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On World Food Day, We Must Embrace Solutions to Address Devastating Famine in Africa

October 16, 2017
Hunger kills more people every year than malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS combined, and almost half of infant deaths are related to malnutrition. World hunger is again on the rise, affecting 815 million people last year, according to a recent FAO report.

Today, BIO recognizes World Food Day. The theme this year is “Change the future of migration. Invest in food security and rural development.”

On the African continent, many areas have been swept by severe droughts in recent years, leading to hunger and migration. According to the World Bank, 96 percent of African cropland is rain-fed. Without rain, severe famine often occurs. Earlier this year, the United Nations’ humanitarian chief described the 20 million people facing starvation and famine in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and Nigeria as “the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the United Nations” in 1945.

We at BIO know that agricultural biotechnology can play a crucial role in the fight against hunger and malnutrition, particularly in developing nations. Three-quarters of people living in extreme poverty base their livelihoods on agriculture or rural activities. Unfortunately, the effects of climate change have made agriculture less stable.

Biotech crops like drought-resistant corn and rice can aid in the fight against famine. Crops that can survive with less water should be utilized to give farmers more stability. While severe droughts will continue to do damage, these biotech varieties can be used to fight back. Scientists can also use biotechnology to fight crop diseases like banana wilt, which has devastated Ugandan banana farms, by developing disease-resistant GM crops.

Still, fear mongering has kept many nations from adopting GM technology. Until recently, only four African nations allow GMOs to be cultivated – Burkina Faso, Egypt, Sudan and South Africa – and only South Africa grows GM food. However, with continued famine, more African nations may consider adopting the technology. Uganda recently passed a biosafety law, which will clear the way for products like their wilt-resistant banana to reach the farmers who desperately need it.

On World Food Day, we must unite in our resolve to encourage nations to trust science and adopt sound policy around biotechnology so we can fight famine with all of the available tools.