Today there are over six billion people in the world. In the country of India alone, there are over one billion people. Projections are that by the year 2050, world population could approach 10 billion people. If these projections are close to correct, there is a lot of uncertainty about how the earth will support all of these people. One thing is absolutely certain; all these people will have to be fed. Even today, hundreds of millions of people in lesser-developed countries do not have an adequate supply of food. Many of these countries do not even have enough calorie intake to sustain their body weight and carry out light activities. Most of the increase in the world’s population will come from the lesser developed countries.
In the past, a large part of the population of lesser-developed countries lived in rural areas where they could produce at least a part of their food. The major portion of the projected population growth is expected to take place in the major cities of these country where there is no opportunity for people to grow a portion of their own food supply. This means that food will have to be produced and shipped into the cities at a much greater rate than ever before.
Much of the increase in productivity began in the 1970s with what was termed the Green Revolution. During this time, developments in conventional crop breeding, new pesticides, and management techniques started a dramatic increase in the amount of food produced each year. The greatest increase came about in rice and wheat, which are two of the world’s leading food staples.
Since about the mid-1990s statistics have shown that the yearly rate of increase for these crops is decreasing. Also there is evidence that productivity increase in other areas have slowed. For example, one of the stable food crops in many developing countries is a tropical root known as cassava. Since 1970, the amount of land devoted to the production of cassava has increased about 43 percent while the amount of production increased by only 20 percent during that time. This is an indication that poorer quality land is being put into production. This has tremendous implications not only for feeding people but for the impact on the environment. Biotechnology holds an enormous potential for feeding the world’s population.
The technology exist to enable us to engineer plants and animals to produce more efficiently. Better growth, higher yields, and shorter generations can be achieved by changing the genetic makeup of organisms to give them more highly desired characteristic. In addition genetic engineering can produce plants and animals that can be used for food that is much more nutritious than that grown using conventional breeding.
One of the real advantages of biotechnology is that producers can use the technology without having to invest in additional machinery, equipment, land, or other capital outlay. Producers rely on genetic improvement of the plants or animals they produce to increase production and lower cost, the disadvantages of which is the high cost of research and development that went into producing the new organism. However, once this initial start-up cost is paid, the new technology is usually quite a bit less expensive.