Genetically Modified Crops Represent a Key Solution to Ending Extreme Poverty

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Renowned international economist Dr. Jeffrey D. Sachs supports expanded use of plant biotechnology.

About one billion people – or one-sixth of the world’s population – live in extreme poverty or on less than $1 per day. For these individuals, losing a crop to a drought or a crop-destroying insect invasion can be the difference between life and death. Farming innovations such as genetically modified crops can contribute to poverty alleviation by increasing yields, improving nutrition and generating income among resource-poor farmers.

“What we see is that with very practical approaches … not only will the quality of life for the poorest of the poor be raised tremendously, not only will millions of people who otherwise will die be able to stay alive, but also, they will begin the process of economic development. [These investments] will unlock the poverty trap and allow them to start moving forward,” says Jeffrey D. Sachs a leading international economic advisor, who for more than 20 years has been involved in identifying challenges to and solutions for ending poverty.

“There’s now promise in the case of many of the biotechnologies in agriculture of fortifying nutrients in places where the people are facing massive nutrient deficiencies – of course, traits that protect against local pests and pathogens,” continues Sachs in an exclusive video interview and podcast available at the Conversations about Plant Biotechnology Web site: “Now there’s the possibility of drought-resistant varieties. … This would be a phenomenal breakthrough, especially for Africa, which is nearly a whole continent afflicted with the massive risk and reality of drought.”

As director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and of the United Nations Millennium Project, Sachs promotes policies that expand economic opportunities and well being throughout the world. Genetically modified crops hold great promise for subsistence farming because the technology is delivered in the seed. For example, there are genetically modified corn hybrids that produce a protein that protects the plant from specific insect pests – eliminating the danger of crop loss due to insect infestations. Research is currently underway to develop plants that can survive drought conditions.

“You have a lot of African scientists who are right now saying, ‘This really fits our need. This technology is so powerful because it brings in one little seed everything that's needed. The seed’s a great delivery,’” comments Sachs. “The great news is those technologies exist. … Getting those technologies to the poorest farmers is absolutely one of the keys to making the breakthrough out of extreme poverty.”

In addition to Sachs’ video, visitors to the Conversations about Plant Biotechnology Web site can access comments from other renowned thought leaders including Nobel Peace Prize recipient and leader of the Green Revolution Dr. Norman Borlaug, as well as Chairman of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) Dr. Clive James. The personal experiences of farmers who grow genetically modfied crops are also available – including conversations with subsistence farmers from India, the Philippines, Burkina Faso and South Africa.

Conversations about Plant Biotechnology is designed to give a voice and a face to the farmers and families who grow biotech crops and the experts who research and study the technology. The Web site contains more than 40 two- to three-minute, extremely candid, straightforward and compelling video segments with the people who know the technology best. The Web site is hosted by Monsanto Company — a leading global provider of technology-based solutions and agricultural products that improve farm productivity and food quality.

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Ranjana Smetacek
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