Crops engineered to resist
disease, pests, herbicides, and abiotic stresses allow
farmers to increase yields from already cultivated
lands. In other words, farmers can produce more
with the same amount of land. This has been the
goal of many agricultural researchers since the
beginning of the Green Revolution--the ability to
increase crop production without expanding farmlands at
the expense of pristine ecosystems. A comparison
of the yields in 2003 of two major crops, wheat and
rice, reveals substantial differences between various
parts of the globe; clearly there is room for
Least Developed Countries
Source: FAOSTAT data, 2004
GM crops could help decrease the
sizeable difference in yields between industrialized and
undeveloped countries; after the introduction of Bt
cotton in India, yields saw a 60% increase over 4 years
(Qaim and Zilberman, 2003).
It's no wonder that
yield-increasing crops are in demand in developed
countries, as well. The potential benefits to the
farmer are tempting.
GM crops increase yields
without increasing the amount of land needed or (in some
cases) the amount of work required for crop maintenance.
In addition to increasing yields,
GM crops engineered for resistance to abiotic stresses
could help farmers reclaim lands lost because of soil
leaching, salinity, or cold temperatures.
Over-irrigated land whose soil has accumulated high
levels of salt could once again be cultivated with
salt-tolerant crops. Rice farmers could reclaim
the 30% of rice lands affected by salinity, the 20%
affected by drought, and the 10% affected by cold
temperatures (Lane, 2002). The harsh winters of
Canada's prairies could be perceived as only a minor
threat to the cultivation of wheat and canola
(Functional Genomics, 2004). Farmers near the
Brazilian cerrado, whose aluminum-containing soils have
prevented extensive cultivation, could grow
aluminum-tolerant crops (Plucknett and Smith, 1982).
of land for agricultural purposes has potential
environmental problems, however. With GM crops
capable of growing in new, previously uncultivated
lands, farmers could be in danger of destroying local
ecosystems and expanding too far into pristine
environments. Nevertheless, considering the
ever-increasing human population, yields will probably
not increase at a rate high enough to prevent
environmental loss due to agricultural expansion unless
GM crops replace traditionally bred varieties.
Farmers are struggling to keep up with the demands of
the growing world; increasing land use by using GM crops
to increase yields/decrease losses is an
option that should not be ignored.