Brazil approved a new sugarcane genetically engineered to resist the most devastating plague in the country. The major sugar exporter is the first to approve commercial use of genetically modified (GM) sugarcane. The developer CTC created the cane with the commonly-used gene Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis). This allows the sugarcane to resist the insect Diatraea saccharides, which causes an annual loss of $1.52 billion to sugar producers.

Since most agriculture-based countries are in the developing world, insect-resistant crops such as Brazil’s new sugarcane can be especially helpful to poor farmers. Brazil will be the first to start utilizing the new sugarcane, but many other genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are already at work throughout developing nations.

While they remain a controversial topic in the U.S., GMOs like Brazil’s new sugarcane help feed the world’s poor.

Scientists, like the developers at CTC, possess the ability to engineer crops that solve manifold problems in developing countries. One example is Bangladesh’s Bt Eggplant, which resists a fruit and shoots borer pest. The eggplant’s genetic resistance decreases pesticide use and required labor while increasing crop yield, crop size and farmer profits.

Bangladeshi farmer Md. Milon Mia reported that pests used to ruin up to 40 percent of his crop yield before using Bt Eggplant. The GM eggplant now helps Bangladesh’s largely rural population, as the country climbs out of its position as one of the poorest in the world.

In a “Letter to the Editor” of The New York Times, a farmer from a village in India details his similar experience with GMOs. Like the farmers in Brazil and Bangladesh, Sudhindra Kulkarni uses a GMO designed to resist pests. With this GM cotton, his yields have increased four times, his crops have been healthier and his farm has been more sustainable.

Before the transgenic crop, bollworm pests were so damaging that he thought he “would barely scrape by.” But now, GM cotton has “transformed” the lives of his family. The impoverished Indian population has been cut in half in the past two decades, and developments such as GM farming are key to this progress.

Two billion people across the globe face food insecurity. 896 million people live on less than $2 a day. But GMOs like Brazil’s new sugarcane can improve this situation through the creation of more resilient crops.

With modern technologies, scientists can engineer crops that require less labor, cost less to produce and yield more product. With continued support for these lifesaving inventions, biologists can continue to develop solutions for the developing world.

Bret Serbin

Photo: Flickr

Reunion, an Indian Ocean island and overseas department of France, is a small and ethnically diverse nation.  However, Reunion’s dominant sugarcane industry results in poorly-distributed prosperity. As a result, poverty in Reunion affects its 840,000 inhabitants disproportionately.

While striking volcanic activity and frequent shark attacks lend the island fame, everyday activity in the country depends on agricultural exports and tourism.

When assessing poverty in Reunion, social gaps between economic groups and higher poverty among minorities are prevalent issues.

The resulting social tensions have manifested through riots and other demonstrations in recent decades, particularly the 1990’s.

However, groups like All Together in Dignity Fourth World have made progress. Aid organizations create youth groups, cultural activities and human rights support. Consequently, they help bridge the gap between economic and social incorporation for impoverished groups.

6 Things to Know About Poverty in Reunion

  1. Much of the population lives near or below poverty line. While conclusive data remains difficult to locate for the small country, by some estimates, nearly 50 percent of the country’s population lives below the poverty line. Minority groups face particular disadvantages. Young people are also more likely to face poverty due to the growing number of 15-25 year olds competing for scarce employment.
  2. 60 percent of the population receives welfare benefits. For many inhabitants of the island, state welfare benefits remain crucial to their wellbeing. High unemployment rates force over half of the population to utilize these programs.
  3. Low employment rates are a cause of concern for the young population. Due to high birth rates and low death rates, Reunion is home to a large young population. Unemployment is therefore a large issue: in 2013, the overall unemployment rate was 29.6 percent. As a result, the government has worked with other organizations to establish programs that will integrate individuals into the workforce. These programs can include assisted contracts and other specific measures. This is especially important because 26 percent of Reunion’s population is under the age of 15 and will soon enter the workforce.
  4. Education is affected by drop-out rates and brain drain. Reunion’s education problems only contribute to the unemployment and poverty issues. After the age of 16, school is no longer mandatory for Reunion’s students. Only 84 percent of students remain in school past this point: a rate much lower than France’s 93 percent. As of 2009, 15 percent of 16-35 year old inhabitants in Reunion were illiterate. Brain drain also affects the education level of the country’s workforce. It is not uncommon for 35-40 percent of island-born residents with tertiary education to move to mainland France.
  5. Tensions often amount to riots. In 2012, a four-day series of riots spread through half of Reunion, sparked by discontent with the cost of living and lack of affordable petrol. These demonstrations are not uncommon on the island. A combination of social and economic unrest has led to rioting several times before, most notably 1991 and 2009.
  6. Wage gaps perpetuate inequality. The disparity between wages felt by various classes causes much of the social tension and rioting. Minimum-wage workers in Reunion make 10 percent less than those in mainland France. Caucasian and Indian residents tend to be notably wealthier than residents of African descent. In addition, French immigrants typically hold the high-ranking administrative positions. Closer assessment of socioeconomic trends in Reunion reveals inequality stemming from a variety of causes.

Understanding the role of ethnicity, education background and wage division provides a platform for assessing poverty in Reunion. With increased awareness of these factors and foundational support for ameliorating inequality, the potential for progress will only grow.

Charlotte Bellomy

Photo: CTV News