Farmers’ bodies oppose!

In October beginning, the Indian government’s high level committee, namely, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) of the department of biotechnology gave its approval for the country’s first GM crop, the bt brinjal. All the heall broke loose last week in the capital. A massive rally of farmers, of the four largest farmers organisations gathered in New Delhi and registered their protest against the introduction of the new crop.

The issues are very simple at one level. At another level, the issue gets complex.
At the two levels rests certain basic assumptions about certain basic truths.
We have published elsewhere in this issue the two news items. One opposing the approval given by the government. The other news item is about the report released by the Royal Society of England.

The Royal Society report notes that the world needs genetically modified crops both to increase food yields and minimise the environmental impact of farming.
This Britain’s top science body and with such a high reputation behind it, what it says needs careful consideration and also wide dissemination among the lay public.

The faces a grand challenge, says the Society. To feed the world’s another 2.3 billion people by 2050 and at the same time limit the environment impact of farming needs serious thinking and policy steps.

The Royal Society says that the world has to produce more, more output to the scale of 70 per cent more and this calls for an investment of 83 billion dollars annually in developing countries in poorer countries increasingly. The UN’s FAO also endorses this estimate. Now, says the Society, the problem is acute, doing that sustainably without eroding soil, overusing fertilisers in an enormous challenge, said the chair of the Royal Society’s, namely, David Baulcombe of the Cambridge University.

Also, there is not more land resources either. He told the Reuters. From the point of view of expense and using fossil fuels, we want to use less fertilisers, he says. The food supply problems to come to a head, it is not very long time. It is the next 10, 20, 30 years he warns. There is not much time to waste. The answer would be, he says, a range of approaches from hightech genetically modified crops to low-tech management approaches such as sowing grass around maize to divert pests, as well as preserving the diversity of natural, wild crop varieties.

There are other ideas as well. Deforestation accounts for a third of green houses gases, underlining the problem of increasing the production of food. Clearing more lands for cultivation, using more fertilisers, the biggest sources of powerful greenhouse gas nitrous oxide.

Britain alone, it is pointed out by the Society report, has to invest 82 million dollars annually to boost innovation in a sector that lost allure following food over-supply in Europe. A combination of changing diets, growing population, demand for farm land for biofuels and high energy prices have stoked high food prices and so the renewed interest in agriculture all over the world have also led to new problems.

Now, the issue before us: India needs to raise food production to feed its hungry and the poor. India has to create a climate of credibility for its bureaucracy.
The opposition from NGOs and other anti-biotech lobby is more from the current perception of the reliability of the findings of the scientists. Scientists they may be. But they are the creatures of the political and bureaucratic class.

So, not many would trust the claims made by the officials and the scientists on the GEAC. So too the credibility of the corporate in question and that too with a giant Monsanto behind it.

So, the moral is clear. There will be opposition and the government must learn to live with it.

And the biotech crops can’t be avoided for long.

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