Week 7

This week, we continued our discussion about the BioBusiness Revolution, on agriculture and environment.

We began our lesson with a quote by Prof Shahi,

“When we are able to grow the resources we need, we will finally be on the road to sustainability.”

Agriculture-based biobusiness tend to be low-value added,  and the application of new tools and agribiotechnology is expected to see sustainable growth in response to food insecurity problems. A growing and increasingly urbanized population, on top of limited and shrinking land and resources proves to be a double whammy to the issue of food insecurity. As mentioned during the lesson, the world population is expected to reach a plateau of 9.1 billion by year 2050, a huge challenge that the human race will face is how we can feed every single person. Given the rising demand for food, it is thus expected that biobusiness will expand further, from 25% to 60-70% of our economy. It is also necessary, for both developed AND developing countries to play a significant role in biotechnology.

It is of greater importance, that we tackle ways to increase food production AND food distribution. Food scarcity is far more prevalent in developing countries, where demand largely outweighs supply. In order to alleviate the problem of food insecurity, we have to nip the problem in the bud. That is, to ensure that food supply gets properly distributed to the people who need them most, by adopting policies to enhance access to food especially in rural areas, to fight poverty.

It is evident that there is a disproportionate distribution of food supply in the world, which contributes to the vicious cycle of poverty, where the rich gets richer and the poor gets poorer. Even with adequate food supplies and resources, hunger may still prevail in the absence of effective safety social nets and the lack of income opportunities for the poor. It is not impossible to eradicate world hunger, we DO have the resources and technology to do so. The main challenge is HOW we are going to implement the relevant policies, and the choice of policies. For example, on the topic of biofuel production to ensure sustainable development, such as the use of corn for bioethanol. Biofuel production raises the competition for food supplies between food for consumption and fuel for scarce resources. When demand for food crops increase and supply falls, this leads to a price spike which further worsens the problem of poverty and food scarcity between the developed and developing countries.

In response to food insecurity, some measures have been implemented to boost agriculture production and reduce poverty levels. One would be the genetic modification of crops (GM food), which Edison gave a pretty good presentation on, and breakthroughs in biotech crops, which Alvin presented on. My take on transgenic food is that it is definitely a possible solution to the global food crisis, however much effort is needed to spread the relevant technology especially in developing countries, to prevent inequitable distribution of food. In addition, it is of equal significance, to spread the knowledge that GM food is acceptable, so that people will be more receptive of the idea of transgenic food. Alvin’s presentation on the breakthrough in wheat genomes also highlights a further development in food production, to derive higher crop yield while minimizing our environmental footprint.

One interesting comment that Prof mentioned in class with regards to the methods to end world hunger, is the spread of vegetarianism. The figures are rather daunting- 60% of the wheat produced in US is used for feeding live crops, coupled with the competition between crops used for biofuel production and food consumption, that means that if the world were to turn completely vegetarian, much of the 60% can be used for food consumption itself! However, as we all know, this is highly unrealistic and the next best option would be to target a better distribution of food supply throughout the world population.

Achieving this, however, will not be an easy feat and it requires good governance, political stability and strong economic growth. According to Reading 7, ‘How to Feed the world in 2050′, a considerable number of developing countries have in fact been successful in improving food security thus far, hence it should be possible to meet the future food demand for the projected population even in 40 years’ time.

I would rate this lesson 8/10, as it was very engaging and the presentations were in general pretty good and informative.

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