Argentina combats drought with genetic tech

Global Business

Argentina combats drought with genetic tech

A United Nations report this week warned of the potentially devastating effects of global climate change in the coming years. Argentina is already dealing with environmental challenges. The country’s economy took a major hit this year after a severe drought.

But a new genetic technology could help sustain crops in the face of water challenges.

CGTN’s Joel Richards reports.

The fertile grasslands of Argentina produce food for hundreds of millions around the world, and they have the potential to feed even more. But increasingly extreme weather conditions threaten productivity.

A report released by the United Nations this week outlines the risk of a dire climate change crisis. Here, in Argentina, they are assessing the damage following one of the worst droughts in decades, which wiped out nearly a third of its agricultural production.

In the city of Santa Fe, scientists are using a new transgenic technology which helps crops endure longer spells without water. Research into sunflower plants lead Raquel Chan and her team to develop a gene called HB4, which resists drought and can be transplanted and used in soy bean and wheat production.

“The drought last year was terrible,” chief investigator Raquel Chan said. “We did a small test here and with the transgenic plants we had almost double the productivity than wild plants with the same treatment.”

The patent is shared by a national scientific research council and the company Bioceres, which is waiting to use the technology. They announced the discovery of HB4 in 2012 and have government approval, but are waiting for the go-ahead from Chinese authorities.

China is the world’s largest importer of raw soybeans while Argentina is the world’s top exporter of soymeal. An international agreement forbids the sale of transgenic soy from Argentina without China approval.

“This is something for very patient people,’ says the president of Bioceres, Federico Trucco. Bioceres says it hopes to bring transgenic soy into the marketplace soon, first in Argentina and then in other Latin American soy producing countries.

“The sooner we do this the better off we will be from a perspective of avoiding the high cost of climate change and particularly drought as we have experienced in the past crop season in Argentina,” says Trucco.

The potential of this transgenic crop is to improve food security, one of the priorities at the G20 summit beginning next month in Buenos Aires. This week, an Argentine satellite was launched from California to monitor soil moisture, another tool to bolster agricultural production in the face of growing uncertainty over the future global climate.