Issues of Our Time: Rethinking Agriculture in a Hotter, Drier World

Nina V. Fedoroff
Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary of State
U. S. Department of State

The introduction of science and technology into agriculture over the past several centuries has supported major advances in the productivity of agriculture. Synthetic fertilizers, chemicals to control diseases and pests, plant breeding and expanded area under cultivation have each played an important role. However, the amount of arable land has not changed appreciably in more than half a century, while the human population has continued to expand. Meeting the food needs of a still-growing human population while preserving remaining biodiversity constitute major 21st century challenges. Meeting these challenges will require increasing scientific and technological sophistication, as well as the development of new forms of agriculture suitable for arid lands. Molecular techniques for crop improvement have been developed over the past 40 years. Since their initial commercial introduction almost a decade and a half ago, crops modified by molecular techniques, generally referred to a GMOs or genetically modified organisms, have been adopted by farmers at a rapid rate in every country where they have gained official approval. However, despite the growing evidence of positive economic, agronomic and ecological impacts, the world remains divided about their safety and acceptability.


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