Submitted to: Complete Book
Publication Type: Other
Publication Acceptance Date: 3/23/2004
Publication Date: N/A
Interpretive Summary: Transgenic plants are those crop varieties that have been genetically modified to meet agricultural needs that are impossible to achieve through conventional breeding. This state of the art technology, due to its novelty and a big lack of technical information written for the lay-person, has encounter in almost all cases, unfunded opposition by different groups all over the world. In this work, specifically this introductory chapter, we review the overall situation of agricultural production in Latin America. According to statistics, many of these countries have or are very close of reaching its maximum potential of arable land, they all face common environmental degradation, its population growth still is >3% annually, and water shortages, being one of the new limitations, impede the production of sufficient food for the peoples of the region. Agricultural biotechnology, although still in its infancy, has obtained the acceptance by a large group of farmers, primarily in Mexico, Guatemala, Colombia, Argentina, Chile and Brazil. But the un-informed citizen has been the focus of diverse groups opposing the adoption of transgenic crops all over the world. In this chapter we also briefly review the most pressing topics of the controversy, such as safety for humans and the environment, and propose that this technology might be part of the solution to alleviate world's hunger. This is a cautious review on the topic and one of the few technically-written documents in Spanish language. We have selected the editorial house Fondo the Cultura Economica because is the world largest for that language. Its series 'Science for Everybody' is very economical way (' $3.50 per book) to disseminate information. At the moment reaches from the US border (California and Texas so far) all the way to Chile and even Spain. As a requisite to authors, the language utilized should be comprehended by elementary school to college students.
Technical Abstract: Latin American countries face very important food-production challenges due primarily to the constant population growth, deterioration of the environment, shortage of irrigation water and limited arable land. In particular, Mexico, with slightly more than 1.5% of its peoples devoted to agricultural production, its population growing at 2.8% per year, 45 million Mexicans considered 'under food-insecurity' (according to government statistics), and paradoxically with a constant demand, by those who can afford it, of a diet higher on calories (from 1,800 to 2,200 per day); food production in that country needs to increase drastically to meet people's demands. According to projections, made not only for Mexico but other less-developed countries as well, their population will grow >50% in the next 50 years, which is not equivalent to produce 50% more food. As we have learned from past statistics, the pressure in food production will be nearly a >65% increase in that time lapse. Agricultural biotechnology, already embraced by several Latin American countries (Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Brazil and Guatemala) since the late 1990's could be the most realistic possibility for increasing food production. But controversy about transgenic plants is no longer a European debate, the popular non-technical press all over the world has served primarily those groups utilizing fears and misinformation to impede its general acceptance. There is a very limited number of technical, up-to-date, accurate, and in lay terms information that the common citizen can use to make informed choices, but the most of them are not written in Spanish. The Fondo de Cultura Economica, the world's largest Spanish language editorial house based in Mexico City, is the best vehicle to address the most pressing uncertainties of agricultural biotechnology information. In this chapter we review the agronomic and environmental realities of food production in Latin America. We mention the current situation and advances in plant biotechnology and their potential impact in meeting the food-production challenges, leaving specifics to other chapters and authors. Transgenic crops registered up to this moment in these countries (Bt-cotton, Bt-corn, RR-cotton, RR-soybeans, Bt-potatoes, virus-resistant papaya) have shown a marked benefit to all us, lesser amount o pesticide applications without any signs of negative impact on the environment. This work is a cautious, science-based support for the adoption of agricultural biotechnology.