The positive and negative implications of agricultural biotechnology

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Nature has been at the center of a variety of studies with the objective of identifying aspects of modification of natural resources to meet the needs of a growing population efficiently. These studies have advanced the fields of engineering, medicine, and agriculture by introducing new methods and practices for optimal utilization of available physical reserves. The science of biotechnology in agriculture is one of the current issues focusing on increasing agricultural yields and quality of produce by using the existing living organisms to develop species that exhibit the desired traits. Agricultural biotechnology has been associated with various benefits and disadvantages to humans as well as the environment, thus necessitating for a comprehensive review of the issue before embracing its use.

Traditionally, farmers have practiced agricultural biotechnology centuries before the adoption of modern methods of farming. Farmers could interbreed plants and animals to manipulate their genetic properties and achieve the desired traits. Recent developments in plant breeding techniques have resulted in increased yields, herbicide resistance, pest resistance, and drought resistance, among other scopes of biotechnology (Thorpe, 2012). The technological evolution has also advanced the field of agriculture leading to the production of more food products ever since 1990. However, adoption of biotechnology in agriculture has been connected to several advantages and disadvantages to the environment and human beings as well.

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Advantages

The use of biotechnology in agriculture has promoted the nutritional value of some plant species by increasing the mineral content of products. Apart from enabling crops to thrive well under harsh climatic conditions, technology has also helped increase their nutritional value for human consumption. For example, biotechnology has been applied in the growing of golden rice by genetically modifying the plant to produce one that is rich in vitamin A (Smyth, Phillips, & Castle, 2014). Researchers discovered that the genes that generate vitamin A in this rice species are usually turned off as the plant grows, and thus, they had to alter the growth process to enable the formation of vitamin A in rice. Therefore, biotechnology could be an efficient method of solving malnutrition, especially on children and nation’s hunger during droughts.

Biotechnology in agriculture can also promote environmental sustainability through proper farming practices that do not negatively affect the surroundings. One of the aspects of this technology advocate for conservative tillage that allows planting of seeds without plowing the fields. Agricultural experts contend that continued tillage of land disrupts the soil ecosystem by disturbing the organisms living in the soil. According to Smyth, Phillips, and Castle (2014), conservation tillage also reduces the amount of carbon dioxide released into the air. The increased level of carbon dioxide in the air is associated with global warming as well as increased temperatures on the lower layers of the atmosphere. Therefore, biotechnology in agriculture can be used to mitigate the problems related to environmental pollution through carbon dioxide released from cars and industries as well.

Disadvantages

The science of biotechnology in agriculture has also been associated with various objections to the welfare of the environment and human beings. For example, this technology can lead to loss of biodiversity. Farmers may prefer growing genetically modified crops to local varieties due to lower input and high growth rate of the new species. Consequently, they may abandon the local species resulting in their marginalization or eventual extinction. As such, this trend could lead to loss of biodiversity in the environment, thus undermining the health of the natural ecosystem (Menrad, Agrafiotis, Enzing, Lemkow, & Terragni, 2013). Moreover, loss of biodiversity might risk food security in the event of climatic changes or diseases hindering the proper growth of new species.

The emergence of resistant weeds is also a problem associated with biotechnology in agriculture. Genetically modified crops may contain genes that are resistant to plants meant to promote their health by reducing nutrient competition from the soil. Caseley, Cussans, and Atkin (2013) noted that these genes might be transferred from the crops to the weeds subsequently making them resistant. As a result, they might become resistant to herbicides thereby challenging the productivity of such plants. Notably, this problem has been experienced by many farmers, especially in the developing countries since weeds grow more resistant to pesticides and adopting the traits of modified crops such as drought resistance. Agricultural produce can also reduce significantly due to nutrient and water competition from the soil.

Significance of Agricultural Biotechnology

Despite all the available evidence about biotechnology and its implications for the environment, it is still challenging to make a firm decision regarding its adoption. However, the use of technology and new methods in agriculture is a significant topic that needs further evaluation in an attempt to meet the food needs of the growing population and manage the effects of unprecedented climatic changes. By doing so, biotechnology initiatives would help alleviate the issue of hunger and malnutrition across the globe through sustainable farming practices that do not threaten the natural world.

All in all, biotechnology in agriculture has been widely used ever since the ancient times of the agricultural revolution to the current advanced farming methods and practices. Furthermore, genetically modified crops indicate the level of technology development in agriculture meant to increase agricultural productivity by introducing plants that are resistant to drought, grow fast, and yield more than common crop species. As such, the pros and cons associated with this technology form a foundation for evaluating its viability by minimizing the negative implications on the health of humans and the environment. Based on these aspects, it is clear that agricultural biotechnology is a sustainable initiative that would promote increased food production that can help fight against hunger and malnutrition during droughts. For example, the introduction of rice that contains vitamin A presents a reliable evidence that can be a long-term solution to hunger, good health, and poses fewer threats to the environment. New plant species such as maize that grow faster also improve food security by allowing multiple plantations and harvesting within the same season, unlike the traditional crops that take considerably more extended periods before maturity. Therefore, governments, agricultural organizations, as well as other stakeholders in the field of agriculture should critically analyze the viability of biotechnology to improve the productivity of farmers.

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  1. Caseley, J. C., Cussans, G. W., & Atkin, R. K. (2013). Herbicide resistance in weeds and crops. Britain: Butterworth-Heinemann.
  2. Menrad, K., Agrafiotis, D., Enzing, C. M., Lemkow, L., & Terragni, F. (2013). Future impacts of biotechnology on agriculture, food production and food processing: A Delphi survey (Vol. 10). Berlin: Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.
  3. Smyth, S. J., Phillips, P. W., & Castle, D. (2014). Handbook on agriculture, biotechnology, and development. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing.
  4. Thorpe, T. A. (2012). In vitro embryogenesis in plants (Vol. 20). Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
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