According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, in 2010-2012, from the total of about seven billion people living on Earth, there are approximately 870 million people that suffer from hunger (FAO). That means that one in eight people are undernourished, which is a worrying and sad fact at the same time. One in three children in developing countries, suffer from poor nutrition, representing about 33 percent of the overall population of developing countries (de Onis et.al).
The vast majority of those undernourished live in developing countries; in other words, a fourth of the population in developing countries is suffering from hunger (FAO).
Despite the fact that the overall number of undernourished people in Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean and the Pacific has dropped, due to socio-economic growth and progress, the hungry in Africa get more and more within time. In terms of numbers, during the last few years about 20 million have added to the 239 million people suffering from hunger, rising from 175 million (FAO). In Africa, one in four starve, while in sub-Saharan Africa hunger rises by two percent each year. Developed countries, on the other hand, have seen their hunger rates rise, and the people suffering from hunger have increased from 13million in 2004-2006 to three million people more after four years, in 2010-2012 (FAO).
Most undernourished are children, and they are ill about two thirds of a year annually. About five million children die each year from malnutrition and hunger is also the catalyst that boosts the effects of various serious disease, like malaria and measles (Black). In fact, the death proportions of hunger is similar to malaria, diarrhea and pneumonia (Black). Those children are usually doomed from birth, given that most of them are born by mothers that are malnourished themselves. For that reason, one in six pregnant women in developing countries, give birth to a low weight infant, which is among the major factors of infant mortality and mental health conditions (de Onis).
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, International Fund for Agricultural Development, World Food Program (2002) the world produces food that can cover everybody’s needs (9). Facts show that, despite the 70 percent population increase, agriculture can provide people with more calories than thirty years ago, by 17 percent (FAO). However, there seems to be people that do not have enough land to cultivate, or no land at all, not enough food, and certainly not sufficient funds to purchase food to feed themselves and their families. Unequal income distribution in the world causes hunger. It is unperceivable that more than 1,300 million people in developing countries are forced to live with less than a dollar and 50 cents per day. No matter what the reason is, though, people are still suffering from hunger; in fact, millions dies each year from hunger and malnutrition, which raises a worrying concern and calls for immediate action.
A solution to the world’s hungry could come from genetically modified food. In recent years, the vast majority of genetically modified crops are “grown in developed countries and address the needs of commercial farmers” (Nuffield Council on Bioethics 1). However, it seems that farmers in developing countries have also turned their interest in growing genetically modified crops, and there are more than 4.5 million farmers, usually small-scale, now growing a total of more than 16 million hectares (Nuffield Council on Bioethics 1). South African and Chinese farmers comprise the vast majority of the aforementioned farmers that mainly grow cotton. Despite the numerous problems in agriculture, like water shortages that keep increasing and poorer soils that worsen in time, there are indications that genetically modified food technologies could open new horizons and provide solutions to the agricultural problems already mentioned before (Nuffield Council on Bioethics 2).
Benefits from Genetically Modified (GM) Crops
Some of the main problems in agriculture are pest infestations and diseases while the weather conditions also play a vital role determining the quality of crop yields in developing countries. It is suggested that GM crops could make a difference. In detail, GM can help in:
- Pest/insect Resistance
A major threat for cotton crops is a pest called bollworm and is the reason why almost 50 percent of cotton growth in China is completely destroyed each year (Nuffield Council on Bioethics 3). For that reason, since 2002, farmers have decided to grow GM cotton with a substance that is lethal for the bollworm, as a means to save their crops (Nuffield Council on Bioethics 3). With genetically modified crops there is reduced need for pesticide use and the health benefits for the farmers and other people working in the farming industry are multiple. It becomes obvious that, with GM crops, there can be increased yields and consequently people will have more food to feed on.
- Resistance to Disease
Another reason why crops are destroyed, depriving people from food sources is diseases coming from fungal, viral or bacterial infestations (Nuffield Council on Bioethics 3). A representative example are bananas and sweet potatoes that usually get infected by a fungus called Black Sigatoka and can reduce two thirds of the yields (Nuffield Council on Bioethics 3). A logical solution would be to apply fungicides to eliminate the fungus; however, their cost is too high. Genetically modified technologies can create yields with resistance to disease, allowing people of developing countries to enjoy a wider plethora of goods.
- Resistance to Environmental Conditions
Weather conditions, like too much heat, drought and frost can jeopardize yields. With GM technologies, farmers are now growing rice that “can survive prolonged water stress in desert conditions” (Nuffield Council on Bioethics 3). In detail, with GM technologies, special yields of rice are grown. The GM rice has a protective sugar that allows rice to survive droughts, even for extensive periods of time, avoiding dehydrations and dying.
- Tolerance to Herbicides
Weedkillers are widely used to protect complete yield devastation. With GM technology plants can be modified to tolerate weedkillers more. That way, farmers will be allowed to use less of the harmful weedkillers used today, plus make the crops not affected by them (Nuffield Council on Bioethics 3). With less damage from weeds and herbicides, farmers can grow crops that reach the consumers’ table at far exceeding rates than before. Such GM crops are mainly grown in developed countries; yet, developing countries have also started growing herbicide tolerant crops in recent years.
- Increased Nutritional Value
According to the World Health Organization, one in three people, in developing countries, is affected by mineral and vitamin deficiencies, which lead to health conditions (World Health Organization). Indicatively, vitamin A deficiency can result to growth retardation, night blindness and drop in disease resistance (WHO). Lack of iron leads to premature birth, low birth weight, impaired cognitive and physical development and anemia, and makes the system more susceptible to malaria (WHO). With genetically modified crops, nutritional value could be improved since crops can be added with the nutrients people are in most need of (Nuffield Council on Bioethics 3). So, if the people of a developing country lack from a certain nutrient, it can be added to the crops of that country. For instance, Golden Rice has been genetically modified to cover the needs for vitamin A.
Although a lot is said and written about whether genetically modified technologies can indeed solve hunger and nutritional issues in developing countries, research has shown increased potentiality. Genetically modified crops can be created to meet the nutritional needs of people that suffer from hunger. It is estimated that 870 million people suffer from hunger all over the world while a third of the children’s population in developing countries are dying each year from malnutrition and hunger. With genetically modified technologies those people can feed on yields that include the nutrients lacking from their diet and also provide them with more food. Other than that, GM yields can be more resistant to a number of factors that destroy or devalue yields each year, like weather conditions, pests and insects, herbicides, and other disease that cause plants to die. So, people’s health is enhanced since farmers use less pesticides and herbicides, and those that are undernourished or starving have a good chance to feed themselves and their families.
de Onis, Mercedes, Edward A. Frongillo and Monika Blossner (2000). "Is malnutrition declining? An analysis of changes in levels of child malnutrition since 1980." Bulletin of the World Health Organization 2000: 1222–1233.
Food and Agriculture Organization, International Fund for Agricultural Development, World Food Program (2002). "Reducing Poverty and Hunger, the Critical Role of Financing for Food, Agriculture, and Rural Development”. FAO Corporate Document Repository. Web. Dec. 8, 2013 <http://www.fao.org/docrep/003/Y6265e/y6265e00.htm>
Food and Agriculture Organization (2012). "The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2012" FAO Corporate Document Repository. Web. Dec. 8, 2013. <http://www.fao.org/docrep/016/i3027e/i3027e00.htm>
Nuffield Council of Bioethics (n.d). “The use of genetically modified crops in developing countries: A guide to the Discussion Paper”. Web. Dec. 8, 2013 <http://www.nuffieldbioethics.org/sites/default/files/GM%20Crops%20short%20version%20FINAL.pdf>
World Bank PovcalNet (n.d). "Replicate the World Bank's Regional Aggregation" Web. Dec. 8, 2013 <http://iresearch.worldbank.org/PovcalNet/povDuplic.html>
World Health Organization (n.d). “Comparative Quantification of Health Risks: Childhood and Maternal Undernutrition”. Web. Dec. 8, 2013 < http://www.who.int/publications/cra/chapters/volume1/part2/en/index.html>