Staring in the face of nearly $300 million dollars in losses in the agricultural sector due to the rains of October, the Salvadoran government is considering trials of genetically modified crops. Some people believe this to be the magic bullet for the struggling agriculture industry in the country. Corn, beans, rice, sugarcane, and coffee are the top five crops, and genetically engineered varieties of four of those crops exist (although coffee is barely in its initial field trial stage and sugarcane isn’t predicted to be commercially available until 2020). So, the government is looking mostly towards GMO corn, and potentially herbicide-resistant rice as a way to combat the challenges these crops are facing due to the changing climate and increasing population. Traditional land races in El Salvador succumb easily to the increasing floods and longer droughts, and so the idea is that with GMO crops, the goal to become self-sufficient as a country (in terms of being able to feed itself) can be realized. This movement is being sponsored by the Association of Agricultural Suppliers (APA), who apart from pushing to give the green light for GMOs to be planted, also would like to see investment in infrastructure that supports agriculture and technology credits for producers who upgrade.
Proponents of starting GMO trials in El Salvador point to the successes Colombia has had since they began planting transgenic cotton, corn, and soybeans in 2001. They – apart from APA, also representatives from CropLife Latin America– believe that the biggest bottle-neck in agricultural development in El Salvador is the lack of access to new technologies. Naturally the primary technology they hope to see in this country is the latest transgenic seeds being planted. The entity that has the authority to grant permission for the planting of genetically modified is the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (MARN), not the Ministry of Agriculture (MAG). Which, in my opinion, makes a whole lot of sense. As of now, MARN has not granted permission. And prices for basic grains have stabilized since the spike after the days and days of rain. And of course, we’re into the summer months, where almost no rain will fall until April or May. It’s going to long and dry, and crops without irrigation will wither and die. Yes, perhaps drought-tolerant genetically engineered plants would fair somewhat better, but how sustainable is it for subsistence farmers to buy the GM seeds year after year? A more sustainable solution would be to implement other types of technology – such as micro-hydro irrigation projects that could extend the growing season and give the farmers more stability for years and years to come.