The argument that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are needed to feed the earth's growing population holds less and less water as new research emerges, particularly with new understandings on how to utilise centuries-old techniques involving conventional crossbreeding.
Using intricate, yet traditional crossbreeding techniques, experts have learned to develop multiple strains of "Green Super Rice" that's resistant to salt water, tough against droughts and able to produce above-average yield without the use of fertilizers or pesticides. The rice, which is environmentally safe, is specifically bred for taste and feel according to the region that it's grown in.
Green Super Rice, which does not involve genetic modification (GM), has already had a dramatic effect on crop yields and is expected to help combat world hunger. Experts estimate that 20 million hectares of the crop will be under cultivation over the next 10 years, reports Konfrontasi.com.
Painstaking research involving traditional crossbreeding techniques results in environmentally friendly and bountiful crop yields
The Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines launched the project in 1998 with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The research involved the "painstaking crossbreeding of more than 250 different potential varieties and rice hybrids" and testing them in 32 countries, including Africa, Asia and South Asia.
The process "involves taking hundreds of donor cultivars from dozens of different countries, identifying significant variations in responses to drought, global warming and other problems, and 'backcross' breeding."
This means "painstakingly crossing a hybrid with one of its parents or with a plant genetically like one of its parents, then screening the backcross bulk populations after one or two backcrosses under severe abiotic and biotic stress conditions to identify transgressive segregants that are doing better than both parents and the checks."
To-date, more than 25,000 hectares of the super rice has been planted in Vietnam, with another 5,700 hectares in the Philippines that's expected to produce 90,000 tons of rice.
Farmers are already praising its success
A test plot planted in the Bohol region of the Philippines in salt water conditions performed quite well despite strong rains, which would have drowned seedlings under normal circumstances.
"The results were amazing," said Dr. Jauhar Ali, a senior scientist and regional project coordinator at IRRI in Los Banos, south of Manila. "Normally he would have received no crop at all. But the plot produced 3.3 tonnes per hectare."
Biotech industry pirates natural plant varieties
According to GMWatch.org, GMO breakthroughs are not always what they seem, despite being advertised as such, in fact, they're nothing of the sort. Without the best germplasm (living tissue from which new plants can be grown) by themselves, biotech traits are completely worthless.
"The biotech company raids the germplasm of natural crop varieties that have been developed by farmers and breeders over centuries for the desired traits. It uses conventional breeding and sometimes marker assisted selection - not GM - to get the plant it wants.
"Its own proprietary genes are added primarily so that it can patent and own the seed and resulting crop."
Often, GMOs do nothing for a plant's agronomic performance but simply include a Bt toxin to kill insects or a herbicide-resistant gene allowing it to be doused in herbicide. However, this alteration permits the biotech industry to patent the crop and generate big profits.
"The questions we should all be asking are these: which natural parent variety or varieties did the company pirate for its GM variety? How much improvement was made in the parent variety by conventional breeding and marker assisted breeding, aside from the GM tweak?
And how do the natural parent variety, the non-GM improved variety, and the final GM variety compare with each other with regard to the desired trait in side-by-side field trials?"