A leading industry body has called on India’s authorities to allow field trials of certain crops as a measure aimed at the poor by increasing food production.
“With a view to deliver the best value for the produce to the farmer, the government and the industry should work together to identify high-priority crops useful for India and provide necessary policy support,” said DS Rawat, Assocham’s secretary general.
“Measures like identifying genetic traits, employing water resistant techniques, promoting high pesticide usage and providing fertiliser subsidy would help improve agricultural productivity and counter the challenges of drought, salinity, poor irrigation facilities and others.” he added.
Rawat was speaking at the launch of an Assocham analysis of India’s GM potential, which concluded that the government should take a “pro-poor stand” by allowing the widespread production of genetically modified crops. This, it said, would help towards efforts to secure a level of food security for the country’s growing population.
In May, the Environment Ministry’s genetic engineering approval committee gave green light for field trials of genetically-modified rice, mustard, cotton, chickpea and brinjal. However, this was put on hold this month by the new Modi administration, which is keen to stake out its ground on the GM issue. The prime minister then called for independent investigations into GM's likely impact on soil, human health, other species and food security before reversing the freeze.
Considering that agriculture accounts for around 18% in India’s gross domestic product, and employs over half of country’s population, the sector is especially significant in view of its role in ensuring food security, promoting employment and reducing poverty, the paper said.
As a multi-agro climatic zone, a number of crops could be selected for trials, including sorghum, wheat, corn, mustard, soybeans, vegetables and pulses.
Benefits to science
“There is a pressing need for tools and technologies to help the agriculture sector overcome the handicap of constraints and allow the productivity to soar to higher levels, thus field trials as a precursor to adoption of biotechnology is a certain way forward.
“The government should also ensure benefits of advancement of science and technology to reach India’s farmers to enable them to compete globally.”
It added that cultivation of crops with the bt gene would substantially increase agricultural incomes owing to savings in pesticides and increased marketable yields. Consumers, meanwhile, would benefit by paying lower prices coupled with environmental benefits.