Saturday, 26 September 2020

Agriculture Remains A Neglected Sector

Updated: July 10, 2010 2:45 pm

Addressing the golden jubilee celebrations of the Govind Ballabh Pant University of Agriculture and Technology at Pantnagar on June 19, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed regret that there has not been any major breakthrough in agricultural technology since the Green Revolution in the late 1960s. “This is the real challenge for the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), farm universities and scientists,” he stated.

            On the other hand, the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture, in its report on the demands for grants presented on April 22, 2010, observed: “The Committee strongly feel that the agriculture sector after years and years of neglect needs to be given a fresh look in all its ramifications. Any half measurers or isolated knee-jerk reactions to situational requirements like low productivity or natural calamities or climate change would not only prove grossly inadequate but are surely bound to fail.”

            Unfortunately, this is precisely what has happened with Indian agriculture a few years after the spectacular “Green Revolution” achieved by Indian scientists with the political leadership such as Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, Agriculture Minister C Subramaniam and scientists led by Dr BP Paul, Dr AB Joshi, Dr MS Swaminathan, Dr MV Rao, Dr Mathur, Dr Kohli and others besides Agriculture Secretary           B Sivaraman.

            The research at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) then had been a success with new seeds developed which were named at the beginning Sonalika and Kalyan Sona. They had made India self-sufficient in wheat soon. At the same time, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), Los Banos, the Philippines, developed the IR-8 which made Indian self-sufficient in rice and wheat, the major crops of India, by the end of the 1960s.

            Dr Manomohan Singh, after becoming India’s Prime Minister in 2004, did two things with respect to agriculture. The first was to eulogise the merit of Mr Sharad Pawar, who has taken as the Agriculture Minister. And secondly to suggest that India should stage a second green revolution. If one has a look at the pamphlet issued by the government on October 27, 2005, entitled Towards Second Green Revolution, one will come across at the very first sentence of the text of the Prime Minister’s speech: “…I

should begin by stating that our government attaches the highest importance to achieve a four per cent average growth rate in agricultural production and the fact that one of our senior-most political leaders of our country, Mr Sharad Pawar is looking after this very important ministry is an indication of the importance our government attaches to sustained increase in agricultural productivity and agricultural growth.”

            He also said on that occasion (Conference of Krishi Vigyan Kendras): “As I have said on many occasion, we need to usher in a second green revolution. The agricultural scientists would have, therefore, to work towards providing the technological basis for the new breakthrough.”

            Later in his opening address to the special National Development Council meeting on agriculture held in New Delhi on May 29, 2007, the Prime Minister once again said: “One feature that stands out is the lack of any breakthrough in agricultural production technology in recent years. There is a technology fatigue which we need to address.”

            Meanwhile, sometime later, when the President of India was presented with a FAO award, she too had spoken about a second green revolution. Has any of the leaders gone into the definition of “green revolution”? What did the green revolution of 1967-68 in India in the first place mean or imply? Most people, one is constrained to mention, consider the green revolution to involve unprecedented increase in the productivity of wheat by using more irrigation and more fertilisers. Many of the present-day organic food supporters berate Indian agricultural scientist for recklessly recommending higher input of “poisonous fertilisers” for extracting higher yields.

            Fact is that the first green revolution was a “gene revolution” in the first place. It was a genetic revolution, which had ensured that the wheat plants growing from these genetically modified seeds do not “lodge” or fall over under the weight of the grains. The original Indian wheat plants used to be tall and susceptible to “lodge” and cause losses in the yield. Those Indians who have grown up in the last 40 years or so have almost invariably consumed these wheat and the IR-8 type of rice developed at the IRRI, the Philippines, whether one likes to admit it or not.

            The wheat revolution of 1967-68 was caused by a gene named Norin-10, which had travelled from the Second World War II-ravaged Japan to the United States Department of Agriculture and then the Rockefeller Foundation unit in Mexico, which developed new varieties of wheat which when brought to India in 1965 developed first as Kalyan Sona and Sonalika. The price of each seed—repeat each seed—at that time was Re 1 a piece. At the Pantnagar University where the Prime Minister spoke on June 19, farmers would come to ask for mutthi bhar seeds and offer Rs 100 those days (Pantnagar was also a centre for multiplication of the Mexican seed brought to India courageously by   Mr C Subramaniam).

            The new rice variety IR-8 which came to India about that time owed its origin to a gene from mainland China called DGWG. So when the Prime Minister has been speaking about developing the second green revolution, he did and does imply genetically-modified varieties of both wheat and rice.

            One feels that these facts should be made public. And it also has to be made explicit that whatever may the environmentalists say, there is no escape from genetically-modified crops for humanity.

            For those who speak about “organic food” etc and decry genetically-modified crops, they can contact the Indian National Science Academy (INSA), which had released a document on July 11, 2000, which showed that apart from INSA, the Royal Society of England, the Third World Academy of Sciences, the Brazilian Academy of Sciences, and the National Academy of Sciences, USA, most leaders of the scientific community and the agricultural science community of India had attended the working group that had taken these decisions. So, instead of beating about the bush, the Prime Minister could do well to announce that the future safety of the Indians against hunger lay in genetically-modified crops, never mind what his Minister of Environment may say. That junior minister is not an expert either of science or of agriculture and so can easily be ignored.

By Arabinda Ghose

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