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TRANSGENIC PLANTS AND WORLD AGRICULTURE
areas, together with the more effective distribution of food stocks, are equally, if not more, important. GM technologies are relevant to both these elements of food security.
In developing countries, it is estimated that about 650 million of the poorest people live in rural areas where the local production of food is the main economic activity. Without successful agriculture, these people will have neither employment nor the resources they need for a better life. Farming the land, and in particular small-holder farming, is the engine of progress in the rural communities, particularly of less developed countries.
The domestication of plants for agricultural use was a long-term process with profound evolutionary consequences for many species. One of its most valuable results was the creation of a diversity of plants serving human needs. Using this stock of genetic variability through selection and breeding, the “Green Revolution” produced many varieties that are used throughout the world. This work, carried out largely in publicly supported research institutions, has resulted in our present high-yielding crop varieties. A good example of such selective breeding was the introduction of “dwarf” genes into rice and wheat, which in conjunction with fertilizer applications, dramatically increased the yield of traditional food crops in the Indian sub-continent, China and elsewhere. Despite past successes, the rate of increase of food crop production has decreased recently (yield increase in the 1970s of 3% per annum has declined in the 1990s to approximately 1% per annum) (Conway and Toennissen 1999). There are still heavy losses of crops owing to biotic (e.g., pests and disease) and abiotic (e.g., salinity and drought) stresses. The genetic diversity of some crop plants has also decreased and there are species without wild relatives with which to cross breed. There are fewer options available than previously to address current problems through traditional breeding techniques, although it is recognized that these techniques will continue to be important in the future.
Increasing the amount of land available to cultivate crops