Just CRISPR: Towards a just transition in crop gene editing

A stylized picture of a scientist handling a crop
Photo: ipopba/iStock

 This project studies whether and how crop gene editing technologies (like CRISPR/Cas) can contribute to a just transition for smallholder farmers in the global South.

Recent advances in gene editing technologies offer unique opportunities for both sustainable agriculture and smallholder farmers. Gene editing technologies like CRISPR, ZFN, and TALEN are very precise, offering great promise for the development of climate resilient crops. Because gene editing is relatively cheap and easy to use, it may more readily be used for improving crops that are commercially less interesting, like orphan crops grown by smallholder farmers in the global South.

Gene editing may thus contribute to a just sustainability transition: a transition to more sustainable agricultural systems that are simultaneously fair and inclusive, especially regarding smallholder farmers. Remarkably, very little is known about the potential implications of crop gene editing for smallholder farmers. Genetic modification of crops is historically associated with agricultural systems that are directed towards large commercial farmers and failed to serve the needs of smallholders. Gene editing may change this, yet it is currently unknown under what conditions this may happen. This raises the question whether and how crop gene editing contributes to a just transition for smallholder farmers in the global South?

The project is an interdisciplinary collaboration that combines social science experts in just transitions (Jonathan Arentoft, Koen Beumer and Ellen Moors, Faculty of Geosciences) and biology experts in crop gene editing (Marcel Proveniers, Faculty of Science).