The use of selective breeding in agriculture is perhaps the very first use of biotechnology one knows. From merely picking the most productive of seeds, it has undergone a radical transformation to include traits like pest resistance, herbicide resistance, and drought resistance. However, applications of biotechnology in agriculture also need to be viewed with caution due to many concerns regarding tampering with the order of nature. Some advantages and disadvantages discussed:
The Advantages of Biotechnology in Agriculture
More food grain production: The focus of biotechnology agriculture has been primarily towards increasing crop yields; enabling crops to grow on lands previously deemed unfit, increasing crop nutritional value, and resistance to disease and pests. In a world that still sees hunger and malnutrition, biotechnology has enabled more productivity, less dependence on water, and an increase in nutritional value in most of the food crops; rice being a prime example.
Less impact on the environment: Biotechnology finds enthusiastic and vocal supporters even on research collaboration platforms who believe that it can introduce farming practices that are truly sustainable and lessen the impact of agriculture on the environment. For example, conservation tillage is a form of agriculture that makes it possible for seeds to be planted without the soil being tilled; according to scientists, this practice does not disturb the organisms present in the soil and results in reducing CO2 production equivalent to the emission of 9.4 million cars.
Waste reduction: Tragically, much of the world’s food production gets wasted because the food becomes unfit for consumption by the time it is transported from the fields to the dining table. Applications of biotechnology can be done to ensure that the ripening process or the deterioration of the nutritional value is reduced so that the food remains fresher for a longer period of time and reduces wastage.
The Disadvantages of Biotechnology in Agriculture
Genetic manipulation is against nature: There are many people who view agricultural biotechnology as going against the way nature intended things to be. While selective breeding and non-invasive genetic modification for enhanced productivity and disease resistance have been practiced for centuries, there is a great degree of opposition to advanced techniques like gene modification because it is still not established what impact it will have both on consumers as well as the environment in the long-term.
The decrease in biodiversity: There is a concern that biotechnology applied indiscriminately to agriculture could lead to biodiversity being severely impacted. For example, only the most productive of food crop varieties would be cultivated and the rest would die out. When this happens on a large scale, the ecosystem becomes more fragile and in the long-term can end up putting our food security at risk.
Given the need to eradicate hunger for millions and the necessity of keeping the forces of nature in balance, it can be difficult to take a firm stance on whether biotechnology in agriculture should be supported. The need of the hour certainly is more research and making changes that are less drastic to enable a more long-term perspective to emerge.