National Geographic : 2014 Oct
#futureoffood 43 Monsanto have been profitable for the com- pany and many farmers, but have not helped sell the cause of high-tech agriculture to the public. Monsanto’s Roundup Ready crops are genetically modified to be immune to the her- bicide Roundup, which Monsanto also man- ufactures. That means farmers can spray the herbicide freely to eliminate weeds without damaging their GM corn, cotton, or soybeans. Their contract with Monsanto does not allow them to save seeds for planting; they must pur- chase its patented seeds each year. Though there’s no clear evidence that Round- up or Roundup Ready crops are unsafe, propo- nents of an alternative vision of agriculture see those expensive GM seeds as a costly input to a broken system. Modern agriculture, they say, already relies too heavily on synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Not only are they unaffordable for a small farmer like Juma; they pollute land, water, and air. Synthetic fertilizers are manu- factured using fossil fuels, and they themselves emit potent greenhouse gases when they’re ap- plied to fields. “ The choice is clear,” says Hans Herren, an- other World Food Prize laureate and the direc- tor of Biovision, a Swiss nonprofit. “We need a farming system that is much more mindful of the landscape and ecological resources. We need to change the paradigm of the green revolution. Heavy-input agriculture has no future—we need something different.” There are ways to deter pests and increase yields, he thinks, that are more suitable for the Jumas of this world. Monsanto is not the only organization that believes modern plant genetics can help feed the world. Late on a warm February afternoon The cassava plants in this petri dish have been genetically engineered to resist brown streak virus, a disease that’s spreading across sub-Saharan Africa, where cassava is a staple for 250 million people. Field tests began last spring in Uganda. Only four African countries allow the planting of genetically modified crops.