The discourse surrounding genetically modified foods and crops has primarily been taking place in Western contexts. This makes sense when you consider that GM crops were first introduced in the United States, but since then many farmers in other countries have adopted the technology.
When thinking about this documentary film, we knew that it had to be grounded in science. This meant that not only would the film seek out knowledgeable experts in the various fields relevant to the topic, but also that what they say must be supported by reliable, peer-reviewed academic literature. However, we also knew that relying on experts in academia ran the risk of making the film disconnected from reality: the reality of how GMOs are actually used by farmers, specifically farmers in developing countries.
Farmers and other citizens in developing countries are the very people who have the most to lose in the whole debate, but these are often the people whose voices are not being heard. So in making this documentary, we knew it needed a transnational perspective and approach that allowed for the voices of farmers to be heard. The issue surrounding GMOs is not just a political one, it's also an issue of social and environmental justice.
Global Partners and Locations
With a film of this scope, and with a one-man team, there would be no way it could be pulled off successfully without the partners and experts who have agreed to be part of this transnational project. These are some of the locations and people that will be featured in the film.
- The Philippines and Golden Rice: Vitamin A deficiency affects many children in the Global South. It is estimated to kill 670,000 children under five each year. Golden Rice is a type of rice with increased levels of beta carotene, a precursor to vitamin A. Researchers hope that this engineered rice can help save the lives of millions of children. We hope to travel to the Philippines and learn more about this promising project.
- India and Bt cotton: Bt cotton is a type of cotton that has been engineered to resist certain pests. This means that farmers don't have to apply pesticides as often, if at all. According to research, it has been a major success in India. One farmer, Ravichandran, is a third generation Indian farmer who grows biotech cotton. He says that because of genetic engineering, he has been able to make more money through farming. We are planning on visiting his farm and learn about his experiences.
- Kenya and water efficient maize and virus resistant cassava: Maize and cassava are staple crops in many Kenyan's diet, yet they are often difficult to grow successfully. Because of climate change, more and more regions are experiencing low rainfall and drought-like conditions. Cassava is also sometimes difficult to grow because it is prone to the cassava mosaic virus (CMV). CMV can reduce farmers' yields, leading to food insecurity. However, plant biotechnology (and GMOs in particular) might be able to help with both of these problems. Water efficient maize is being developed that will allow maize to grow better when there isn't as much water. In addition, a genetically modified cassava that resists the cassava mosaic virus is also in the works. We aim to speak to farmers and researchers in the area to see if GMOs can help address these issues.
- Kevin M. Folta: Professor and Chairman, Horticultural Sciences Department at University of Florida.
- Mark Lynas: Author, Journalist, and Environmentalist.
- Robert Paarlberg: Professor, Political Science at Wellesley College.
Pamela Ronald: Professor, Department of Plant Pathology, University of California Davis.
Photo by Rajarshi MITRA.