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How biotechnology can help in combating hunger

by Spiros Tzelepis

Some examples that highlight the positive role of this many-times-doubted science

"When science and the best of science are devoted to the problems of those who have less in life, that is equity and ethics at its best. For the millions of Asians for whom rice is life, science best serves its human purpose" Gelia Castillo (University of Philippines)

Very often biotechnology and genetics are the object of negative criticism as interference in nature, a kind of lack of respect towards its rules for some people.

Despite this truth, there are cases where genetics can provide miracles for those who face extreme poverty; for those who can afford only two meals of rice each day and typically there is not enough to go around. Some days they eat only one meal.

As food in Asia means rice, the challenge for the scientists is to conduct research that will help Asia grow more rice on limited land. Success could mean a more abundant food supply achieved in an environmentally benign and sustainable way for some of the world's poorest farmers. Drought, infertile soil and uncontrolled flooding are some of the greatest problems to be overcome. New rice varieties and croping systems must be adapted to the highly varied environmental conditions.

A scientist discuss a crop with his counterpart in Zanzibar (Photo from the "Water, a looming crisis" publication of International Rice Research Institute

Whenever biotechnology can help, the result is decline in rural poverty and we have many examples to support this.

All the above are some examples of how science can serve people's needs. The problem is not biotechnology itself, but if people aim at serving their human fellows or their own interests with this knowledge. The world does not want to have scientists who only do research, but scientists who have conscience of their roles in society.

The information was provided by the International Rice Research Institute .
Rice:Hunger or Hope? IRRI 1998-1999
Water: A looming crisis IRRI 1994-1995.
I would like to thank Dr. Datta Swapan, plant biotechnologist (Plant Breeding, Genetics and Biochemistry Division, IRRI, Philippiness) who immediately responded to my request for information.

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