Biotech: at the crossroads of climate change

In the wake of Cyclone Freddy a lot community grass-land got washed away … in the subsequent years; it’s been dry spells drying-up graze-lands both living livestock farmers stranded on pasture which to feed their livestock … cattle mostly.

Now; in the aftermath of Cyclone Freddy fears have emerged and farmers are worried of what becomes of their cattle but animal and agriculture scientists feels it’s’ time to consider GMO feed for the cattle – Tamanda MATEBULE writes.

Malawi is currently facing a severe pasture shortage caused by the recent devastating Cyclone Freddy which washed away 204, 800 hectares of arable land, claimed 1 200 human-lives and killed 194, 500 livestock and injured 91, 000 more.

In washing away this vast piece of land; it’s also emerged that plants are struggling to grow; and in turn putting livestock; cattle in particular at the risk of starvation.

This is what’s coming-out. Cows mostly in the districts hard hit by the cyclone are growingly becoming thinner and thinner.

And so is the volume of milk production equally getting lower and lower by the day. Dairy cattle can’t suffice and milk breeders aren’t harvesting as desired.

This is what Cyclone Freddy has done!

Apparently; this decline in milk production has lowered to 6 million litres by June; a decrease of 49 percent from the projected 14 million litres by June according to the milk producers association of Malawi.

In this mix; isn’t only the Cyclone Freddy or other storms … but also drought and other extreme weather conditions tampering with global temperatures as they rise to un-precedented levels and threating agricultural animal husbandry activities.

But there must be solutions.

Hence; scientists, government, farmers and food security campaigners suggest, the introduction and adoption of climate change related interventions to maintain a flourishing agriculture sector.

“One such option to consider would be genetically engineered pasture and plants for livestock. This is GM feed which has been genetically altered to produce what are seen as desirable qualities and resilient to such harsh weather conditions as drought,” says Ronald Chilumpha an agriculture policy influencer.

He adds: “Given the intensity and frequency of extreme weathers emanating from climate change and now affecting generation of community pastures it’s important to be creative and consider interventions like genetically engineering pasture.

“This would assist breeders to develop pasture that can better adapt to the threats of climate change and keep our livestock with feed.”

Milk producers have been facing challenges lately.

Echoing Chilumpha; Herbert Chagona, president of milk producers association of Malawi says the rising global temperatures need speed in adopting biotechnological interventions including that for livestock sector.

By continually depending on traditional communal grass-lands and pasture, he fears the country’s livestock sector would gradually collapse due to the implications of climate change that haven’t spared this country.

“We are running out of time. Fortunately; as a country we have capacity to avert this phenomenon if our scientists can be supported to genetically engineer plants that can be modified to adapt to the climate crisis,” says Chagona.

On her part Dr. Bettie Kawonga an animal scientist with the Lilongwe University of Natural Resources says scientists have to be called to duty to find solutions to this emerging challenge before the situation gets out of hand.

She reminds scientists that agriculture biotechnological innovation must look beyond seeds and pesticides and encompass other facets of agriculture like breakthroughs in animal feed for plants and grass resistant to harsh weather.

“We just have to manage climate change related stresses on plants and grass-lands resulting either from extreme temperatures or natural disasters like storms or drought. This is why we have scientists,” she says.

Besides, Dr. Kawonga, says developing such technology would also reduce the country’s dependence on feed importation as the country shall have enough feed.

Meanwhile; whilst the country continues to busk in the glory of having adopted the BT cotton variety – a genetically modified variety, agriculture minister, Sam Kawale hints on something exciting.

Realizing how the country has stagnated for years, he says government has now taken a giant step towards developing and the implementation of biotechnological advancements for products like seed and livestock.

For livestock, the minister says biotechnological interventions like GMO animal feed would be an opportunity to lid onto discoveries of pasture with a strong focus on the harsh climatic conditions, which are now affecting livestock in parts of the country hit by Cyclode Freddy.

He confesses; that as a country, Malawi lagged behind with agricultural biotechnology innovations and interventions in the face of climatic changes and compared to strides in the neighboring states.

Extreme temperatures are also an effect.

“Come to think of the implications of extreme weather-conditions that are drying-up grass-lands. Or imagine the cyclones that are washing away pasture and living cattle without pasture … these conditions have come to stay.

“However, there have to be remedies. As government we’ve taken a leading role to offer potential solutions to emerging challenges so that we improve feed efficiency,” says Kawaye disclosing that government has entered into pattern-ships with the University of North Carolina specifically for this.

Besides; he says the ministry has also partnered Hunan University of Agriculture of China for to build the country’s capacity of biotechnology which will be sending technicians and setting up laboratories for animal husbandry.

In the long run … Kawale says, government is hoping that genetic engineering of pasture amidst extreme weather conditions would assist breeders develop animal feed and pasture that better adapt to the threats of climate change.

&If we are to navigate through these harsh times the only choice we have is to embrace technology and consider it as part of the solution to the challenges we are facing given the implications of climate change,& he says.

He says; “government is confident that with biotechnology, more plants can be modified to adapt to the climate crisis, including desertification, changing rainfall patterns, and also an increase in pests and diseases.”

Echoing Kawale, Dr. Abel Sefasi says with climate change continuing to negatively impact on agricultural production and threatening food security and endangering livestock farming “adoption of biotechnologies where available must be considered as solutions.”

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.