GMOs and Agricultural Viability

Interesting article in Science Magazine on the effect of deploying genetically modified oil palm varieties. On the one hand, the higher yields produced should allow for more production on less land, which would reduce pressure on tropical forests. On the other hand, it may make land which is currently marginal for oil palm production economically viable, increasing pressure on forests.

Did anyone anticipate this? Here’s Dan Janzen in Science Magazine, 1987:.

Tropical wildlands and most of the earth’s contemporary species still exist because humanity has not had organisms capable of converting all tropical land surfaces to profitable agriculture and animal husbandry. Within one to three decades, organisms modified through genetic engineering will be capable of making agriculture or animal husbandry, or both, profitable on virtually any tropical land surface. Agricultural inviability, the single greatest tropical conservation force, will be gone.

Both papers are worth reading in full. The palm oil paper contains a discussion of the global market dynamics for oil crops that complicates the picture even further.

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2 Responses to GMOs and Agricultural Viability

  1. “… more production on less land …” This is actually the high hopes of every inventor and innovator. But as Jevons has shown “centuries ago”, the creation of a “thriftier” solution inevitably leads to over-compensating higher consumption, not savings. Thus with every step in creating better insulated houses and progress in building technology achieving lower cost, houses became bigger and now use more heating and electricity than before. Fuel-optimized cars now drive longer stretches and use more oil in total. And modernized crops will be an incentive to use them on MORE not less land as they now promise greater gain from a given acreage. This research should not be done by biochemists and geneticists alone …

  2. jeffklemens says:

    Great comment, thanks! For others who aren’t familiar with Jevon’s paradox here’s a highly readable introduction.

    http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2010/12/20/the-efficiency-dilemma