BENEFITS OF THE GM TECHNOLOGY--Financial Express 6th August 2014click link below
LET GM CROPS BLOOM TOO—“SABHKA SATH SABHKA VIKAS”
(Fear of unknown vulnerabilities of future while ignoring pros of present not a prudent approach).
The word “Grain” is a combination of G for “Ground” plus “Rain”. These two factors are intimately interwoven for food production along with surrounding environment. The Prime Minister, Mr. Modi very astutely stressed efficient usage of these two elements at ICAR’s (Indian Council of Agriculture Research) speech of 29th July 2014 because land mass for agriculture is declining and water/rain reservoirs are also depleting. Farmers, he said, fill the stomach (pet—पेट) of others but their earnings (Jeb-जेब) should also be appropriately compensated. He was simply marrying science with economics of food productivity for societal balance and welfare.
With induction of biotechnology in last 20 years, overall yields of hybrids and Genetically Modified (GM) crops have significantly escalated. Certainly Mr. Modi was echoing or endorsing his ideas of cheaper and higher agro production. But on 29th July itself, media reported that field trails of GM crops authorized by GEAC (Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee) is indefinitely deferred by the Environmental Ministry due to counter pressure exerted by RSS (Rashtriya Swyamsewak Sangh) under the influence of anti-GM lobby groups. If RSS is defining policies like NAC (National Advisory Council of UPA headed by Mrs. Sonia Gandhi), it undermines authority of Government in power.
Even though Indian agro output has risen 3.7% (average) and yield at 2.2% in last five years but food inflation persisted at about 10% per annum. If production is significantly increased, food inflation will mellow down, food and fertilizer subsidies will reduce, spikes in vegetable prices like onion, potatoes, tomatoes will be tamed, poor people will be helped, exports will boost while imports (especially of edible oil) will decline. Higher yield per hectare will also be more remunerative to farmers. By delaying GM crops in India, we are ensuring that prices in overseas market become cheaper, Indian grains/oilseeds become costly and crop diversification remains limited. Then pressure to import cheaper GM food items will build up. Can we afford to delink ourselves commercially with global trade? Even Bangladesh is growing Bt Brinjal. After clearing Bt Cotton, Government continues to dither on other items.
All modes of crop production have pluses and minuses. Organic crops give lesser output and are more expensive. Can they be produced in massive quantities to satiate hunger of all? Not feasible!! Then we have conventional crops grown in abundance with average yields levels, supported by fertilizers with copious sprays of herbicides and insecticides. They carry unacceptable levels chemical/arsenic residues and corrective actions are being discussed.
GM seeds provide extraordinary high yields in the same land area and water constraints, by elimination of diversion of “soil/ environmental energies”, wasted in unwanted weeds, herbs and pests. But their seeds cannot be multiplied through farming and require acquisition from seed suppliers/corporates like Du-Pont, Monsanto or others, every year. Fear of health concerns of future of unknown nature and adverse effects on soil/ecology are being debated.
Blame game for each type of crop can be hyped and exaggerated. China imports 67 million tons (mts) of GM soybean from USA / Brazil/ Argentina and is not complaining. 2012 was the first year in which 20 developing countries with 90% small holding farmers grew a majority (52%) of the total GM harvest. About 40 countries are using GM crops.
Yields of crops
It is the Bt cotton technology that made India world 2nd largest exporter of cotton of 1- 1.5 mts in last five years. Soybean yield in India is about 1.09 mt/ha and we produce about 10-11 mts annually. USA/ Brazil/Argentina yield is at 3 mt/ha, while India’s is one third of world average. If GM technology is used, soybean production can rise to 30 mill tons which can be crushed for 5-6 mill ton of locally produced soy oil. Import dependency for edible oil (including palm oil) will be compressed. With GM maize, India can advance yield to minimum of South American levels of 5 mt/ha vs 2.5mt/ha now and can scale up production 40 mts from the current level of 23 mts.
Give choice of GM
GM crop may be controversial but just to dispense with research by projecting contra vulnerabilities of future and ignoring the pros of present is not prudent. Let Indian farmers and users make their choices of process and usage, than thrusting them with administrative controls and pressure groups.
In 1980s induction of computers was opposed for loss of jobs. Today it is a ridiculous idea. Can we stop using mobile phones because of threat of radiation effects? Don’t we use antibiotics to kill viral infection despite side effects? Don’t we live in heavily polluted industrial cities for greater benefits and comforts? All events of life have opposites and eventually they have to be balanced depending upon greater priorities.