To use or not to use… The Biotech opportunity every farmer should have


These seeds can be planted by very large, expensive and complicated planting equipment, or they can be planted by hand, the same way they have been planted for thousands of years. The method of planting may be different, but the results are the same. That’s why exporting agricultural biotechnology to the developing world makes so much sense.

Consider all the advantages the modern American farmer has at his disposal. State-of-the-art equipment, computers and information systems, and even precision tools that communicate with satellites. In addition, there’s a whole infrastructure supporting what we do. If my tractor breaks down, the mechanic comes to my field to fix it. If I have a question about how best to grow my crops, the answer is often only a cell phone call away.

Subsistence farmers in the developing world don’t have these capabilities, and they can’t be provided overnight. When they do arrive, perhaps we won’t refer to countries in Africa and elsewhere as being part of the “developing world” anymore. By catching up with the rest of us, they finally will have “developed.” This will take time, of course. It may even take generations.

Then there are the seeds–and a way for farmers in the developing world to catch up with us right now, at least in one area. Biotech seeds are a cutting-edge agricultural technology. They boost yield. They’re good for the environment. Scientific test after test says they’re completely safe. They’re tiny miracles that can bring great returns to those who use them.

And best of all, they’re portable. That means we can pack them in bags and ship them to faraway places. With a small amount of training, farmers just about anywhere can plant them, grow them, and harvest them–and thereby reap every benefit biotechnology has to offer. The same benefits I harvest on my farm in central Illinois.

The same isn’t true of other modern agricultural technologies. We can’t send computers to farmers in small villages in rural Uganda and expect them to use them to grow better crops. It would be an expensive exercise in futility.

What we can do, however, is give them seeds. A new organization called the African Agricultural Technology Foundation has committed itself to this vital goal.

Yet the foundation’s efforts have met with some resistance, because there are pockets of opinion in Africa that have been influenced by anti-biotech activists in Europe. These enemies of biotechnology want to keep a fantastic innovation away from farmers who could really gain from using it.

That’s a paternalistic attitude. African farmers should have a choice to use biotechnology or not – just as I have a choice here in the United States.

Some farmers will choose not to embrace biotechnology. They should be free to do this.

Others, however, will believe the biotechnology makes sense for them. They’ll want to produce as much food as possible, especially when so many of their neighbors are facing famine.

They may also want to quit using crop-protection methods that require back-breaking labor, are expensive and sometimes just don’t work very well. Biotech seeds often reduce or eliminate the need to use crop protecting pesticides.

I still use pesticides on my farm but, I rely upon proper training and excellent equipment to keep me safe–things like sealed cabs on tractors, and protective gear such as respirators, goggles, and rubber gloves. Farmers in the developing world lack many of these tools.

The bottom line is that these farmers have much to gain from biotechnology and they’re in a position to make these gains right now. All they need is the freedom to plant the seeds.

John Reifsteck

John Reifsteck

John Reifsteck operates a corn and soybean farm in western Champaign County, Illinois. He served on the Global Farmer Network Board of Directors, and is a former Chair. John currently serves as Chairman and President of the GROWMARK Board of Directors-a farm supply and marketing cooperative that operates principally in Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin and Ontario.

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