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GM Technology US Goes On The Fly

Updated: May 22, 2010 4:24 pm

Opposition to GM technology is due to apprehension of US domination on agriculture. This is the reason for European opposition to this technology, as also ours.

Two of India’s foremost agricultural scientists, whose names invariably come up whenever the phrase “green revolution” is uttered or written about Dr MS Swaminathan and—Dr MV Rao—have not endorsed the application of Bt technology in brinjal so far. But why?

            Dr Swaminathan is well known as the “father of the green revolution” in wheat in India while Dr MV Rao is credited with identifying the particular gene which was applied for producing semi-dwarf varieties of wheat from just 15 gramme of the 250 tonne of seeds imported from Mexico in 1965, given to him at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), New Delhi (popularly known as the Pusa Institute) for research.

            They and “countless others” to quote Dr Norman Borlaug, were responsible for the onset of the green revolution, which saved India in the late 1960s from certain famine because of two consecutive failures of the south-west monsoon in 1965 and 1966 even as India was economically in dire straits after the war with Pakistan (from September 1 to 16, 1965). The green revolution suddenly increased the output of wheat from 12.9 million tonnes (mt) in 1967 to 16.4 mt in 1968. Wheat production has now exceeded 80 mt a year and rice production is also the result of a green revolution in this crop which was developed at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

            Despite the success of the green revolution in wheat and rice they were not genetically modified revolutions neither Europe nor scientists such as Dr Swaminathan and Dr Rao has endorsed the Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt) technology brinjal so far. The reason, Dr Rao indicated to this writer a few days ago from Secunderabad, where he is residing now, is that the Bt technology is of American in origin and ownership

and Europe is not prepared to accept it because it does not want its agriculture to be dominated by American technology alone. Dr Rao is now a member of the Upper House of Andhra Pradesh Legislature but even at this 80 plus age he is busy in matters connected with agriculture and takes no rest, even for an afternoon siesta. This I had found during a visit to his home last year (2009).

            Dr Rao recalled that the wheat revolution had happened in India with the use of the Sonalika and Kalyan Sona varieties of seeds, developed in India from seeds brought from Mexico, and multiplied here. The origin of those seeds is Japan and also of the gene called Norin which came to the United States after the second world war. The question that is raised by scientific leaders such as Dr Rao is: Where are the original wheat seeds of India? Not merely wheat even rice falls under this category because the green revolution in India with the IR-8 variety was developed at the IRRI.

            Stressing the need for preserving bio-diversity of crops in India, for which purpose the Department of Bio-technology was originally set up, Dr Rao expressed his view that this department is not always headed by scientists. Bureaucrats are appointed to these posts frequently.

            He recalled the warning by the former President of India Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, that unless India remained self-sufficient in technology, she should be prepared for foreign domination of the country. This exceptionally talented scientist who was responsible, among other things, to raise the production of oilseeds in the country as the head of the Government of India’s Oilseeds Mission in the1960s, told this reporter that India should now go in for the “second green revolution” which would be confined to pulses and oilseeds, and in the rain fed areas of the country. Sixty per cent of the agricultural land in the country is under rain-fed conditions and the second green revolution should concentrate on these 60 per cent of land with pulses allotted top priority. Pulses should receive fertilisers as they go to tackle the pesticide menace.

            Dr Rao was aggrieved that extension services in agriculture have almost collapsed. He recalled the introduction of the Training and Visit (T&V) system of extension introduced in the 1980s, which has no trace left now. Concluding, he emphasised again that Indian agriculture should be controlled by Indians only and not others. He added that, however, there was no danger in adopting Bt technology as such but India had to be cautious about adopting technologies that were not indigenous, there being apprehension of foreign domination on agriculture in India Dr Swaminathan had this to say on this issue. “Unless R&D efforts on GM (genetically modified) foods are based on principles of bio-ethics, bio-safety, bio-diversity conservation and bio-partnership, there will be serious public concern in India, as well as many developing countries, about their ultimate nutritional, social, ecological and economic consequences.”

            This remark appears at the end of a long article on this issue. Dr Debashish Banerjee, Director, Bio-Science, Samaj Pragati Sahayog, Madhya Pradesh, former Professor of Botany at the Choudhary Charan Singh University, Meerut, was associated with pioneering work on agrobacterium-tobacco DNA combination at the Rosewell Park Memorial Cancer Research Institute, New York. His article appears on the edit page of The Hindu of March 24, 2010. The most significant sentence in this article is “…However, it is disconcerting to note that in India the GM crops released or waiting to be released have been produced through an underdeveloped technology dating from the mid-1990s.” In an interview to The Tribune on January 30 this year, Dr. Swaminathan also said: “Certain aspects about Bt brinjal need to be ascertained before it is introduced in the country, especially the impact of the chronic dose over a long period of time on human health and its bio-diversity aspect. Risks and benefits from the point of view of bio-safety need to be analysed in a manner that satisfies public, political and professional credibility.”

By Arabinda Ghose

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