The Biotech Series: The Benefits in Crop Agriculture
United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimating that food
production must increase by 60% over the next 25 years to meet demand, the
world is now turning to engineered crops.
Most engineered crops attend to the concerns of crop pests, improving nutrition, better yields, prevent diseases and repair our damaged environment.
Locally, the introduction of Bt Maize has been a great relief to farmers by decreasing the use of insecticides and increasing yield. Bacillus thuringiensis, Bt, is a soil bacterium that produces a protein to kill certain insects. When these insects ingest the protein produced by Bt, the functions of their digestive system is disrupted resulting in slow growth and ultimately, death. This technology has been introduced in tobacco, tomatoes, cotton and other broad leaf plants.
The tissue culture bananas, another innovative form of biotechnology, has made it possible for farmers to get disease-free suckers for planting, increasing the yield of bananas.
Biotechnology has also been instrumental in increasing the nutritional composition of foods. This is especially useful in meeting the dietary needs of a community through their staple crop. Sweet potatoes are a common delicacy among resource poor families. Today, we have a virus-resistant sweet potato crop that has increased yield and is expected to provide food for more than 1 million Kenyans.
The protein quantity in maize has been improved by increasing the quantity of lysine in seed without affecting yields or other desirable character traits. This is significant keeping in mind that maize is the most important staple food for more than 1.2 billion people in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Genetic Engineering has also made a breakthrough in putting vaccines in foods. Potatoes have been developed to contain vaccines against diseases such as Cholera. A vaccine against Hepatitis has also been developed in bananas.
These are desirable milestones in agriculture as we deal with a swelling population on earth currently standing at 7 billion and counting.