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Cropping Hunger&Climate

Sometime in the next decade, farmers in poor communities could get a competitive advantage in plying their trade. A Davis, California-based biotech called Arcadia Biosciences is looking to arm crop producers everywhere from the United States, Europe, Africa, India, and China with commercial seeds that they’ve reinvented to flourish in otherwise inhospitable environments. Think salt tolerant plants that improve crop yields in drought-prone conditions.

Founded in 2002, Arcadia’s goal is to develop advanced new varieties of crops that will benefit not only human health but also the environment. In perhaps its biggest success to date, according to an Arcadia spokesperson, scientists at the company transferred a particular gene found in barley into other plants to make them twice as efficient at absorbing nitrogen. Using these genetically modified crops would allow farmers to grow twice as much food for the same financial investment—and without increasing the burden on the environment. “That’s a big deal to farmers,” says Eric Rey, Arcadia’s president and CEO. “That provides the economic incentive to do something that ends up resulting in a huge environmental benefit.”

What environmental benefit? Nitrogen fertilizer is the gasoline of the agriculture industry: The nitrous oxide that fertilized soil emits is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Reducing by half the amount of nitrogen fertilizer required by the world’s six most common crops—wheat, rice, corn, oilseeds, barley, cotton—would be the equivalent to pulling every automobile in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany off the road. So, Arcadia Biosciences could reduce environmental damage—and keep people fed—by redesigning crops instead of cars. “Agriculture,” says Rey, “gets overlooked quite a bit as a place where changes can happen.”

Source of information

its "Rice Today" publication.

Genetic modification may be the only viable way to produce sufficient quantities of rice in the future as drought, climate change and dwindling acreage impact yields, experts said in a new report.
Rice is the staple food of around three billion people and the main challenge facing producers is how to raise yields of the water-dependent crop as 70 percent of the world's food-growing areas turn increasingly parched, said the International Rice Research Institute in its latest quarterly magazine.
Biotechnology, the process of modifying the genes of an organism to produce new products, is becoming an increasingly important tool for the Philippines-based institute as it tackles the impact of climate change, IRRI said in its "Rice Today" publication.
The institute, based in the university town of Los Banos south of Manila, developed many of the high-yielding varieties of rice during the so-called Green Revolution of agricultural breakthroughs in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Former IRRI director-general Nyle Brady said the institute must use biotechnology to "develop rice lines that efficiently utilise plant nutrients, that tolerate adverse conditions such as drought, and that are resistant to insects and diseases" to reduce the need for pesticides.
Brady said he recognised "the political reasons why this is difficult because some countries don't want biotechnology to be used for this purpose.
"But the developing countries need the improved crops much more than we do in the United States," Brady added.
Gurdev Khush, a University of California professor who was a former senior IRRI scientist, agrees "the environment for accepting genetically modified crops is not as good as it should be."
The institute estimates between 15-20 million hectares (about 37-49 million acres) of irrigated rice would be hit by "some degree of water scarcity" by 2025.
Areas growing genetically modified crops rose 9.4 percent from a year earlier to more than 120 million hectares across 25 countries last year, it said.

Source of information