With Genetically Modified Crops, We Can Reclaim Unfarmable Fields the Size of France
Remember that time God told Lot and his family to flee Sodom and Gomorrah, and never to look back – but Lot’s wife did, and then she turned into a pillar of salt?
That really sucked.
You know what else sucks?
All land is vulnerable to sodium and/or sodium chloride buildup – and every day, over 5,000 acres of farmland become too salty to sustain crops profitably. While most of this happens naturally, a significant portion is human-induced. Farmers don’t always manage their irrigation well, and poor drainage leads to sodium accumulation.
Alarmingly, studies show that more than 153 million acres of irrigated land have become unfarmable due to salinity.
For reference, that is an area the size of France.
Farmers have done little to fix the problem. Neither have governments, who have failed to mandate, subsidize or otherwise incentivize field drainage on a large scale. Even if they did, though, it wouldn't solve the problem. Remember: most of this is happening naturally.
Another huge problem facing farmers -- especially across Asia -- is sea level rise. A fast-approaching agricultural crisis is upon us.
So, once again, it looks like science to the rescue!
We already know that there are plants, like seaweed and mangrove trees, with extreme salt tolerance. Geneticists have unlocked the secret to this tolerance, and research indicates that grains could be engineered to withstand salty soil.
Mangrove tree growing in salt water. Image credit: Discover Magazine
According to Ajay Parida, Executive Director of the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, "Conventional breeding takes too long, and the problem is too urgent."
The foundation has already developed genetically modified rice using genes from mangrove trees. The resulting plant can tolerate salt concentrations of 12-15 grams per liter.
Which means we are on our way to cultivating land that was previously unsuitable for farming.
Now, a quick reminder to those of us who don’t have Ph.D.’s in science:
There is scientific consensus about the safety of most GMOs – though, obviously, scientists and (wise) regulatory bodies evaluate each genetically modified organism individually. Saying “all GMOs are safe” is kind of like saying “all chemicals are safe.” Some chemicals will save our lives, and some will kill us.
That is why all GM products are tested by companies, universities, research institutions and government bodies before being approved for human consumption.
And, trust me – there is no “conspiracy.” I mean, unless everyone I know, including the man I dated for almost five years, is in on come big con and I am not. Which is just crazy talk. (See also: You Say "Arrogant," I Say "Right" - The Trouble With Debating the Masses.)
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Eva is a content specialist with a passion for play, travel... and a little bit of girl power. Read more >
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