Appropriate technology, revisited
For decades, farmers in the American corn belt have been battling a persistent and elusive foe. The enemy in question? A five millimeter corn rootworm, credited to be the most expensive pest in American agriculture, and responsible for annual losses of two billion dollars in the US alone. The weapons at the farmers’ disposal have been either traditional pesticides (which are prone to the worm developing resistance, and with dire environmental consequences), or crop rotation (an approach rendered ineffective after the bugs started preying on the crops used in the rotation). However, decades of private-sector research into RNAi technology will finally come to fruition with the forthcoming release of a new corn trait, targeting the action of specific genes that are essential to the attack that the rootworm makes against the standing crop. The technology is projected to save American producers billions of dollars every year. Yet there is little prospect that these advances will directly benefit farmers in the rest of the world.