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GM Technology at last!

Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar announced in the Rajya Sabha, government’s decision to permit research and field trials in genetically modified seed technology. IE has been advocating this and even organised a national level seminar in which it presented several scientists, policymakers and business leaders.

The new policy permits research in a dozen crops including cotton, rice, castor, wheat, maize, groundnut, potato, sorghum, brinjal, mustard, sugarcane and chickpea. Leading scientists like Dr G Padmanabhan of Indian Institute of Science, have been urging freedom for scientists’ to research on GM technology. Unfortunately, this got struck when the previous Union minister Jairam Ramesh first announced field trials, but retracted on opposition from powerful lobbies in 2009.

This technology has been widely practised in several countries including the USA, Brazil and China to great effect. Corn output in the US, based on this technology, helps reap 10,000 kg per acre; the average in India is around 800 kg per acre. Such quantum jumps have been achieved in regard to soybean, cotton, tomato… Israel harvests around 200 tonnes of tomato per acre (the average in India is 5 tonnes).

There is the urgent need to improve agri productivity in the context of shrinking land for cultivation and expanding population. Over the next 35 years, global population is expected to increase from the present 700 crore to 900 crore. At current rates, growth in food production will not keep pace with the needs of this large number. The comfort enjoyed for centuries of bringing large acres from forests and grazing lands under cultivation is no longer possible due to limitations of available landing and concerns on environment. Even existing arable lands are used for housing, infrastructure development, factories, and educational institutions. Just look at the transformation of the landscape from Delhi to Gurgaon-Manesar in Haryana or Thanjavur to Tiruchi in Tamil Nadu over the last 30 years: vast farm lands have just vanished! The rate of urbanisation needs to be slowed down. This can happen only when agriculture productivity makes quantum jumps and rural India becomes prosperous and more liveable. With better road connectivity and massive growth in telecom, rural areas have better access. The missing link is a prosperous agriculture. This will be possible by taking recourse to land agglomeration, science, technology and management. GM technology can help in this.

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