MY TURN| Global Warming and Food Part 2

SEVENTY PERCENT of the seven billion people eat rice. (China’s 1.6 billion, India’s 1.3 billion, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Africa etc.) UP Los Banos’ International Rice researchers 40 years ago created the first super rice variety.

Today IRRI is preparing a second green revolution. The new rice seeds will be tailored for specific environments, dry, flooded, salty. IRRI Director BOB Zeigler and DR Abdelgabi Ismail are racing against time because climate change, floods, earthquakes, wars are making it harder to start much less finish experiments which lasts for year.

IRRI is the world’s hope to feed Africa and Asia’s very poor who missed the bounty of the first green revolution and stop the political and social disruptions caused by fear of starvation. As of 2014, food scientists have focused on agricultural crops that might supplement/replace rice and corn.

One is Quinoa which today grows only in the 12,000 feet mountains of Bolivia. It has lots of calcium, iron, fiber, essential fatty acids, vitamin E. Quinoa contains complete protein with all stores of all nine of the amino aicds that the body cannot synthesize itself. Maca, a super food found in Peru and Quinoa frow in high places of the Andes mountain ranges and is hardier than most food crops.

The trick for scientists is to create new breeds that will grow in the lawlands of Asia and Africa. In 1989, Colorado State University scientists Sarah Ward and Duane Ward identified male Quinoa plants which came from Bolivia, whose male reproductive organs were sterile making it easy to be fertilized by other plants. They discovered this in a mutation in a cellular material called cytoplasm.

The school on April 19, 1994 had it patented as patent No. 5,304,718. Bolivia learned about the patent and protested because the quinoa male sterile plants, the knowledge and maintenance of its genetics diversity belongs to the poor, illiterate, indigenous tribes. Colorado State University quietly allowed its patent to expire in 1998.

Bolivia’s anger was such that its 2009 Constitution expressedly declared that all genetic resources in Bolivia belongs only to the state. IRRI scientists experimented for more than 15 years before perfecting the rice variety which brought the first green revolution. It takes at least 10 years before researchers can produce results. Quinoa seems to be the answer to the climate change which is reducing agriculture production in the world. However, scientists must first create new strains of Quinoa that will grow anywhere.

But Bolivia will not give Quinoa seeds, plants plasma to anyone. It believes that once US Food giant Corporations like General Mills, Cargill, Monsanto etc. can create better, more and therefore cheaper Quinoa, nobody will buy from Bolivia anymore. The best example is the genetically modified eggplant of a US food company. Bolivia’s ignorant, backward, indigenous tribes will never have a chance to improve their life if Quinoa is taken away from them for free.

Think humanitarianism and sharing of wealth with others to makethe tribes feel guilty that they are selfish, self centered and don’t want to save world’s poor who are dying of hunger. In 1998, natives impatient with land reform burned the Patacamaya research station, Bolivia’s largest Quinoa gene bank of 1,900 varieties collected for 50 years.

Fortunately Alejandro Bonifacio was making experiments for which duplicate collection were given out to two for research stations. Bonifacio seeing on TV the burning of Pataca yama, immediately rushed to get control of the only remaining varieties in the two research centers.

The 1,900 germplasm varieties were moved to a state owned research center in Cochabamba which is in a lower altitude. Some fear humidity in Cochabamba will destroy the seeds viability or create deformities.

In 2012, Norway built a deep protected side called the Svalbard Global Seeds Vault now called the Dooms day Vault. All the seeds of all the food plants of the world are there, the belief being that seven billion earthlings should always have a steady reliable source of food seedlings. When asked if Quinoa is there, a Bolivian said no.

Posted in Opinion