Could agricultural biotechnology end famine?

Commercialism and Politics

Let's say that scientists have developed techniques and crops that can yield enough food to feed the world. What other problems stand in the way of ending world hunger?

One hurdle to overcome is commercialism. The companies developing agricultural biotechnology techniques aren't necessarily doing it out of altruism. Some companies seek patents on specific genes. That means anyone who wants to use that gene must license it from the company holding the patent. This gets complicated and expensive very quickly.

Another problem is that the companies developing biotechnology tools aren't necessarily in the countries that would benefit most from the technology. In order for biotechnology to help these countries, there would need to be a transfer of technological knowledge and equipment from one country to another. While some organizations might share knowledge in an effort to help other countries, that's not a common business practice.

The focus of agricultural biotechnology up to this point has been for mass commercial farming for the most part. That sort of focus doesn't take into account the subsistence farmers who would benefit from access to this technology. Some nonprofit organizations are looking at ways to use agricultural biotechnology on a small scale for subsistence farmers but they are the exception rather than the rule.

Politically, agricultural biotechnology also faces many obstacles. The fact that scientists are changing some plants on a genetic level makes some people nervous. Critics of agricultural biotechnology have many arguments against it, including questioning whether the foods grown through agricultural biotechnology are safe. Proponents of agricultural biotechnology point out that scientists put crops through extensive tests to make sure they are safe to eat before anyone chows down on genetically modified food.

In the United States, farmers aren't required to label their products if they've been genetically modified. But in other parts of the world, most notably in Europe, restrictions are tighter. Even if we develop the tools that could help us grow enough food to feed the world, fears about health hazards or environmental impact could slow any distribution of the food or the technology behind it.

Learn more about agricultural biotechnology and related topics through the links below.

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More Great Links


  • Carter, Jimmy. "Forestalling Famine with Biotechnology." The Carter Center. July 11, 1997. (July 22, 2010)
  • Scoones, Ian. "Can Agricultural Biotechnology be Pro-Poor?" IDS Bulletin, Vol 33, No 4 2002. (July 22, 2010)
  • Makinde, M.O. et al. "Role of Agricultural Biotechnology in Hunger and Poverty Alleviation for Developing Countries." EuropaBio. March 2007. (July 22, 2010)
  • United Nations. "World Food Programme: Hunger." (July 22, 2010)