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Want to Turn Africa’s Red Soil Green? Try GM Crops

Hunger in Africa is a dire problem. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, there are at least 239 million people in sub-Saharan Africa who go to bed hungry. And about 41 percent of Sub-Saharan Africans live on less than $1 per day, according to the Hunger Project.

Thankfully, a new study has found that widespread hunger in Africa doesn't have to be a permanent condition; in fact, it can be wiped out in a generation. According to Harvard's Kennedy School of Government international development professor Calestous Juma, the key is to build up Africa's agriculture through technology and infrastructure. And that means crops that are genetically modified to grow faster and with reduced irrigation needs. CNN's Mark Tutton reports:

He also suggests biotechnology, including genetically modified (GM) seeds, will become increasingly important in improving agricultural yields and in mitigating the effects of climate change. …

"There is also the prospect of growing drought-tolerant crops, especially drought-tolerant corn, because corn is very widely consumed in Africa. This may not lead to large expansion of corn production, but it may mean that corn can be grown in areas that are drier, possibly as a consequence of climate change."

Drought-tolerant crops alone could be a huge boon to Africa. Droughts wreak havoc on the food supply across the continent. Between 1984 and 1985, a severe drought (combined with economic drain caused by a civil war) killed upwards of a million people in Ethiopia.

Using genetically-modified crops to cure hunger can and has worked in the third world. The late Norman Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution that helped develop high-yield crops for use in poor countries, is credited with having saved a billion people from starvation. Borlaug previously estimated that regular organic farming could only sustain 4 billion people on the planet. To feed the remaining 2.7 billion, we need biotechnology.

Unfortunately, starving African children won't tug at the heartstrings of people like Jose Bove. Known as "France's most notorious anti-GM campaigner," Bove once rallied a mob of 1,500 activists which shredded a field of GM maize. Less extreme anti-GM activists have tried to create a climate of fear around hybrid crops.

Juma is presenting his findings to five African presidents today. Let's hope they're receptive and don't buy into the scaremongering.

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