More Crop for the Drop

The UN has called drought the “world’s costliest natural disaster," with annual costs estimated at $6-8 billion. But a proven technology could go a long way toward reducing the impact of drought: genetic engineering.

Editors’ Note: August 4, 2017
Legitimate objections have been raised about the independence and integrity of the commentaries that Henry Miller has written for Project Syndicate and other outlets, in particular that Monsanto, rather than Miller, drafted some of them. Readers should be aware of this potential conflict of interest, which, had it been known at the time Miller’s commentaries were accepted, would have constituted grounds for rejecting them. 

STANFORD – The United Nations has called drought the “world’s costliest natural disaster,” both financially, imposing an annual cost of $6-8 billion, and in human terms; since 1900, it has affected two billion people, leading to more than 11 million deaths. That is because so much of the world is vulnerable; currently affected areas include Australia, Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, North and South America, and the Middle East.

Given that agriculture accounts for 70% of water consumption, on average, worldwide, it seems logical that this sector should be the focus of conservation measures. And, in fact, a proven technology exists that could go a long way toward reducing the impact of drought: genetic engineering (GE).

Sometimes called “genetic modification,” GE enables plant breeders to make existing crop plants do new things – such as conserve water. Even with research and development hampered by resistance from activists and excessive government regulation, drought-resistant GE crop varieties are emerging from the development pipeline in many parts of the world.

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