Noting that the global population is expected to exceed nine billion by 2050, Dr Thompson suggests that current production of food will need to be increased in order to meet growing food demands by making the most of available farmland spaces.
As global warming emissions and increased extreme climatic events like floods, heatwaves and droughts are making current yield crops harder to maintain and an unreasonable alternative to rely on, Dr Thompson points out that genetically modified crops might be a possible solution to ‘food security’ issue.
Since genetic modification became possible in the early nineteen eighties, much has been achieved and we have also become capable of rewriting DNA to generate completely new genes. This allows plants in GM crops to be made adaptable to changing weather patterns and to survive on limited amounts of water. Rice plants have been modified to produce a stronger drought signal, both using less water and producing higher yields under drought conditions
Whether genetic modification will prove more useful than just fine control of irrigation, remains to be seen. However, Dr Thompson notes that genetic modification may as well be a solution to problems which are the consequences of irrigation itself, such as accumulation of salts in soils, also known as ‘the white dead’ in Australia.
Crop diseases which pose a serious threat to sustainable food production can also be prevented and fought by the means of genetic modification. For instance, GM allows “R proteins”, used by plants to identify invading pathogens and turn on their defences, to be exchanged between varieties of species - an R protein from pepper has been used to make tomato resistant to bacterial leaf spot.
Considering the fact that crops that need less irrigation reduce demands on water supplies, and disease or insect resistant plants avoid the need for chemical sprays, genetically modified crops might also turn out to be environmentally-friendly which is also an important factor in improving food security.
Dr Stuart Thompson concludes: “To support current and future populations without further degrading the environment that we depend on we need an agriculture that is both sustainable and intensive.”