In this essay, I will investigate the use of biotechnology as a mean of alleviating food shortages and enhancing food security. I argue that with the current situation, biotechnology will do more to consolidate the profits of multinational corporations than to solve the food insecurity problem.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) the number of undernourished people around the world has declined from 1990-1997 and since the year 2000, the number has risen to about 850 million people. It is no surprise then that the first of the Millennium Development Goals is to eradicate hunger and poverty by 2015. However like most of the other goals, it will most probably not be met in many countries by the target year mostly because progress has been to slow. The 850 million people are just an example of extreme food insecurity. Food insecurity exists not only in developing countries but also in developed countries  and all governments are scrambling to find ways to secure food supplies . In this new millennia, despite all the progress of science, food security remains an uncertainty for many nations and has become the new battle ground of geopolitics.
Biotechnology: the prelude
The solution, some claim, might lie in biotechnology. Big multinational corporations are investing heavily in biotechnology to produce food products that may solve the food insecurity problem. But is it really the answer to solve hunger? What is its potential that makes people and scientist believe that it is the solution? What are the political and monetary forces behind it?
In 1996, the World Food Summit defined food security as “existing when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life.” 
This definition has been expanded by the FAO to include the social, physical and economic components of accessing food. This expanded definition still lacks one last aspect, which is provided by M.S Swaminathan. He defines food security: “the food originates from efficient and environmentally benign production technologies that conserve and enhance the natural resource base of crops, animal husbandry, and forestry, inland and marine fisheries.” 
Areas for mitigation
Obviously the depletion or contamination of natural resources reduces the food supplies considerably. Over fishing perfectly illustrates this as in many parts of the world fish queries have decreased. Depletion of soil nutrients is another major issue. In the last thirty years African soil has actually lost its richness 
. The third problem is drought or flood. Both extremes cause either destruction of plantations or no plantations at all. Biotechnology could actually solve these problems by producing plants that require low water consumption or crops that could grow in nutrient deficient soils.
Status quo debate
The argument for or against biotechnology have been mostly centered around the safety of the products but also on the ethical issue of altering the genetics of plants and animals . One aspect, though, that has not been widely discussed is the economic and political forces behind the drive for biotechnology as a solution to alleviate poverty. Although the debate about safety issues is a different story, there are two points worth noting. Firstly, no products whether from biotechnology or from natural farming, will ever be a hundred percent safe irrespective of research and precautions undertaken . Second point to be noted is the ethical issue and political governance. Not everyone will have the same ethical conception on biotechnology. The question hence arising is with consideration of the possibility of genetic contamination, will every person’s right of not eating genetically modified food (GM) be respected? How many governments will consult their population before implementing laws allowing for GM food? In a book The GM debate: Risk, Politics and public engagement written on the matter, the authors found out that40% of the people queried thought that the British government would still have gone ahead with implementing GM agriculture, regardless of the public opinion .Literature on biotechnology mentions the “Green Revolution.” That is no coincidence. Their similarity is the fact that both promise to solve world hunger. Of course we cannot deny that the “Green Revolution” has failed to keep that promise. What decides on its success is the political and economic mechanism behind each. While the Green Revolution was mostly financed by public money, biotechnology is driven almost entirely by the private sector . Only five multinationals control almost entirely the biotechnology market . Hence the eternal question of private good or the common good. Making private profits for already food-secure people or solving hunger? The choice is an easy one to make for them.
Multinationals: Humanity or money?
Magdalena Kropiwnicka wrote “Biotechnology and food security in developing countries” which is a radical view against private firms and the use of patents (IPRs). She argues that IPR is merely a tool to “control the market place” and its use is doing more harm than it is good to developing country farmers. Even though her ideas are a bit extreme; she nevertheless makes an important point. Herbicide resistant crops and crops engineered to produce their own insecticide are the most widely researched areas . As these firms also produce insecticides and other agro-chemicals, it is legitimate to question where their real intentions are. Most malnourished people are located in semi-arid or arid areas of the planet. It should make sense to invest in crops that are adapted to these areas; but it is not the case. The USA has the most patents in biotechnology which means big leverage in terms of foreign policy. This means that the USA will only transfer technology or give monetary aid only if the recipient country is in line with foreign policy. That would potentially exclude many poor African countries, such as Somalia where food security is at its worse. One of the main arguments used by multinationals to promote the use of biotechnology to solve food insecurity is this idea that the world population is growing at such a pace that food production is not keeping up with it . This idea is further amplified by many papers and book written on the subject, but far from reality.
The heart of the problem
The FAO statistics clearly show that food production and population growths have been going hand in hand. This has also been proven many times by Amartya Sen . He has also shown that even at times of increased food production, famine is still possible (e.g. Bangladesh 1976). The problem is not population growth, but rather food distribution. Simply put, food cannot reach the target population because the transport infrastructures are so bad and hence make the cost of transport too high or it is the unequal share of wealth that makes people so poor that they cannot afford to buy food. Still today more than a billion people live on less than $1.25 per day. So food insecurity is not only an agricultural problem, but a development one. The need to invest in infrastructures is clear. Making GM food that would be imported would still come up with the same problem regarding distribution.
One initiative that is going in the right way in increasing food security is the Indian Food Security Bill 2011. It is currently in its final stages of preparation before it will be presented to the Indian Parliament for approval. Aimed at providing at least one meal to every child, poor person, or pregnant lady , this initiative will dramatically improve the life of Indian Citizens. The bureaucratic process and corruption fears may be some obstacles. Nevertheless, the bill poses a number of questions regarding food security. Based on the fact that no person is to be left hungry, it points to a number of UN articles and Indian Constitution articles to back its claims . Can other governments that do not pursue a policy of national food security and alleviation of hunger be sued for their failings on that basis (on the basis of the UN articles and charters)? Mr Martin Niessen of the German embassy in France certainly thinks so. In a presentation given at the Right to Food Forum in Rome, he said “I want that governments can be sued for necessary action to use internationally proven tools to prevent hunger in their country.Hence the India Security Food Bill proves that political will can enhance food scarcity. The share of work load for fighting food security has been taken by non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The Gates Foundation is probably the most successful, after the UN. The Foundation has invested in an initiative called the BioCassava plus. They target the use biotechnological techniques to produce Cassava (A crop widely used in Africa for main dish) that would provide essentially all the nutrients a human being would need. In a lectureat the Oregon State University in October 2010, Dr. Mark Manary talked about the success of the program and their future aims. In all it shows that biotechnology works, but only when the aim is right. No similar success stories are reported by any of the five multinational corporations in biotechnology or by any governments.
The lack of public funding plays a very negative role in fuelling food insecurity. Liberalization of the agricultural sector in many countries has resulted in the collapse 
of the seed industry. The private market replacing it is often inaccessible to the poor farmers because the prices of the seeds are often too high. Therefore introducing biotechnology will still face the same structural problems and be ineffective. Even if there is public funding, it takes places only in rich countries or advanced developing countries such as Brazil, but these countries are food secure to a certain extent. The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2003 report by the UN estimates from FAO sources that between 1992 and 2003 close to 60% of food emergencies were nature related (mostly drought). Climate change does have a negative effect on food security. Part of countries like Bangladesh and the Maldives will be flooded and land will be lost. Currently, there is the COP-17 in Durban to find a new protocol to combat climate change and again there seems likely that very little will be achieved. Even though biotechnology could potentially help to make crops that stand more extreme weather patterns; how far it will be successfully implemented? The results of GM products have themselves been questioned before by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). In 1997 and 1998 several studies were conducted and their results show that yields from GM crops may not necessarily be as high as some multinational corporations suggest. Nevertheless, all new technologies will take time to produce results and reach their full potential. It will be no different for biotechnology.
The fact that the EU has now set up a clear plan for the development of biotechnology in agricultural setting suggests that the technology does have a huge potential to be exploited. Bio4EU –a study in 2007- has concluded that biotechnology does have an important role to play in the EU. Moreover, the Lisbon Strategy plan specifically mentions biotechnology as a future source of growth and jobs for European countries. Even then the EU clearly wants a more conservative approach to the subject, compared to the USA. The dispute that arose in 2003 between the EU and the USA, Canada and Argentina was due to a moratorium by the EU on biotechnology products. The dispute settled in 2007 via the WTO did not help the approval process of biotechnology products in the EU which remains slow and very methodic. What separates both is the difference in preferring one strategy over another. Clearly the USA has a more liberal approach compared to the more conservative approach by the EU. It also has to be noted that the dispute arose because the USA was losing an estimated USD 300 million in corn exports 
Biotech in the Third World
As Kropiwnicka says, both developing and developed countries aspire to economic growth and to enhance food security, while at the same time managing natural resources and allowing the biggest number of people to benefit from any economic activity. In that sense, Sakiko Fukuda-Parr argues that GM crops could allow developing countries to take part in cutting edge science, be competitive, have economic growth, have increased exports, reduce poverty and increase farm yields and decrease the use of pesticides and other chemicals . However his case studies have concentrated only on advanced developing countries. Maybe in the long run such aims could be achieved. Poverty and hunger still lead to deaths and sorrow. These people cannot be allowed to suffer while waiting for biotechnology to mature into a viable and widely available technology.
Having said that, biotechnology can play a leading role where green revolution methods have reached their peaks and so it does make sense for the USA and EU to invest in such technology as it will alleviate food shortages in their respective countries. Moreover, due to fact that commodity prices are subject to demand and supply, increasing the supply via the use of biotechnology may curb prices to a certain extent. Food security cannot be solved by one party or a group of parties. All countries will have to collaborate on a framework to enhance food security and at the same time alleviate hunger. The facts however do not seem to be pointing in that direction. In an ever more competitive economic world, securing food supplies for some countries has become paramount. Saudi Arabia, South Korea and China are deficient in their food production and are scrambling worldwide to make deals to secure land to grow their food that will be exported back to their home country 
. These secretive deals tend to be made between governments and when they come to public knowledge it usually creates uproar.
The story line
In sum, the lack of political will to cooperate amongst countries to find solutions for the common good, not for private interests is leading to an increase in food insecurity and could potentially lead to the failure of biotechnology achieving its full potential. Biotechnology itself presents a formidable potential to increase food yields where it has reached it maximum with conventional methods developed during the Green Revolution. This will help to increase the food security of rich nations and advanced developing countries such as Argentina and Brazil. As it is always the case, these technologies will then become cheaper with time and run down the ladder to poorer countries.
Do not put the cart before the ox
To say that biotechnology will solve world hunger is however far from becoming a reality. There are much cheaper ways to solve hunger and provide food security to poor people. It has been done before and with political will and proper funding it can be done again. The sole responsibility should not rest entirely on NGOs such as the Gates Foundation. It should be a common effort involving all governments working together for the sake of the common good, and not for geopolitical interests. Sadly biotechnology has fallen into the trap of private interests and for that reason, in the current political and economic climate, biotechnology will not solve food insecurity or alleviate food shortages.
Written by W. Jhumka
This essay was submitted for my political economy class (Fall 2011) and later edited for this blog.
 Foreign Policy 186 (May/June 2011); The New Geopolitics of Food; Brown,Lester, pg 54-62
 Journal on Science and World Affairs; Vol 1, No.1. 2005;Biotechnology and food security in developing countries; Madgalena kropiwnicka; pg 45-60
 The Development Econoimics Reader; Edited by Giorgio Secondi; pg 359; The next green revolution by Norman E. Borlaug
 Journal on Science and World Affairs; Vol 1, No.1. 2005;Biotechnology and food security in developing countries; Madgalena kropiwnicka; pg 45-60
 One hundred percent safe? GM food in UK; Vivian Moses and Michael Brannan; December 2001
 The GM debate: Risk, politics and public engagement; Tom Horlick-Jones, John Walls. Gene Rowe, Nick Pidgeon, Wouter Poortinga, Graham Murdock and Tim O’Riordan; pp 166
 Journal on Science and World Affairs; Vol 1, No.1. 2005; Biotechnology and food security in developing countries; Madgalena Kropiwnicka; pg 45-60
 Genetically Modified Food, Edited by Michael Ruse & David Castle; pg 302 – Biotechnology and resource poor farmers by Robert Tripp
 Congressional Research Service; Agricultural Biotechnology: The US-EU dispute; Charles E. Hanrahan, April 2010
 The gene revolution, Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, pg 222.
 Foreign Policy 186 (May/June 2011); The New Geopolitics of Food; Brown, Lester, pg 54-62