India: Can Biotech Belie The Malthusian Fear?

Last Updated: 24 May 2004
Article by Kumar Yadav

Article by Dr. Shiv K.Yadav

The term " green revolution" in India was coined about 35 years ago, which symbolizes the increase in production potential of green plants. This revolution was well supported by the Indian Agricultural Research Scientist and of course the Government Policies. As we are already in the 21st century, we need to produce more grains and other agricultural commodities under conditions of shrinking per capita arable land and irrigation otherwise the Malthusian fear of an imbalance between human numbers and capacity to produce enough food for all would come true within next 5 decades.

The green revolution took place when the access to genetic material for plant breeding was not restricted but now, the scenario has changed completely. The breeding stock is rapidly coming under the control of privately funded research institutions. More over, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) had made it mandatory to introduce material and knowledge transfer agreements in relation to the exchange of genetic material.

Agriculture need to produce not only more food, but also generate more income generation and livelihood opportunities. The increase in food production in decades in more parts of the world in recent past has out- paced the rate of growth in population, with the application of modern science in the field of agriculture. Though, such progress had been possible through the synergy between technology and public policy but, very recently the rapid strides in molecular genetics and in the other areas of research have opened up opportunities for promoting an ever-green revolution, rooted in the principles of ecological, economical social sustainability. In fact, this is the high time when the promise shown by the transition from the green revolution to the gene revolution needs carefully study. The promise of biotechnology lies in improving the productivity in terms of quantity and quality of seeds/plants quickly and effectively. The multinationals are now pouring huge investments in bringing the derived traits, in many crops that is given below (Table 1).

Table 1. Multinationals bringing in the derived traits, in different crops.

Year

Crop

Trait

Technology provider

1995/96

Tomato

Delayed ripening

Calgene/Monsanto

1995

Canola

LibertyLinkTM

AgrEvo

1996

Soybeans

Roundup ReadyTM

Monsanto

1996

Corn

Bt

Ciba-Geigy, Mycogen

1997

Corn

Bt

Monsanto, DEKALB, NK

1997

Canola (B. juncea)

SeedLinkTM

Plant Genetic Systems

1997

Corn

SeedLinkTM

Plant Genetic Systems

1997

Corn

Bt

Plant Genetic Systems

1997

Corn

LibertyLinkTM

AgrEvo

1997

Cotton

Roundup Ready TM

Monsanto

1998

Mustard (B. Juncea)

SeedLink TM

Plant Genetic Systems

1998

Corn

Roundup Ready TM

Monsanto

1998

Soybeans

LibertyLinkTM

AgrEvo

1998

Sugar beet

LibertyLinkTM

AgrEvo

1998

Corn

Bt

Plant Genetic Systems

1998

Tomato

Bt

Plant Genetic Systems

1998+

Potato

Virus Protection

Monsanto

2000+

Canola (B. rapa)

SeedLink TM

Plant Genetic Systems

2000+

Canola (B. napus-winter)

SeedLink TM

Plant Genetic Systems

2000+

B. oleracea

SeedLink TM

Plant Genetic Systems

The plants can be altered to mature faster or to last longer and to have greater nutritional quality knowing the fact that biotechnology can help in creating seeds/plants that tolerate salt, withstand draught and resist insects. The Indian Institutes have taken up projects to improve certain trait, in crops of national importance, which are summarized below (Table 2).

Table 2. Applications of Transgenic Research in India.

Sr.No.

Institute

Plants/Crops used for transformation

Transgenes Inserted

Aim of the projects

1.

Bose Institute, Calcutta (WB)

Rice

Bt toxin genes

To generate plants resistant to

Lepidopteron pests.

2.

Central Potato Research Institute, Shimla (HP)

Potato

Bt toxin genes

To generate plants resistant to

Lepidopteron pests.

3.

Central Tobacco Research Rajamundry 9AP0

Tobacco

Bt toxin genes

Cry 1A (b) and

Cry 1A (c)

To generate plants resistant to

H.armigera and S. litura.

4.

Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi

Rice

Bt toxin genes

To generate plants resistant to

Lepidopteron pests.

5.

JNU (NCPGR)

M/s. Pro Agro- PGS India Ltd, New Delhi

Brinjal

Cry 1A (b)

To generate plants resistant to

Lepidopteron pests.

 

JNU (NCPGR)

M/s. Pro Agro- PGS India Ltd, New Delhi

Brassica (Mustard)

A,ar Bastar Barnase Bar

To develop better hybrid .

 

JNU (NCPGR)

M/s. Pro Agro- PGS India Ltd, New Delhi

Cauliflower/Cabbage

Cry 1H

To generate plants resistant to

Lepidopteron pests.

 

JNU (NCPGR)

M/s. Pro Agro- PGS India Ltd, New Delhi

Cauliflower

Barnase Bastar Bar

To generate plants resistant to

Lepidopteron pests.

 

JNU (NCPGR)

M/s. Pro Agro- PGS India Ltd, New Delhi

Potato

A,ar Bastar Barnase Bar

To generate plants resistant to

Lepidopteron pests.

 

JNU (NCPGR)

M/s. Pro Agro- PGS India Ltd, New Delhi

Tomato

Cry 1A (b)

To generate plants resistant to

Lepidopteron pests.

6.

National Botanical Research Institute, Lucknow (UP)

Cotton

Bt toxin genes

To generate plants resistant to

Lepidopteron pests.

7.

South Campus Delhi University, New Delhi

Mustard/Rapeseed

Bar Barnase Bastar

To generate plants resistant to

Lepidopteron pests.

8.

Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TN)

Rice

Reporter gene likes hph or gus A

To generate plants resistant to

Lepidopteron pests.

Genetic engineering started in the early 1970’s and at that time it was limited to bacteria. But, rapidly the technology was extended to the plant kingdom and the first transgenic plant was tobacco. Since then, the evolution has been very rapid and the genetically modified crop varieties, known as GMO's were grown on more than 45 million hectares in the 2000 has increased to about 67.8 million hectares in the world in 2003. The major share (Approximately 63 %) is of US only and the five countries i.e. USA, Argentina, Canada, China and Brazil contributing up to 98 % in terms of area. However, rest of the countries the cultivation of GM’s have been the marginal because of one or the other reason. This may be noticed here that the area in US and Argentina is decreasing gradually, But the area under Transgenics has been on increasing trend in countries like India, Where it has increased its Bt Cotton area by cent percent in just one year. Country wise area under transgenics in the world is shown below (Table 3).

Table 3. Country wise share of area (%) grown under Transgenics since 2000.

Country

2000

2001

2002

2003

USA

67

66

64

63.1

Argentina

22

22

22

20.5

Canada

7

6

6

6.5

China

1

3

3

4.4

Brazil

2

3

3

4.1

South Africa

<1

<1

<1

0.6

Australia

<1

<1

<1

0.15

India

-

-

<1

0.15

Romania

<0.1

<1

<1

<1

Spain

<0.1

<1

<1

<1

Uruguay

<0.1

<1

<1

<1

Mexico

<0.1

<1

<1

<1

Bulgaria

<0.1

<1

<1

<1

Indonesia

-

-

<1

<1

Colombia

-

-

<1

<1

Germany

-

<1

<1

<1

France

<0.1

-

-

-

Total

100

100

100

100

World wide, latest estimates indicate that 842 million people live in the condition of chronic, persistent hunger, one-seventh of our human family. Millions of people, including 6 million children under the age of five die each year as result. Fifty percent of the hungry and malnourished, world- wide is smallholder peasants. Biotechnology has brought ray of hope by producing some of the low input high yielding and nutritionally rich cultivars in a variety of crops that has been given below (Table4).

Table 4. Crop wise Global area of transgenic crops from 2000 to 2002 (millions of hectares)

Crop

2000

Percent Share

2001

Percent

Share

2002

Percent

Share

Soybean

26.8

59

34.9

64

38.5

63

Maize

10.3

23

9.8

18

12.4

21

Cotton

5.3

12

6.8

13

6.8

11

Canola

2.8

6

2.7

5

3.0

5

Squash

<0.1

<1

<0.1

<1

<0.1

<1

Papaya

<0.1

<1

<0.1

<1

<0.1

<1

Potato

<0.1

<1

-

-

-

-

Total

45.2

100

54.2

100

60.7

100

The agriculture scientists have helped to feed the world till date, using break- through such as the production of high yielding wheat, rice, corn and potatoes etc. This had been possible by the traditional research in breeding and by treating agricultural technology advances as a benefit to be shared as widely as possible including the poor farmers in developing countries. Some of the early successes in the field of biotechnology have given us the ray of hope. If given the same commitment and approach to the gene-revolution, it can form the part of the solutions to the food security challenge of 21st country.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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