but he never forgot his roots. He wanted to alleviate the struggles of the other family farmers he knew as a boy. So he worked to create the crops that would help them live better lives.
 
Today, he’s credited with developing 480 high-yielding wheat varieties that resist disease and other stresses. They’ve been grown on more than 100 million acres in 51 countries, from the acidic soils of Brazil to the mountains of Pakistan.
 
Rajaram picked a good crop for his focus. Wheat covers more acreage than any other cultivated plant and it represents the primary source of calories for more than half of the world’s people.
 
Despite its importance, wheat sometimes seems like the crop that technology forgot. It has not yet felt the innovations in biotechnology that have transformed the way we grow corn and soybeans, two other staple crops.
 
My family farm would benefit enormously from genetically modified wheat that makes more efficient use of the soil’s nitrogen. And we can’t have drought tolerance soon enough: This year’s wheat harvest is the worst I’ve seen in 20 years and it may be the worst in Oklahoma since the 1950s.
 
I’m hopeful, if only because Rajaram is hopeful: "I believe that the challenges of 21st-century agriculture and food production are surmountable," he says. Yet he also warns that technology must keep up with changing times: "Future crop production is bound to decline unless we fully factor in the issues related to climate change, soil fertility, and water deficits, and utilize advanced genetics in the next 20 to 30 years."
 
This October, Rajaram will receive the award formally, during the World Food Prize celebrations in Des Moines. Family farmers will celebrate with him, and hope that just as Borlaug inspired him, he will inspire a new generation of scientists to help us grow more and better wheat.
 
Hope Pjesky and her family are farmers / ranchers in northern Oklahoma where they raise cattle and wheat.  Hope volunteers as a board member for Truth About Trade & Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org).
 
Follow us: @TruthAboutTrade on Twitter | Truth About Trade & Technology on Facebook.

Brazil Uses Biotechnology to Take the Sting out of Dengue Fever

Jul 03, 2014

 Richard Dijkstra:  Ponta Grossa, Parana, Brazil

 
All eyes are on the World Cup in Brazil this month. As a farmer in southern Brazil in Parana State, near the city of Ponta Grossa, I’m cheering for the home team—and I’m relieved that we survived a tough contest against Chile in the first game of the knockout round.
 
Another kind of knockout is also on my mind, and our rival is one that many Brazilians know far too well: mosquitoes. These pests are constant threats to public health—but now biotechnology may offer an excellent solution to an age-old problem.
 
Mosquitoes spread many diseases, and one of the worst is dengue fever. In addition to elevating temperatures, the virus causes headaches, joint pains, and skin rashes. It affects about 50 million people around the globe each year. Perhaps a million of them die. There is no vaccine or cure.
 
My region of Brazil is too cold at night for the mosquitoes that spread dengue fever to survive, but I have friends who have suffered from the affliction. They’ve struggled with severe discomfort—they complain about bad pain behind their eyeballs—and they must worry about second infections, because those are the ones that can turn fatal.
 
Biologists have identified more than 3,500 species of mosquito around the world, but only a handful of them carry the virus that causes dengue fever—and one in particular, the Aedes aegypti, is the main culprit. It has African origins but now lives in tropical areas just about everywhere, including three Brazilian cities that are hosting World Cup games.
 
Unfortunately, these pests are difficult to control. Bed nets provide good protection against mosquitoes that come out at night, but dengue-carrying mosquitoes are active during the day. They also thrive in urban areas, so it’s impossible for many people to avoid their habitat. Finally, these parasites have started to develop resistance to common forms of insecticide.
 
For a while, it looked like the best we could do was simply to put up with a certain amount of dengue fever.
 
Today, however, biotechnology offers new hope and a sustainable way to confront the problem. British scientists have learned how to fight back through genetic modification. The transgenic mosquito carries a gene that prevents the females from flying when they reach adulthood.  Males can still fly but that does not cause a problem because they feed only on nectar and plant juices, unable to transmit the disease.  As the mosquitoes reach adulthood and males mate with females, the gene will be transmitted to their offspring ultimately helping to solve a public health problem.
 
Field trials last year in the city of Jacobina showed promising results, with Aedes aegypti populations crashing by an estimated 79 percent. This year, Brazilian officials have launched a pilot program to test the method in larger areas. They’ve worked hard to engage the public, holding meetings to explain the approach and advertising it on the sides of trucks as well as on the radio. In April, a report on Public Radio International noted the program’s "wide acceptance" among the people of Jacobina.
 
And why wouldn’t they approve? It’s a creative solution that may prevent a terrible public health malady.
 
It’s environmentally friendly, too. Right now, the best way to slow down the transmission of dengue fever is to spray insecticide around vulnerable homes. Yet this treatment kills insects without discrimination—not just Aedes aegypti, but also bugs that pose no threat to anyone.
 
Biotechnology lets us focus on the true problem. In military terms, we’d call it a surgical strike that hits its target as opposed to a carpet bombing with collateral damage.
 
It remains to be seen how well this strategy will work. Brazil is a huge country, full of mosquitoes. Reducing their numbers is no simple trick. Yet even a small cut in the incidence of dengue fever will improve the lives of my fellow Brazilians.
 
We have every reason to be optimistic. On my own farm, I’ve seen how biotechnology can help me grow more food on less land. Adapting the gene-transfer technologies that have improved agriculture to other challenges could represent a major step in the global Gene Revolution.
 
I’m cheering for Brazil not only to win the World Cup, but also to triumph over dengue fever.
 
Richard Franke Dijkstra farms with his family in Southern Brazil where they grow soybeans, edible beans, corn, wheat, barley, ray grass and black oats; 50% of the soybeans and corn they plant are GM and 100% of the operation is no-tillage.  Richard and his brother-in-law also operate a 480 cow dairy and raise 4000 hogs annually.  Richard is a member of the Truth About Trade & Technology Global Farmer Network (www.truthabouttrade.org).
 
Follow us: @TruthAboutTrade on Twitter | Truth About Trade & Technology on Facebook.

Growing Optimism

Jun 26, 2014

 By Motlatsi Musi:  Pimville, South Africa

 
 
Once, my farm was part of a war zone, just south of Johannesburg, South Africa. I had to be optimistic to drive a tractor through a minefield, as I did in the aftermath of South African apartheid. In fact, trying something new always requires a bit of optimism. Nonetheless, the first time that I planted genetically modified crops, I was nervous. Would they grow? Would they improve my yields? Or would they fail, as so many other crops in Africa had before them?
Nearly a decade has passed since then, and today I can hardly imagine farming without these important tools of technology. Although things are better now in South Africa, life has conditioned many of us to pessimism. Why wouldn’t it? Two-thirds of all Africans are farmers, according to the World Bank. That’s a higher rate of employment in agriculture than anywhere else on the planet. And yet Africa is the hungriest continent.What a cruel paradox: We farm the most and eat the least.
I’ve farmed for more than 20 years, starting as an ordinary laborer. In the wake of my country’s land redistribution, I own and farm 21 hectares and rent more. One of the biggest challenges for any farmer involves guarding crops from pests. In my experience as a farm laborer, my boss used tractors with huge booms to spray the plants. When the corn grew too high for driving, airplanes flew overhead and dropped pesticide. As smaller, independent farmers, we wore protective clothing and carried 12-liter knapsacks of pesticides through the field ourselves, often on tremendously hot days.It was a constant struggle against pests and for personal safety.
Pesticides break down before the food they protect reaches consumers, but exposure to them in large quantities can hurt farmers who don’t take proper precautions.So when pest-resistant GMO corn became available in South Africa in 2005, I wanted to try it. A non-profit group, AfricaBio, gave me guidance. I learned, for instance, that 20% of our seeds were non-GMO, so that our fields would fight pests but also provide a refuge, preventing them from developing a resistance to GMO corn. This approach contributes to the environmental sustainability of GMOs. Our goal, after all, is not to drive a species into extinction, but merely to protect our plants from its attackers. Ultimately, we seek a kind of peaceful coexistence.
During that first season, I started to see the results soon. My plants were bigger, stronger and healthier. During harvest, the yields increased by 34 percent. At that moment, I understood that biotechnology would be an essential part of Africa’s farming future.
We grow more, spray less and look forward to a future full of biotechnology.
A generation ago, much of Africa missed out on the Green Revolution, which brought modern agricultural practices to the developing world. Today, Africa must become a full participant in the Gene Revolution. Our governments must let us enjoy access to the biotechnology tools that fuel incredible agricultural production in the United States and so much of the western hemisphere. Why should we lack what those farmers have?
South Africa was an early adopter of GMOs, and for that I’m grateful. Too many other African countries have resisted biotechnology. They’ve responded to the misplaced worries of Europeans, who have largely refused to accept GMO foods. In my opinion, GMOs are perfectly healthy for human consumption. I’ve been eating them for years, from what I grow on my own farm!
The good news is that seven African countries—Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria and Uganda—appear ready to join South Africa in commercializing GMOs, according to the latest report of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA). On my farm, I’ve hosted visitors from these countries and elsewhere. They want to see how GMO crops succeed, and I like to think that I’ve done my small part to inform and educate people who want to improve their own food security.
Many of the anti-GMO activists come from wealthy countries, where food security is taken for granted. I suspect that most of them never miss a meal. They remind me of the protestors from an earlier time, who complained about advances in conventional farming during the Green Revolution. Sometimes I wonder if they’re not against GMOs as much as they’re against every kind of new technology that farmers find helpful. I’d like to invite them to tour African farms, and see the hardship. Maybe that will change their hearts and minds.
GMOs changed my life for the better. I’m not just a subsistence farmer, as are so many of my fellow Africans, but rather a farmer who makes a profit. One of my sons went to college, where he earned a biomedical degree, and my profits paid his school fees. People are always talking about sustainable agriculture, and I’m a believer in this movement—especially if the definition of "sustainability" includes economic sustainability, and an appreciation for farmers who aspire to do more than merely feed their own kids.
When I started working on farms as a young man, the thought of giving away food never occurred to me. Today, however, I’m able to donate a portion of my crops to local charities, including a child-care center, an old-age home and a hospice. So agricultural biotechnology sustains me, my family and my neighbors—as well as consumers who I’ll never meet.
We need more GMOs, not less. We need new traits that help us survive droughts and adapt to climate change. We need seeds fortified with vitamin A, so that our children can get the nutrition that they need. Right now, we’re on the threshold of remarkable progress, all because we’ve learned how to make the most of our crops.
Let’s continue to do all that we can to grow as much as possible.
 
 
Motlatsi Musi farms maize, beans, potatoes, and breeds pigs and cows in South Africa. He is a member of Truth about Trade & Technology’s Global Farmer Network (www.truthabouttrade.org).
 
Follow us: @TruthAboutTrade on Twitter | Truth About Trade & Technology on Facebook.
 
This column first appeared in the 2014 issue of Scientific American’s Worldview

Wheat trilateral strategy: more food with less inputs

Jun 20, 2014

 By Gerrid Gust:  Davidson, Saskatchewan, Canada

 
I’m a fourth-generation wheat farmer in Saskatchewan—and one of my long-term goals is to make sure the fifth generation on my family farm also has the opportunity to enjoy the full benefits of technology.  We cannot let international trading rules be determined by scientific illiteracy and special interest pleading.
 
A growing number of people share this objective:  Earlier this month, 16 major groups in Australia, Canada, and the United States called for the commercialization of genetically modified wheat.  That’s up from the nine organizations that put out a similar statement five years ago.
 
We’re gaining numbers and strength.
 
Our ranks include some of the most forward-looking groups in the wheat producing and exporting world - from my own Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association to Grain Producers Australia and the U.S. based National Association of Wheat Growers to more broad-based groups like the American Farm Bureau Federation.  It’s not just farmers who are encouraging GM wheat: The Canadian National Millers Association and the North American Millers Association also have signed on.
 
We seek innovation, investment, and regulations based on sound science. "In addition to protecting the continued availability of wheat foods, wheat enhanced through biotechnology ultimately offers the promise of improved products, more sustainable production, and environmental benefits," says the new statement.
 
This is an essential strategy for global food security. Wheat currently accounts for about 20 percent of the world’s daily caloric intake. Yet demand for it continues to multiply, as the planet’s population increases and the middle class expands.  
 
We have to continue to grow more food on less land, using less inputs—something that biotechnology, as a tool, has enabled farmers to do with many crops, such as canola, corn, soybeans and cotton.  Why leave wheat farmers on the sidelines?
 
I’ve also experienced the advantages as we have grown GM canola on our farm for 18 years.  Biotechnology offers us better weed and disease control, which means we don’t have to devote as much time or resources to cultivation or spraying our fields. It decreases our use of expensive inputs and boosts our yields.  That’s good for farmers, good for consumers and good for the environment.  
 
I’d like to see the same benefits of biotechnology in wheat. Right now, however, there’s no such thing as GM wheat—at least not outside the test plots of researchers and the daydreams of working farmers like me.
  
Many critics resist biotechnology, and spend a lot of time and money scaring people.  For the most part, farmers understand the benefits but we recognize there continues to be uncertainty over acceptance in several markets.  Will our customers in Europe and Japan accept GM wheat?   Not today, but I am optimistic these challenges will be overcome once the truth about food safety, environmental benefits and consumer benefits becomes better known.
 
A lot of progress has been made in the 20 years since GM crops were first approved.  We now have a long and impressive track record with agricultural biotechnology—and mountains of hard evidence in support of the health and safety of GM crops.
 
Farmers around the world have now planted more than 4 billion acres of GM crops. People have eaten more than 2 trillion meals using ingredients from GM crops.  Although some misinformation and confusion still surrounds biotechnology, understanding and acceptance have grown. The environmental benefits from the reduction in the use of fuel, fertilizer and pesticides are simply too powerful to ignore.  The promise of more nutritious food is also a compelling argument that will eventually help win the day.  
 
Those are among the reasons why my organization endorsed the trilateral statement in support of GM wheat.  We want to help lay the groundwork for the adoption of this technology.   We don’t want anyone to say they were blindsided when this technology comes to our fields.
 
It won’t happen overnight. Although scientists already know how to produce GM wheat using the same proven technologies that have enhanced other crops, the technology won’t be adopted until all regulatory approvals are obtained.  The new statement from wheat groups makes this very clear: "Biotech wheat will be subject to rigorous scientific testing as well as extensive government approval processes before it is available anywhere in the world."
 
In the meantime, farmers and others have some important work to do:  we must informthe public about the value of GM crops and get systems in place that accommodate consumer choice.  If we do our jobs well, consumers, farmers and the planet will eventually reap the benefits of GM wheat—and many of us will wonder why it took so long.
 
Gerrid Gust and his family raise canola, lentils, flax and cereal grains including durum and soft white wheat on the Canadian prairies.  Gerrid is a member of the Truth About Trade & Technology Global Farmer Network (www.truthabouttrade.org).
 
Follow us: @TruthAboutTrade on Twitter | Truth About Trade & Technology on Facebook.

Golden Rice: Let the Farmers Grow it and the Children Eat it

Jun 12, 2014

 By Rosalie Ellasus:  San Jacinto, Philippines

 
If we could provide a food that would save the lives of millions of kids, we’d do it.
 
Right?
 
That’s the miracle of Golden Rice, a genetically modified crop that fights vitamin A deficiency—a malady that has killed an estimated 8 million children over the last dozen years, mostly in the developing world. The lucky ones who survive often go blind.
 
Here in the Philippines, the problem is so severe that the government distributes vitamin A capsules to children under the age of 5 as well as to pregnant women.
 
This effort has reduced vitamin A deficiency in my country. Yet more must be done: 15 percent of Filipino children continue to suffer from this deadly form of malnutrition, according to the Food and Nutrition Research Institute.
 
Golden Rice is a possible solution and as a farmer, a tool that I want available in my country. It generates extra amounts of beta-carotene, a compound that helps produce vitamin A. Just one cup of cooked Golden Rice can provide small children with more than half of their daily vitamin A needs. If enough farmers grow Golden Rice, we might finally be able to defeat the scourge of vitamin A deficiency.
 
When I think about Golden Rice, I think about it from two perspectives: as a mother and as a farmer.
 
Like so many Filipino mothers, I serve rice to my family all the time. It’s the most fundamental ingredient in Filipino cuisine.
 
I’m also a farmer who grows rice during our wet season, which runs from now to October. Most of what I harvest goes to consumers I’ll never meet—but a portion of it winds up in the rice bowls my family use at home.
 
So I want to make sure that everything we grow and eat is safe, nutritious, and sustainable.
 
Earlier this spring, I was invited to attend a workshop sponsored by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), a Philippines-based nonprofit independent research and training organization dedicated to reducing hunger and poverty through better rice farming and nutrition. One of its major priorities is to fight vitamin A deficiency through the widespread adoption of Golden Rice.
 
During my visit, I was impressed to learn that there are no hidden agendas behind Golden Rice. Agriculture is of course a big business, and companies are always trying to persuade me to buy their seeds or equipment. Most salesmen are fair and honest, but I still have to approach them with care and caution.
 
Golden Rice, however, is different. Its European inventors have granted free licenses to develop and grow Golden Rice on a not-for-profit basis. IRRI has worked to create local varieties of Golden Rice so that Filipino farmers can grow it and Filipino families can feed it to their children.
 
Many other kinds of genetically modified crops carry important advantages for farmers: The GM corn I grow on my farm each winter fights weeds and pests, allowing me to grow more food on less land and contribute to my country’s food security. Consumers enjoy abundance that’s affordable and nutritious, but they don’t usually recognize the role of technology.
 
Golden Rice, by contrast, is all about "biofortification." The whole point is to help consumers by fighting malnutrition. It’s not merely safe—it’s positively beneficial. It’s ‘Healthy Rice".  The research and development that have gone into it represent an extraordinary act of altruism. Making Golden Rice available to farmers will improve the lives of millions of people almost immediately—and everyone will know it.
 
Tragically, we’ve seen massive resistance to Golden Rice, led by the ideological forces and special interests that despise biotechnology in agriculture. They fear Golden Rice because they know its adoption will convince the masses that GM crops are good for us. Last year, a group of protestors even attacked a field where the IRRI was testing Golden Rice—an act of vandalism against scientific inquiry whose ultimate victims are the children suffering from vitamin A deficiency.
 
We all want to eat safe and healthy food—and we want regulatory agencies to support these efforts with sensible, science-based rules.
 
The next rule they should adopt involves Golden Rice: Let the farmers grow it and let the children eat it.
 
Every day we wait condemns more innocent children to blindness and death.
 
Rosalie Ellasus is a first-generation farmer, growing corn and rice in San Jacinto, Philippines.  Rosalie allows her farm to be used as a demonstration plot for smallholder farmers to visit and learn from.  She is a member of the Truth About Trade & Technology Global Farmer Network (www.truthabouttrade.org).
 
Follow us: @TruthAboutTrade on Twitter | Truth About Trade & Technology on Facebook.
Log In or Sign Up to comment

COMMENTS

 

 

 

 © 2013 Farm Journal Foundation. All Rights Reserved. Farm Journal Foundation is dedicated to sustaining agriculture’s ability to meet the vital needs of a growing population through education and empowerment.