Biotechnology: Future Perspectives of Biotechnology!
The population of Asia is projected to increase from 3.0 billion to 4.5 billion in the next 25 years. During the same period, the urban population will nearly double from 1.2 l5illion to 2.0 billion, as rural people move to the cities in search of employment. These increases will place massive pressure on developing member countries (DMCs) of ADB to increase food production.
Food demand is influenced by population growth, urbanization, income, and associated changes in dietary preferences. Urbanization and income growth frequently lead to shifts from a diet based on root crops (cassava, yam, and sweet potato), sorghum, millets, and maize to rice and wheat, which require less preparation time, and to more meat, milk, fruits, vegetables, and processed foods. This dietary transition has already happened in much of the region.
Meeting the food needs of Asia’s growing and increasingly urbanized population requires increases in agricultural productivity and matching these increases to dietary changes and rising incomes. To meet this demand, cereal production will need to be increased by at least 40 percent from the present level of about 650 million tons annually, most of which will have to come from yield increases. In addition, meat demand will double during the period.
Production increases will have to be achieved by increasing yields in a sustainable way to ‘conserve diminishing and degraded natural resources. Nearly all of these production increases will need to take place in DMCs themselves because on average 90 percent of the world’s food is consumed in the country where it is produced.
Food imports are not only expensive but discourage the creation of employment, which is badly needed in the rural areas.
In this millennium, we face a food, feed, and fiber production challenge in highly complex farming systems for several reasons:
(i) Water will become the most important limiting factor in agricultural production because the quality and quantity of water will decline as a result of pollution, forest degradation, and increased agricultural, domestic, and industrial use.
(ii) Urbanization will mean the loss of agricultural land to residential and industrial development, and a decline in the number of farm workers.
(iii) Most farmers are poor with small landholdings.
(iv) Farming systems are commonly heterogeneous with mixes of food crops, livestock, and trees.
(v) About 70 percent of the cultivated land is rain-fed with unreliable distribution and intensity of rainfall.
Thus, the increase in food production during the next 25 years will have to be achieved using less labor, water, and cultivated land. This can be done only if scientists can develop new crop varieties with high yield potential and high water use efficiency. New understanding of plant and animal genes may offer ways to increase crop yields to the levels required to adequately and sustainably feed the growing population in Asia.
Thus, developments in modem biotechnology could make extremely important contributions to future agricultural growth, food security, and poverty reduction. Increasing smallholder agriculture productivity will not only increase food supplies, but will reduce poverty and malnutrition, increase food access, and, improve living standards of the poor.
Biotechnology has the potential to:
(i) Increase crop and animal productivity; (ii) improve nutritional quality; (iii) broaden tolerance of crops for drought, salinity, and other abiotic stresses; and (iv) increase resistance of crops to pests and diseases. These potential benefits will have significant impact in increasing food production and reducing poverty in DMCs if they can be applied to problems of the poor farmers in the tropics.
As with any technology, biotechnology brings with it potential risks. To maximize the benefits and minimize the risks, the introduction and use of biotechnology in DMCs or elsewhere must be thoughtfully managed by the public and private sectors. The key risks that relate to the application of new developments in biotechnology for the public good are food and environmental safety, economic concentration, and intellectual property (IP) management.