This week the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization released a report arguing that, without aggressive agricultural reform, as many as 122 million people could slip into extreme poverty due to climate change.
One California startup could help to stave off that apocalyptic scenario. The company, called Endura Bio, is developing an agricultural spray it claims can reduce water usage by activating drought tolerance in plants.
Better yet, the solution is fully compatible with USDA Organic certification and requires no genetic modification of the crops themselves.
The latter point is particularly significant. After the FAO published its report this week, the organization faced sharp criticism from Slow Food International, which called the FAO’s silence on the issue of GMOs “deafening.”
Slow Food opposes GMOs because they are patented and, thus, “inextricably linked to corporate control of the food chain.”
Endura Bio steers clear of any moral judgements about GMOs on its company website. However, it does note the use of genetic technology presents business challenges.
“Typical water reduction methods involve GMOs, transgenics, and selective breeding,” the site states. “Not only does this take time with each plant species, GMOs have had trouble gaining market acceptance, in addition to an increasing regulatory burden.”
ClimateGuard, as the company’s technology is known, starts acting in two to four weeks, compared to traditional drought-resistance breeding, which can take years. It is also cost-effective, at only $75 per acre for two applications. The company claims the resulting savings in water costs will produce a net return of $125 per acre.
“ClimateGuard is sprayed on your crops, using the infrastructure that already exists at farms for fertilizer or irrigation,” the website states. “Therefore, it can act quickly and safely to make sure the crops can start to reduce their water usage.”
Endura Bio is in the midst of field trials and hopes to launch ClimateGuard publicly next year. The technology could have an immediate impact on the agricultural industry in California, where prolonged drought cost the state an estimated $2.7 billion and 21,000 jobs last year. Those figures are expected to rise by $600 million and 4,700 jobs this year.
The larger implications of ClimateGuard are less clear. The world’s half a billion small-holder farmers, who the FAO singled out as most at risk from the impacts of climate change, often struggle to access new technology.
The FAO report recommended increasing access to credit, extension support, climate information and social insurance to lower some of these barriers to adoption.
The rewards of doing so could be huge. According to the FAO, expanding use of drought-resistant crop varieties, alone, could reduce the number of people at risk of hunger by 0.8 percent by 2050.
Image credits: 1) Endura Bio 2) FAO