India can’t afford to not use GM technology
While the government continues to dilly dally over whether India should even do trials of various GM crops—the fact that it is trials that are being talked about needs to be underscored—NITI Aayog has done well to bring out an occasional paper that champions the cause of GM crops. As the paper points out, while the earlier green revolution has had its share of problems—over-exploitation of water and excessive salination of soil—India needs to move from input-intensive to a technology- and skill-intensive agriculture growth model. Not surprisingly, since this is the only GM crop introduced in India, the paper highlights the dramatic increase in cotton yields after Bt technology was introduced—yields have risen from 186 kg per hectare in FY02 to 532 kg in FY14—and the fact that insecticide use fell by half in the 2000s due to this. “Thirteen years have passed”, the paper says, “since the introduction of Bt cotton and no scientific evidence of detrimental effects on either Bt cotton users of other crops located in the vicinity of Bt cotton farmers has been produced”.
India, as NITI Aayog points out, is dependent upon imports to meet 70% of its domestic demand of edible oils; between 1964-65 and 2014-15, per capita production of pulses has fallen from 25 kg to 13.6 kg, as a result of which a fifth of domestic demand is met through imports. With the effects of global warming likely to increase over the years, India also needs seeds that are tolerant of drought and high temperatures, floods and high soil-salinity—GM also offers the opportunity to fortify grain with vitamins so that the poor can get their daily dose of them without having to pay extra. While there are non-GM technologies that can help raise yields, GM offers a solution that can help raise yields along with reducing pesticide/insecticide usage—this has significant health benefits which the anti-GM lobby tend to ignore—and also offer solutions for various climate change-induced situations. While one group of scientists will keep opposing GM, it is important to keep in mind there has been no harmful effect in countries like the US where this has been used for well over a decade and a half. It is certainly odd that while we are prepared to accept US standards and R&D when it comes to medicines, the same is being summarily rejected when it comes to crops. In any case, what is being asked for right now is simply field trials—if even this is to be denied, what hope can we have of ever introducing new technology in an area that is desperate for it?