Mike Stebbins

Tackling Global Water Issues

World Water Day, observed on March 22, focuses attention on tackling global water issues, whether it’s access to drinking water, drought, or rising sea levels. In honor of World Water Day, we want to raise awareness of the various ways that GMOs can help us do more with less.

Water is one of the most important factors in producing food, fuel and fiber, and preserving water is critical to agriculture’s sustainability. With changing weather patterns and an increased number of widespread droughts —access to water continues to be a challenge and priority for communities around the world. According to the United Nations, by 2025 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world population could be under water stress conditions, which means there is not enough water for all uses, whether agricultural, industrial or domestic.

And as we face a host of major environmental challenges, finding solutions that improve sustainability are essential – and GMOs have proven to be part of the solution in the fight against climate change, and in particular, water issues. Advancements in biotechnology such as drought-tolerant, genetically modified (GM) crops are one solution to helping farmers use less water and reduce irrigation needs.

For farmers, the effects of climate change can be simply put: the weather has become far more unpredictable, and extreme weather has become far more common. Climate change has a profound effect on global water issues, bringing higher temperatures and, in many regions, wetter conditions that spread infestations of disease and insects into new areas. Conversely, drought, damaging storms, and extreme heat are already taking a toll on crop yields, and the frequency of these events is expected to increase sharply as the world’s average temperatures continues to climb higher.

Mike Stebbins
Mike Stebbins
Mike Stebbins,
Director of External Engagement for the Council for Biotechnology Information (CBI)

Recent NASA research shows that the effects of climate change are already occurring and that these changes, as well as global warming, are predicted to increase the frequency and severity of droughts, heat waves, flooding, hurricanes and other weather events which will in turn have an enormous negative impact on our food supplies and human populations.

GMOs can mitigate the impact of drought on crops while also providing, cleaner waterways. Studies have shown that drought tolerant GM corn reduces transpiration by 17.5% under stress conditions, and allows for better moisture retention to endure drought conditions without additional irrigation. And 6,400 bodies of water that are affected by soil erosion can benefit from adopting no-till agriculture with help of herbicide tolerant crops and similar technologies.

GM crops can protect our food supply by making plant species more tolerant to changing weather conditions, more tolerant of drought, less susceptible to pests, and easier to manage weeds growing around them.

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GMO Answers’ “Water Preservation” infographic illustrates how GMOs allow farmers to do more with less to conserve water and grow more drought tolerant plants.
GMO Answers’ “Water Preservation” infographic illustrates how GMOs allow farmers to do more with less to conserve water and grow more drought tolerant plants.
GMO Answers’ “Water Preservation” infographic illustrates how GMOs allow farmers to do more with less to conserve water and grow more drought tolerant plants.

With the global population expected to reach more than nine billion by 2050, the need for solutions to food and water issues will only increase. Thanks to the Green Revolution, food production has dramatically increased over the past 50 years. However, in some areas of the globe, such as parts of Africa, agricultural food production has not risen as dramatically as other parts of the world. To help close this “productivity gap,” the public-private partnership Water Efficient Maize for Africa is developing GM drought tolerant and insect resistant maize for smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Arica.

Farmers, no matter where they are located, all face the balancing act of feeding the hungry and caring for the land. The efficient and thoughtful use of water is critical to our farmers’ ability to deliver on their two-pronged missions, and the effectiveness of GM crops has earned an important place in farming toolboxes.

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