Every October 16th the world celebrates World Food Day, honoring the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
Established in 1945, the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization is focused on leading international efforts to defeat hunger. And in today’s world, hunger is an increasingly critical issue that the UN is closely watching.
In fact, the UN has been sounding the alarm that we must double food production to feed the world’s growing population – a population that will swell to 9 billion people by 2050. Compounding this, the UN recently issued a sobering report on the progress to curb climate change, noting more work needs to be done. Because of Earth’s rising temperatures and its exponentially increasing population, the mission of UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization is more important than ever.
So, in honor of #WorldFoodDay, let’s explore how biotechnology can help the UN in its mission to feed a growing, warmer world.
As we covered in September’s 25th Anniversary blog, ag microbials are products that can be applied directly to a seed to enhance the natural microbes found in soil – that is the tiny organisms like bacteria and fungi that provide plants the nutrients they need. Ag microbials can be applied to seeds to make plants grow more efficiently, such as making them drought tolerant (requiring less water), able to absorb nitrogen from the atmosphere (reducing the need for nitrogen fertilizers) or able to protect themselves from pests and diseases (reducing the need for pesticides).
By applying certain ag microbials to crops, farmers can increase yields without using resources that exacerbate the world’s food security issue by being harmful to the environment.
In the UN report on climate change, the intergovernmental organization alluded to the need for new technologies to meet the goals in the Paris Agreement. Precision agriculture is the overarching term for a plethora of new farming technologies that have enhanced farming practices in the computer age. Many of these technologies allow farmers to grow food more efficiently, reducing resources and preventing harm to the environment. Two technologies advancing precision agriculture include:
- Variable rate technology, or VRT, allows farmers to control the amount of inputs they apply to a specific crop. Instead of spraying an entire field from a crop duster plan, VRT allows farmers to apply precise doses of treatments at the base of the plant, cutting down on resource waste. These deliberate inputs can also lead to higher yields as individual crops will get treatments specific to their needs as opposed to relying on an overhead, inaccurate crop dust.
- Remote sensing technology allows farmers to monitor various components of cropland, from the soil’s moisture content to factors that could be stressing the plant. Think of remote sensing technology like an MRI scan for humans. From this, farmers can make more calculated decisions to manage crop health and growth, thus reducing resource waste. Additionally, remote sensing technology allows farmers to be better stewards of cropland, allowing them to monitor and make changes to guarantee the land’s health into the future.
Perhaps the most-exciting, or most newsworthy, technology that can help feed the growing, warmer world is gene editing. Unlike GMOs, gene editing allows us to make edits to a plant’s DNA without using a vehicle like bacteria to transfer genes from one plant to another. Like GMOs, however, gene editing can lead to countless traits that will help farmers grow food in various challenging conditions. From crops that are drought tolerant, enabling them to grow in arid climates, to high oleic soybeans, which will increase supply of heart-healthy fats in certain malnourished regions, gene editing technologies like CRISPR hold tremendous promise to feed a growing and warmer world.
See what others are talking about for #WorldFoodDay by following the conversation on Twitter here.