In your News Feature 'Is China ready for GM rice?' (Nature 455, 850–852; 2008), you consider the merits of using genetically modified (GM) crops for pest control. But don't overlook the potential of ecological engineering, which can provide an important and undervalued approach to tackling agricultural problems.
Biological control in irrigated rice is a prime example of how increasing biodiversity can offer a key service to humans. Insect pests in rice are efficiently controlled by appropriate reduction of pesticide application together with landscape management (see, for example, M. J. Way and K. L. Heong Bull. Ent. Res. 84, 567–587; 1994). This strategy has led to almost complete abolition of insecticide application in places such as the research fields of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines.
It was the strikingly successful example of biodiversity and ecosystem services management by IRRI that persuaded us to recruit the institute into a large international research network (J. Settele et al. Nature 453, 850; 2008), with a view to developing sustainable land use on a global scale and refining ecological-engineering approaches.
Employing GM rice for pest control overlooks services available from natural resources that are not so dependent on big business and so do not undermine the independence of farmers and developing nations. Switching investment of resources from GM crops and pesticides to ecological engineering could be a more efficient long-term and low-cost strategy.
In such a well-studied crop as rice, ecological engineering could be implemented immediately. Research efforts should focus on developing sustainable management schemes for ecosystem services for other key crops, in China and worldwide.
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