Increase world food production by learning from data
Plant breeding is not new at all. Since people started to cultivate their own crops, around 10 thousand years ago, they also started to select the seeds of the plants that fits their needs the best. This selection was the first kind of breeding. In the late 19th century, Gregor Mendel started to learn more about the breeding principles by doing all kinds of experiments. That is what led to his law of inheritance, what still is the basis of genetics. From that moment on, yield of crops increased significantly. According to the Statistics Netherlands (CBS) for example, the average production of vegetables grown in greenhouses increased with 36% between 2000 and 2017. Great.
But we are not there yet. The highest yields are obtained in developed countries, while the yields in developing countries are way lower. And especially these countries have the highest urgency to improve production. Or as Bill Gates stated in an essay: ‘Africa remains a net importer of food. This gap between supply and demand will only grow as the number of mouths to feed increases. Africa’s population is expected to more than double by 2050, reaching 2.5 billion, and its food production will need to match that growth to feed everyone on the continent.’
That requires innovations in breeding technologies. One of these nowadays targeted gene editing technologies is CRISPR. Such innovations could help humanity to make a big step towards closing the gaps as explained before. In that way, gene editing to make crops more abundant and resilient could be a lifesaver on a massive scale, especially as the world gets better at using data to help guide the allocation of resources. Together, we must take the responsibility of feeding all people on this planet.
Bill Gates closes his essay with the following: ‘Finally, it’s important to recognize the costs and risks of failing to explore the use of new tools such as CRISPR for global health and development. The benefits of emerging technologies should not be reserved only for people in developed countries. Nor should decisions about whether to take advantage of them. Used responsibly, gene editing holds the potential to save millions of lives and empower millions of people to lift themselves out of poverty. It would be a tragedy to pass up the opportunity.’
We keep working every single day to improve the effectiveness of the use of available plant breeding data for our customers. In that way, they can keep developing new varieties that can contribute to the challenge of feeding our world.
Some parts of this text have been used from the essay: Gene Editing for Good by Bill Gates.