Biotechnology and India Agriculture
We need to recongnise that, just as the food reequirements of today’s population of nearly 6 billion people could not have been met by the technologies of the 1940′s, we cannot assume that current practices will feed the population of 8 billion expected by 2020. New approaches are needed in addition to the continued improvement of existing methods of crop and animal husbandry and food proceessing. The strategic integration of biotechnology tools into India agricultural systems can revolutionise Indian farming and usher in a new era. Genetic engineering is clearly the most revolutionary tool to impact agricultural research since the discovery of genetics by Mendel. Prior to genetic engineering, the exchange of DNA mateial was possible only between individual organisms of the same species. With the advent of genetic engineering in 1972, scientists have been able to dientify specific genes associated with desirable traits in one organism. For example, a gene from bacteria, virus or animals may be transfered into plants to produce genetically modified plants having changed characteristics. This method therefore allows mixing of the genetic material from species that cannot otherwise breed naturally.
Genetic engineering can be vital for an agrarian country like India. It can help in minimising the crop damage through disease and pest resistant varieties, reducing the use of chemicals, enhancing stress tolerance in crop plants, thus permitting productive farming on unproductive lands, etc. One could even extend the growing season of crops and minimise losses due to environmental factors on the one hand and increase the shelf life of fruits and vegetables, on the other, thus minimising losses due to food spoilage. We can expand the market vista and improve food quality. Biotechnology can also produce plants that possess healthy fats and oils, possess increased nutritive value, and create a whole range of higher value feeds. Biotechnology has even the power of producing biodegradable plastics, edible vaccines, etc.
It is only through the blending of the ‘gene revolution’ with our experience in the ‘geen revolution’ that we can reach our goal of ‘evergreen revolution’ and also ‘nutritional revolution’ The advantage of the gene revolution is that it is relatively scale neutral, benefiting big and small farmers alike, It is also environment friendly. Thus, it can be of great help to the smallest farmer with limited resources in increasing farm productivity through the availability of improved but powerful seed. It can also reduce a farmer’s dependency on chemical inputs such as pesticides and fertilisers.
Modern biotechnology offers unlimited opportunity for enhancing genetic potential of crops and other commodities, management of biotic and abiotic stresses, bio-remediation and organic recycling. India is one of the main centres of agricultural biodiversity and its gene richness can greatly complement the developments in modern biotechnology. Likewise, new developments in GIS, remote sensing, and crop modelling, provide new opportunities for integrated management of natural resources. The revolution in informatics provides opportunities for sharing latest information for research and planning in a highly organised and efficient manner. With the globalisation of economy, the opportunities for value addition and post harvest management are also immense. With clever blending of technologies, the India farmer can usher in new era of confidence and performance.
Sir Francis Bacon had once said: ‘It would be an unsound fancy to expect that things which have never yet been done, can be done except by methods which have never been tried’ In the new context, we have to review the new role of biotechnology. Also, it is in this context that we have to view the reapid advances that modern biotechnology is making, including the area of transgenics. Let us focus on some of the developments in this area, since considerable interest and controversy has been created around the world today in this exciting area.