The Role of GMOs in Alleviating The Global Water Crisis

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With aquifers continuing to rapidly deplete from overuse, climate change contributing to higher incidences and severity of droughts and floods, and industry and agriculture runoff resulting in pollution of freshwater sources, one strategy for remedying the world water crisis is a reduction in consumption.

Yet with a growing global population and a reduction in arable land, the techniques involved – particularly in agriculture – must involve a fusion of both innovative and antiquated (yet effective) approaches.

Image from: GMO Answers

GMO crops have allowed for the development of crop and produce varieties that may be genetically altered to be, for example, more drought-resistant, pest and disease-resistant, require less land area to grow, or ripen more slowly after harvesting, all resulting in higher crop yields. The former two directly increase the ratio of crop yield to water usage and the latter two result in less spoilage, which reduces the number of overall crops that must be grown, again reducing water consumption (Becker).

Consequently, GMO seeds can be especially advantageous in areas of the world that face the most severe water scarcity due to overdrawing from water sources but are necessarily agricultural in some capacity because of food-security reasons. However, the usage of GMOs is fraught with many issues. While many GMO varieties of crops can result in lower levels of pesticide usage due to the ability to genetically encode pesticidal properties into the plant itself, they can also result in higher herbicide use as a result of creating herbicide-resistant crops that may then be sprayed more liberally with herbicides.

While the majority of GMO crops are designated for cattle rearing and consumer products, higher herbicide usage may not only have negative effects when consumed but also lead to the pollution of water sources from runoff. Other arguments surrounding GMOs include the monopolization of GMO seeds and the effects that this has on farmers’ rights, which cannot be understated, as well as the accessibility of GMO agriculture in countries where GMO foods are banned, of which such bans currently extend throughout many countries in the European Union and additional countries such as Algeria, Turkey, Bhutan, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela (Countries That Ban GMOs 2024).

Despite the potential reductions in water consumption through utilising GMOs and the urgency of alleviating water stress, there is much research to be conducted and logistical and legal processes to work through before GMOs can be more officially decided on as to whether it is a worthy tool for reducing water consumption; and even then, GMOs would at best be an essential aspect of but not all-together solve the water crisis.

Apart from GMOs, there are many developing agriculture development and long-established farming techniques that can also be utilized for enhancing water-efficiency and reducing water pollution. While the cost of investment may slow the implementation of technoligically-advanced agricultural tools, location and time-precise irrigation systems such as drip-irrigation vastly reduces water consumption levels when compared to other systems such as overhead spray and flood irrigation (Watering Systems).

Additionally, a return to previously-established, often fundamental methods of agriculture that have been phased out through mass-agriculture such as conservative tillage, which reduces water runoff and soil erosion, and crop covering, which protects the soil against evaporation and water-depleting weed growth (10 Agricultural Techniques for Water Conservation) allow for more water-efficient crop growing.

Strategic zoning for planting (not planting in certain areas where water is scarce) and by growing plant varieties – especially indigenous varieties – that naturally compliment the environment and have a more symbiotic relationship with the greater ecosystem are also potentially impactful for reducing water consumption (The Benefits of Growing Indigenous Fruits and Vegetables).

Despite this, these more organic methods of reducing water consumption still either rival with or require adjustments to the mass-agriculture model as they are often more easily implemented in smaller-scale operations, though this in itself is also an advantage as the widespread assessibility of more rudimentary methods is generally greater.

The science of agriculture and water conservation is dynamic with new methods emerging and others reemerging. The most probable path towards tackling food scarcity through reforming agriculture practices appears to combine elements of progressive advancements in agriculture, simultaneously combining selective implementation of GMOs and advanced irrigation systems with more organic and fundamental methods.

Works Cited

“10 Agricultural Techniques for Water Conservation.” DGB Group, Dutch Green Business

Group, 19 Jan. 2024,

www.green.earth/blog/10-agricultural-techniques-for-water-conservation.

Becker, Hannah. “The Environmental Benefits of Genetically Modified Crops.” Kansas

Living Magazine, 2 Oct. 2017,

kansaslivingmagazine.com/articles/2017/10/02/the-environmental-benefits-of-genetically

-modified-crops.

“The Benefits of Growing Indigenous Fruits and Vegetables. Fruits & Vegetables.” The Farmer’s

Journal Africa, 4 Mar. 2023,

thefarmersjournal.com/the-benefits-of-growing-indigenous-fruits-and-vegetables/#:~:text

=Indigenous%20crops%20are%20well%20adapted,for%20synthetic%20fertilizers%20an

d%20pesticides.

Countries That Ban Gmos 2024, World Population Review,

worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/countries-that-ban-gmos. Accessed 22 

Mar. 2024.

“Watering Systems.” Regional Water Providers Consortium, 16 Feb. 2023,

www.regionalh2o.org/water-conservation/outdoor-water-conservation/watering-systems#

:~:text=Drip%20irrigation%20is%20the%20most,that%20overhead%20spray%20devices

%20use. 

Montana Lorbetske
WRITTEN BY

Montana Lorbetske

One of the most attractive aspects of studying international relations and politics is its versatility, with every conceivable topic being relevant to this study, by connection to humans. I find everything about humans, with our simultaneously complex and simple nature, to be endlessly fascinating. In my life, I aim to intently observe and evaluate humans and their connections to all matters of attention and make personal connections with people in order to gain insight into the innumerable iterations of humanness and the human experience.

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