As a farmer who has been growing mustard for many years in Rajasthan, I am happy to know that the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) has recommended the commercial release of GM Mustard in the country. I can assure you, dear reader, my fellow farmer friends have also been anxiously waiting for the GM mustard with a lot of enthusiasm. Across the world, thousands of farmers have been using sophisticated know-how and modern, innovative farm technologies to speed up the farming process and increase farm productivity. It is precisely because of the application of modern scientific methods, farmers have been able to scale up their production levels and make the country self-sufficient in food grains. It is these latest cutting-edge tools, powered by science such as hybrids and improved seeds, pest management practices, irrigation systems, etc, which have enhanced farm productivity and augmented the income of farmers.
In our country, farmers like me are struggling to cope with the stagnating production levels of mustard for decades now. For us, the GM mustard technology is a ray of hope, which will definitely boost the productivity of our farms and impact our incomes and lifestyle. More than 60 lakh farmers like me, who have been primarily growing mustard, have struggled with spiking input costs, stagnating yields and uncertain market prices. We are struggling to survive.
The yield of mustard fields are below 1,000 kg per hectare, which is way below the average productivity in other countries like Canada, USA, China and Australia. We see our counterparts reap the benefits of GM canola (Canadian mustard) year after year. For over 15 years or more, at home, we are battling to just meet the basic needs of growing mustard. Our demands are being swept aside and ignored, as others decide our fate. Despite the huge success of Bt cotton, which proved the effectiveness of GM technology, and transformed the lives of our friends sowing cotton, people continue to criticise GM technology. In 2002, India had a 12% share in cotton production worldwide, it is now around 25%. Yet, we continue to doubt this technology. India’s cotton industry was transformed as we moved from being an importer of cotton to the status of being the second-largest exporter. We need to see this change for mustard as well. It is disheartening when the solution to our problems is being ignored at the behest of some vested interests.
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We see many countries firmly supporting their farming communities by implementing favourable policies. They encourage the latest research and innovations, and provide farmers different choices and the freedom to choose what is suitable to them. Then, why are Indian farmers being denied access to technologies created by Indian scientists for Indian markets?
India has been importing GM soya oil and GM canola oil for over 10 years and consuming them without any problem. It is the right time now to consider the commercial approval of GM mustard and similar technologies. We need to provide a conducive policy environment and encourage more research-based farm technologies. When our prime minister says that the government wants to double farmers’ income, it is only possible by giving us the freedom to choose from advanced technologies and multiple inputs. Otherwise, this will continue to be a distant dream.
I may be a farmer, but I know that technology has brought drastic, dramatic positive changes in different sectors such as communication, transportation, infrastructure, education, banking, health, etc. But the agriculture sector continues to be backward. Why?
Today, as agricultural prices are linked to global market prices, we need access to the same modern technologies available around the world for our farmers to prosper and keep in step with the farming community worldwide. After all, it is the farmer who knows best what works in his farm and what does not.
It is in a farmer’s DNA to continuously research and develop various options to improve the productivity and quality of a crop. Introducing GM mustard in the market will go a long way in improving productivity and reducing our dependence on imports.
As our landholdings reduce at a steady rate, in the future, we will have no option but to adopt innovative farm technologies to make farming profitable. Farmers know what is the right and appropriate technology for them. It is disheartening to see individuals with no farming background and with vested interests making the decisions on our behalf. I do not find them well-equipped to decide whether we should use technologies such as GM mustard, Bt brinjal and such other crops.
On behalf of fellow farmers, who wish to grow GM mustard, I request and urge the government to not bow down to anti-farmer and anti-technology campaigners. Activists with meagre knowledge of rural and farm issues are making allegations not backed by scientific data. Instead, I am the one who works in the fields day and night; it is my livelihood, and I ask you to approve GM mustard in our interest.
We farmers have full confidence in the present government and are convinced that prime minister Narendra Modi will disregard misleading propaganda and make an informed decision based on scientific data.
National co-ordinator of Rashtriya Kisan Progressive Association (RKPA), based in Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan