Former Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar has made a strong pitch for use of genetically modified (GM) crops, saying ignoring advances in crop science could adversely affect the country’s food security. Delivering the Annasaheb Shinde Centenary Memorial lecture here on Wednesday, Pawar said even European nations, which were “vehemently opposed” to genetically engineered crops, have begun to change their views in the face of the food crisis presented by the Covid pandemic and the recent Ukraine-Russia war.
“India lately became complacent and started neglecting the developments in science, particularly the new genetics and breeding,” said Pawar, who served as the Union agriculture minister from 2004 to 2014. Speaking at the event, Road Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari called for changing cropping patterns to boost production of oilseeds and keeping in mind the demands of the global economy.
Pawar pointed out that India had not allowed cultivation of genetically modified mustard in spite of the known success of the first biotech crop – GM cotton.“What happens now is well known. We are importing edible oil worth Rs 80,000 crore annually, including the one produced from GM soybean and mustard,” Pawar said, making a strong pitch for use of science to increase food production.
“We were self-sufficient and hence could afford drawing room suggestions on how food could be produced. Even the so-called elitists with little or no background of agriculture science offered advice on research and development,” the NCP chief said.
“The activism emerged to oppose everything, which is linked to genetic progress and even dictated the policy agenda of the government,” Pawar said. He also slammed the government for the flip-flop on the policy of agricultural exports at a time when the world was looking towards India to address issues of food security.
Pawar pointed out that Britain recently introduced the genetic technology (precision breeding) bill in their parliament to cut red tape and support development of innovative technologies to grow more nutritious and productive crops in the wake of climate change. He said recently countries such as Australia, Canada, and Brazil that had earlier opposed genetically altered crops were embracing such technologies to address issues related to food security. He credited Annasaheb Shinde, the Deputy Minister for Agriculture, for encouraging the use of technology for better crops in the 1960s which made India self-sufficient in food production.