‘Super banana’ shows tech’s value to ag

This column was recently published in the December edition of Kansas Agland, a quarterly publication of The Hutchinson News. You can read Kansas Agland in its entirety at: http://issuu.com/hutchinson_publishing_company/docs/kansas_ag_land_december_2014/0

Most of us have the luxury of spending this holiday season celebrating with food, feasts and family meals. Technology and a rapidly advancing agriculture industry have allowed farmers to provide a safe, affordable food supply that provides for our country and millions outside our borders. But it is the same technology that has caused some consumers to begin questioning the safety and long-term effects of genetically modified crops (GMO). We have all read about individuals and organizations, including the United Nations, who truly believe that the solution lies in separating technology and food production.

While that would appease the GMO opponents, what many naysayers don’t realize is technology has allowed farmers to not only feed the world but simultaneously deliver nutrient-enhanced crops that are key to childhood development and combatting curable diseases in many third-world countries. Starting in the 1960s, scientists began using technology to boost the nutritional value of commonly consumed foods. Golden Rice was developed by researchers and delivers up to 23 percent more Vitamin A when compared to white rice commonly grown in Southeast Asia. (A lack of Vitamin A dampens a child’s immune system leaving susceptible to a multitude of common ailments, including blindness.) That discovery, dubbed the Green Revolution, proved to be only the first of several technological advancements that have improved basic food staples and helped subsistence farmers feed growing populations.

The work continues and today scientists are preparing to test Vitamin-A-enhanced bananas that, if successful, will be grown by farmers in Uganda and be a primary tool in reducing infant deaths and blindness.

Time Magazine recently included this discovery as one of its 25 Best Inventions of 2014. “These bananas could potentially solve a major health problem,” (James) Dale, an Australian biogeneticist told Time. While some Americans question this newest use of technology in agriculture, mothers across sub-Sahara Africa will look to these simple bananas as a life-saving solution for their babies and children.

Technology isn’t just being used to enhance products, researchers at Kansas State University are participating in the federal Feed the Future initiative, which aims to remove the hurdles to common production issues in third-world countries. Technology is the driver of the solutions but sometimes the research leads to low-tech outcomes, like using insects to do work that chemicals or machines might have done.

The marriage of technology and agriculture has done more than create GMO crops, it has delivered life-saving products and solutions that feed and nourish millions across the globe. If the agriculture industry looses the ability to insert technology into the equation, the result will be a world with more sick, hungry and malnourish people. When consumers and organizations advocate for the end of technology in food production they are essentially removing a valuable tool for saving lives and filling plates this holiday season.


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