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AN EXCERPT FROM NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC BY TIM FOLGER
PHOTOGRAPHS BY CRAIG CUTLER
Modern supercrops will be a big help. But agriculture can’t be fixed by biotech alone.
Which vision of agriculture is right for the farmers of sub-Saharan Africa? Today, says Nigel Taylor, a geneticist at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, Missouri, the brown streak virus has the potential to cause another cassava famine. “It has become an epidemic in the last five to ten years, and it’s getting worse,” he says. “With higher temperatures, the whitefly’s range is expanding. The great concern is that brown streak is starting to move into central Africa, and if it hits the massive cassava-growing areas of West Africa, you’ve got a major food-security issue.”
Taylor and other researchers are in the early stages of developing genetically modified cassava varieties that are immune to the brown streak virus. Taylor is collaborating with Ugandan researchers on a field trial, and another is under way in Kenya. But only four African countries—Egypt, Sudan, South Africa, and Burkina Faso—currently allow the commercial planting of GM crops.
In Africa, as elsewhere, people fear GM crops, even though there’s little scientific evidence to justify the fear. There’s a stronger argument that high-tech plant breeds are not a panacea and maybe not even what African farmers need most. Even in the United States some farmers are having problems with them.
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| The Next Green RevolutionPlant sciencePhenotypingNigel TaylorNational GeographicDan Chitwood