Supporters of genetic modification argue that the technology can produce crops with all sorts of wonderful traits: tolerance to drought, cold, salinity and flooding; resistance to insect pests; extra nutritional value; and, above all, higher yields. But conventional breeding techniques are quietly outperforming genetic modification. The Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa Project (IMAS) has developed through selective breeding over one hundred fifty new varieties of maize (corn). In field trials, these have performed at least as well as existing commercial seeds when rainfall is adequate and yielded up to 30 percent more during drought. The researchers who bred the new varieties were able to draw on collections in a large seed bank run by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Mexico City. And IMAS has developed twenty-one conventionally bred varieties, which have yielded up to one ton per hectare more in nitrogen-poor soils than existing commerical varieties. The organization is working to develop genetically modified varieties also, but say these are at least ten years from success (Nature 513, 292 September 18, 2014).
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Winter 2014