Genetically Modified Organisms and Information Systems to the rescue of sustainable agriculture.
This continues (and ends) our reading of the Food Systems and Nutrition Patterns section of the report The Future is Now.
Can GMOs be useful (and used?)
They also insist on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). This will open heated debates in some parts of the world, as many environment activists (among which scientists) strongly contest their use. The authors here mention biosafety, but there are other reasons for this opposition. For instance, intellectual property and cost of these GMOs, as well as their compatibility with traditionnal agriculture (where peasants sow seeds that come from the previous harvest).
Genetically modified organisms can also potentially contribute to increasing the efficiency of food production and crop varieties that are tolerant to pests, diseases, drought, floods and salinity. However, the benefits of genetically modified organisms to food production are highly context specific. There are also considerations around biosafety, that is, potential negative effects of the exposure of genetically modified organisms to natural ecosystems and their deployment in highly industrialized mono-crop culturing systems that can erode biodiversity and often degrade soil health, and, so far, have had low contribution to creating employment in rural areas, where costs of seeds remain high.
Developping open information
The third scientific and technological point on which they insist is related to information. Undoubtedly, a worldwide initiative to set up an open access Earth observatory, for climate as well as for agriculture, would be useful. Something of that kind is already under way. Perhaps it would be worth to promote it during IYBSSD 2022? Space based observation relies much on technology, but also on basic sciences (thanks to Newton to begin with!).
Farmers can reduce on-farm losses and become more resilient if they have better access to market information, along with data on climate and production. An agroecological approach would entail thorough data collection and research to identify areas best suited for agricultural production, carbon storage, provision of high-biodiversity habitats and biophysical climate regulation. Putting in place a space climate observatory, an initiative supported by all European space agencies, as well as other states, including China, India, Mexico, Morocco, the Russian Federation and the United Arab Emirates, to guarantee free access to interoperable space-based Earth observation data will be a significant step forward in making available useful information for water, food and land supply through an Earth monitoring system.
The report mentions other information technologies, such as Twitter, drones and machine learning (which is also still pretty much basic science nowadays). And there may be many others. But for all these tools to be really useful for a transformation of our food systems toward sustainability, open access about how data are collected, and about data themselves, will remain key.
To be continued.