As world coarse grain and oilseed inventories decline with a concurrent marked escalation in price there is concern over how the energy and protein needs of a burgeoning population, now at 6.4 billion will be satisfied.
In 1968, William Gaud, then Director of USAID, coined the phrase “The Green Revolution”. The advances in technology leading to increased yields of cereals actually commenced in 1943 with the activities of the Rockefeller Foundation in Mexico. With additional funding and support from the Hailey Ashton and Ford Foundations and other donors, programs were extended to India, Latin America and SE Asia. Nobelist Norman Borlaug was instrumental in increasing wheat production in India in 1961, averting famine. During the period 1961 to 1985 World cereal production doubled but only at a rate comparable to population growth. Advances in yields were attributed to adoption of scientific agricultural practices, irrigation, fertilization and introduction of improved cultivars.
Critics of the Green Revolution maintained that changes from traditional and largely primitive and inefficient agricultural practices have led to monoculture, the demise of small-scale subsistence farming and ecological impacts arising from application of fertilizers and pesticides. Opponents of intensive agriculture were further antagonized by introduction of genetically modified grains in the 1980’s. Claiming that these products were associated with undefined health risks, despite sound scientific evidence to the contrary, activists in the EU pressured legislators to impose moratoriums and outright bans on GM cereals and other crops, ignoring the demonstrable benefits. Despite concerted opposition, 23 nations were cultivating a total of 260 million acres of GM crops in 2006. Rapid expansion among the latecomers was evident including Brazil (30% increase in 2006), India (63%) and South Africa (29%), according to a report in the Feb 23rd edition of the Economist. This source cited Cropnosis an industry consulting group which documented an increase in agricultural biotechnology sales from $3 billion in 2001 to $6 billion in 2006 with an anticipation of $8.4 billion in 2001. Currently GM strains of rice, corn and soybeans offer resistance to specific pests and pesticides, facilitating cultivation and increasing yield at lower cost. The second generation of GM crops will incorporate “stacked gene” technology imparting enhanced nutritional content, pest and drought resistance required in both developing and industrialized nations.
As a practicing nutritionist and poultry veterinarian I am at a loss to understand why our Industry is not applying the benefits of biotechnology in routine production. Despite the 35% increase in cost of corn and soybean meal in poultry diets during 2007, few integrators are incorporating balanced combinations of enzymes in diets which have the potential to reduce feed cost by $10 to $15 per ton. Probiotics and prebiotics are ignored or ineffectively “trialed”, although routinely incorporated in diets in countries where growth promoting antibiotics are disallowed. In tropical countries mycotoxicosis is a major restraint to efficiency yet effective toxin binders could offset their impact. Many nations in Asia persist in growing inefficient domestic strains of broilers frequently under conditions which restrict attainment of even meager genetic potential. Suboptimal feed conversion efficiency is a waste of resources and effectively places the livestock sector in competition with humans for the energy, protein and other nutrients in cereals and oilseeds.