By Teresa Avila
DES MOINES, Iowa — Five farmers from four continents said here Wednesday that they’re concerned about the impact of climate change on their farms and that biotechnology could help them continue to produce food in harsh conditions.
They spoke Wednesday in a session on “The Next Green Revolution: How Farmers Will Feed a Warmer World,” at the World Food Prize.
Gabriela Cruz, a fourth-generation Portuguese farmer, spoke in slow, clear English as she addressed a crowd of about 100.
“What does Europe expect?” she asked. “Europe expects me to be a superwoman—which I already am.” A chorus of laughter and applause followed.
Cruz was referring to the current reality for farmers in developed countries, wherein they’re asked to produce safe food, protect the environment and remain profitable. On a global scale, Cruz continued, she’s asked to reduce her consumption of everything from fertilizer to herbicide, and to limit erosion and soil depletion.
Farmers around the world might recognize these demands. That, and the oft-repeated idea that the world needs to double its food production to feed the population in 50 years.
But changing climate is an extra barrier to that goal. The average temperature in Portugal is projected to increase and the rainfall to decrease, Cruz said.
Argentinean farmer Santiago del Sola, who works in the fertile Las Pampas region, has also seen weather patterns shifting.
He used a PowerPoint slide to show his dusty farm in 2009, when he suffered from extreme drought. Three years later, in 2012, he showed a photo with the same land submerged beneath a sheet of muddy water. Such extreme swings in weather — arguably influenced by a shifting climate — make it hard for any farmer.
All five farmers championed genetically modified crops, also known as GM crops or GMOs, to deal with the effects of climate change.
Cruz and Kenyan farmer Gilbert Arap Bor agreed that they can reduce their water consumption by using drought-resistant crops. Cruz added that biotechnology allows her to use less fuel, herbicide and insecticide.
The voices against biotechnology, the farmers said, are not practical.
“GM crops have benefitted millions of farmers, including myself,” Indian farmer V.K. Ravichandran said. “We cannot afford to reject GMOs on emotional grounds.”
The farmers also discussed the government’s role in regulating biotechnology. Government needs to allow farmers to decide for themselves whether to use GMOs, and these decisions must be based in science, Cruz said.
“Europe has no idea what farming is,” she said. Applause followed, reflecting the attitudes of those in attendance.
De Solar said people who distrust GMOs should keep that belief to themselves and not push government to limit GMO use.
The farmers expressed concern about the efforts of European activists to denounce GMOs. During the question and answer session, a government official from Tanzania said that Europe’s reluctance to accept GMOs is influencing biotech policies of African governments.
Cruz replied that European governments listen to the consumers voicing dissent against GMOs. These consumers will say that they got their information from research, she said. But she didn’t see how some claims she’s heard could have come from scientists. The Tanzanian official had offered the example that some in his country say GMOs ruin one’s manhood. Cruz agreed that she has no idea where such claims originate.