The Gates Foundation has awarded a $10 million grant to a group of British plant scientists to research and develop genetically modified cereal crops.
The grant issued by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for research into genetically modified crops is one of the largest investments in the UK. The award has been given to the John Innes Centre, which is located near the city of Norwich and the science team is led by Professor Giles Oldroyd.
Giles Oldroyd will lead a team of about 20 scientists based in Norwich, Denmark, France and the US.
According to EDP 24, the research funding will be directed into developing corn, wheat and rice crops, with the aim to cultivate crops which do not need fertilizer. The aim is to produce crops which can extract nitrogen from the air rather than being dependent upon ammonia added to fertilizer as a nitrogen source.
If successful, the crops will be transferred to Africa to help farmers who cannot afford to buy fertilizer.
Business Weekly notes that, as well as developing a crop to help impoverished farmers, the Gates Foundation are also keen to reduce the global dependency on fertilizers as many types cause environmental concerns like greenhouse gas emissions.
The primary aims of the Gates Foundation are, globally, to enhance healthcare and reduce extreme poverty, and in America, to expand educational opportunities and access to information technology.
The development of genetically modified crops is, however, a contested issue. In opposition to the grant, Pete Riley, campaign director of the group GM Freeze is quoted by the BBC as saying that “GM is failing to deliver…If you look in America, yields haven't increased by any significant amount and often go down. Now we're seeing real, major problems for farmers in terms of weeds that are resistant to the herbicides which GM crops have been modified to tolerate.”