An appropriate technology, as asserted by the economist Schumacher in his book Small is Beautiful, should promote values such as health, beauty, and permanence. Low cost and low maintenance requirements are also of prime importance in Schumacher’s definition.
Considering both Schumacher’s observations and the goals for ecological farming:
• Produce abundant, safe and nutritious food
• Reduce harmful environmental inputs
• Provide healthful conditions for farm workers
• Protect the genetic make-up of native species
• Enhance crop genetic diversity
• Foster soil fertility
• Improve the lives of the poor and malnourished
• Maintain the economic viability of farmers and rural communities
, it is apparent that GE will sometimes be appropriate for crop improvement and sometimes not. This is because GE is simply a tool that can be applied
to a multitude of uses, depending on the decisions of policy makers, farmers, and
Still, GE comprises many of the properties advocated by Schumacher. It is a relatively simple technology that scientists in most countries, including many developing countries, have perfected. The product of GE technology, a seed, requires no extra maintenance or additional farming skills. Its arrangement of genes can be passed down from generation to generation and improved along the way. It is therefore clear that humans will likely reap many significant and life-saving benefits from GE.
This is because even incremental increases in the nutritional content, disease resistance, yield, or stress tolerance of crops can go a long way to enhancing the health and well-being of farmers and their families. There is also potential for applications of GE to reduce the adverse environmental effects of farming and enable farmers to produce and sell more food locally. Indeed, as described in previous posts, the use of GE has already drastically reduced the amount of pesticides sprayed worldwide, rescued the U.S. papaya industry, contributing to poverty reduction in India (Qaim, 2009, Nature Biotechnology 27:803) and provided new tools to save the lives of impoverished children with vitamin A deficiency.
For our work with flood tolerant rice, we used a rice gene from a local landrace and introduced it into the crops favored by farmers using precision breeding with molecular assistance. This was the most appropriate technology because it was efficient and did not require that we go through the regulatory approval process required of GE crops. One can imagine another scenario where the gene was not found in rice but was only present in wheat. In this case, GE would be the most appropriate technology. The goal is to save millions of tons of rice from being lost to floods. If we want to increase food production in a sustainable manner, we need to pick the most appropraite technology for the job.