India’s production of edible oils which has been stagnating at around 10 to 11 million tonne (mt) since last five years could get a significant boost provided the government gives the nod for commercial release of the transgenic mustard variety recommended for environmental release by the country’s bio-tech regulator Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC).
Unlike other edible oils like palm, soybean and sunflower which are imported by the country in large quantities, mustard oil is not imported but a rise in its domestic production will help address the trade deficit through increased consumption of this variety of oil.
The average yield of mustard which has a share of around 40% in domestic edible oil output, has been around 1.5 tonne per hectare, and this compares poorly with other major producers like Canada and Australia.
Mustard is grown mostly under the rainfed conditions in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, where yields fluctuate. In the 2021-22 rabi season, mustard was sown in around 9.1 million hectares (mh). Other main oil seeds – soyabean and groundnut – have shares of 24% and 7%, respectively, in domestic production
“The herbicide-tolerant variety of GM mustard (DMH 11) could be used for production of superior seed varieties which would increase production and reduce dependence on edible oil import,” PK Rai, director, ICAR-Directorate of Rapseed and Mustard Research (DRMR), Bharatpur, Rajasthan, said.
India meets around 56% of its annual edible oil consumption via imports with annual imports being around 13-14 million tonne (mt). The country’s imports palm oil from Indonesia and Malaysia while soybean and sunflower is imported from Ukraine, Argentina and other countries. India’s edible oil demand has been in range of 24-25 mt in recent years.
The value of edible oil imports jumped from Rs 0.62 trillion in 2018-19 to Rs 1.5 trillion in 2021-22, even as volumes remained flat, as prices skyrocketed. Because of softening global prices since Indonesia’s lifting of a temporary ban on palm oil exports, the import prices have softened.
“With the introduction of GM mustard hybrid, the yield could increase by around 25% in the next couple of years and help the country in achieving domestic edible oil production of 17 mt as envisaged by 2025-26,” KC Bansal, Secretary, National Academy of Agricultural Sciences, said.
India started commercial cultivation of BT cotton in 2002, which resulted in an impressive threefold increase in cotton yield within a decade.
While the then Genetic Engineering Approval Committee had approved the first transgenic food crop Bt Brinjal in 2009 for wider environmental release, the decision was later stayed by the then environment minister Jairam Ramesh on grounds of ‘insufficient scientific evidence about safety’. The issue has since been hanging fire.
The GM mustard variety DMH 11 is expected to help fight orobanche weed which hits yield of crop in 2.5 mh out of around 7 mh cultivated area and herbicides tolerant trait of variety could be inserted into existing varieties for increasing their yield.
GEAC has recommended development of new parental lines and hybrid seed under supervision of Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) for transgenic mustard variety developed by the Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plant (CGMCP) of the Delhi University.
Sources said after environmental release of GM mustard would have to be approved by the government before being used for seed multiplication by DRMR. Given the opposition to the approval of the first transgenic food crop and sowing windows for mustard of mostly over by now, seed multiplications by DRMR would have to wait for the next season.
Meanwhile, the coalition for a GM-Free India, urged the government against approval of GM mustard citing lack of scientificity or responsible regulation. RSS-affiliate Swadeshi Jagran Manch said that the environment ministry would not give the final nod for GM mustard.