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BUSINESS & SEEDS: GE crops crucial for Indian food security according to biotech CEO



                                  PART 1


------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:   BIOTECH CRUCIAL FOR FOOD SECURITY

SOURCE:  The Hindu Business Line, India

AUTHOR:  Opinion, by Ram Kaundinya

URL:     http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/article2144947.ece

DATE:    30.06.2011

SUMMARY: "Very exciting input traits are in the pipeline. For example, water use efficiency trait which will reduce the water requirements of the crops considerably and can help the vast number of farmers who cultivate rainfed crops in the country in more than 100 million hectares. Similarly, the nitrogen use efficiency trait which will reduce the use of nitrogenous fertiliser on the crops by an estimated 30 per cent. Another trait that is waiting in the wings is the salt tolerance trait which can help farmers grow crops in saline soils of more than 20 million ha in India. These three traits can make a huge difference to Indian agriculture."

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BIOTECH CRUCIAL FOR FOOD SECURITY

(The author is CEO, Advanta India, and Chairman, Association of Biotech Led Enterprises - Agriculture Group)

Cotton yields have doubled since the introduction of Bt technology.

Biotechnology can play a major role in bridging the supply-demand gap in food by raising input efficiencies. However, a misconception has been created that this technology is genetic modification and little else.

For almost 25 years post independence, India imported food grains, particularly wheat. Under a programme called PL480, we received aid in the form of foodgrains. We did not have the capacity to produce the wheat required to feed our population. The first breakthrough in our wheat productivity came through the introduction of dwarf Mexican varieties.

Similarly, a revolution in rice productivity came about through the introduction of IRRI varieties from the Philippines such as IR8 and IR64. Later, we combined the imported varieties with our own varieties and developed even higher yielding varieties. In fact, India?s food security and self-sufficiency story is a result of a free flow of varieties and lines from several other countries; international institutions and Indian agricultural scientists combined their best materials with such lines to produce high-yielding varieties and hybrids.

The enormous progress we made in food production during the 1970s and 1980s has given us a sense of food security. However, the situation does not look comfortable, given the ever-growing population.

PRODUCTIVITY CHALLENGE

According to a working paper by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER), India would have to double its food production by 2020. The demand for meat, fish and eggs is expected to go up by 2.8 times; the demand for cereals is expected to double; the demand for vegetables and fruits is expected to go up by 1.8 times and the demand for milk is expected to go up by 2.6 times compared with 2007. This rising demand will create further pressure on land and water in India over next 10-15 years.

Between 1991 and 2007, the crop yields in India have been stagnant, except in the case of cotton. Ministry of Agriculture data reveals that during this period the yields of crops like wheat, rice, pulses, soybeans and sugarcane have grown by 0.19- 1.4 per cent per annum.

However, in the same period, the yields of cotton have grown by 4.38 per cent per annum, which actually demonstrates the push GM technology managed to give to this crop. So far, Bt cotton is the only GM crop approved for cultivation in India and has delivered enormous benefits to Indian farmers. About 5.8 million Indian cotton farmers are now growing Bt cotton on more than 25 million acres of land. Cotton yields have doubled since the introduction of the technology in 2002. From a net importer of cotton, India is now the second largest exporter and producer of cotton.

The current rate of growth in crop yields cannot help us meet the challenge of doubling our food production by 2020. We need to think of ways and means to achieve this objective. One important way to increase the availability of food is to increase the productivity of land and water in the country. This is not an easy task in view of pressure of industrialisation, lack of arable land and depleting water tables. However, there is great scope for increasing crop yields through improved agronomic practices and crop improvement. It is estimated that improved agronomic practices can increase yields by about 50 per cent, while crop improvement can increase yields by more than 50 per cent.

All these measures like minimising wastage in the supply chain, improving the productivity of land, water and saline soils, improving agronomic practices and crop improvement have to be used as a package to make adequate food available to our growing population in the next 25-40 years. Against the above realities, agricultural biotechnology offers a key solution to meeting these growing challenges.

POTENTIAL OF BIOTECH

A misconception has been created that all agricultural biotechnology is genetic modification. This is not correct. Agricultural biotechnology consists of many traits and techniques, of which the genetic modification is the most popular. Molecular marker-based selection is the tool now extensively used in India and abroad to enhance the speed and precision of plant breeding. Apart from this, there are many other tools like dihaploids, tissue culture and others which are biotech tools used extensively to improve plant breeding.

Genetically improved seeds were introduced in the world in 1996. In 2010, a record 15.4 million farmers in 29 countries planted 148 million hectares of biotech crops, with 90 per cent, or 14.4 million being small and resource-poor farmers in developing countries. This share has been growing very rapidly in the last five years as the acceptance of GM crops has gone up substantially.

There are two types of GM traits ? input traits and the output traits. Input traits are those which incorporate a character into the plant, as a result of which the way in which an input is used on the crop is modified. The primary beneficiary of these traits is the farmer. An example is the insect tolerant trait (Bt) which gives the plant the strength to fight the insect pests that attack the crop. This trait modifies the way insecticides are used on the crop. Another example is the herbicide tolerant trait which modifies the way herbicides are used on the crop.

Very exciting input traits are in the pipeline. For example, water use efficiency trait which will reduce the water requirements of the crops considerably (estimated to be 30 per cent reduction) and can help the vast number of farmers who cultivate rainfed crops in the country in more than 100 million hectares. Similarly, the nitrogen use efficiency trait which will reduce the use of nitrogenous fertiliser on the crops by an estimated 30 per cent.

Another trait that is waiting in the wings is the salt tolerance trait which can help farmers grow crops in saline soils of more than 20 million ha in India. These three traits can make a huge difference to Indian agriculture.

On the other hand the output traits are those which modify the character of the output of the crop. The primary beneficiary of these traits is the consumer. These traits will require identity-preserved output management from the field to the fork. Contract farming systems will be important to make this technology successful. An example is the Golden Rice technology which produces Vitamin A-enriched rice grain. Similarly, there are healthy oils being produced with modified fatty acid profile.The safety of GM technology is well established by a rigorous regulatory process the world over, after which it is approved for use. The regulatory process for GM crops is stringent in all countries and the resultant data that is submitted to the Governments is adequate to prove the safety of this technology.



                                  PART 2

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:   TAKE COTTON SUCCESS STORY FORWARD

SOURCE:  The Hindu Business Line, India

AUTHOR:  Opinion, by Ram Kaundinya

URL:     http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/article2147859.ece

DATE:    01.07.2011

SUMMARY: "Seed biotechnology enhances output and promotes resource conservation. Chinthi Reddy, a farmer in Warangal, Andhra Pradesh, who cultivates cotton with Bt seeds on his five-acre land, says: ?Life has never been so good.? Reddy has installed drip irrigation in his field at an investment of Rs 70,000 and sent his son to the UK for MS studies in 2008. What?s more, earning Rs 20,000 per acre in his cotton fields and saving Rs 7,500 per acre on account of less pesticide use has given him the added financial muscle to purchase more land for farming."

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TAKE COTTON SUCCESS STORY FORWARD

(The author is CEO, Advanta India and Chairman of the Association of Biotech-Led Enterprises - Agriculture Group.)

Seed biotechnology enhances output and promotes resource conservation.

Chinthi Reddy, a farmer in Warangal, Andhra Pradesh, who cultivates cotton with Bt seeds on his five-acre land, says: ?Life has never been so good.? Reddy has installed drip irrigation in his field at an investment of Rs 70,000 and sent his son to the UK for MS studies in 2008. What?s more, earning Rs 20,000 per acre in his cotton fields and saving Rs 7,500 per acre on account of less pesticide use has given him the added financial muscle to purchase more land for farming.

Reddy?s story resonates with that of 60 lakh farmers who plant cotton with insect-protection technologies across India. This is a story of the transformation of cotton farming in India since 2002.

COTTON REVOLUTION

Across the large cotton-growing States, Bt cotton technology seeds are improving the lives of Indian farmers by providing them with savings on insecticide , higher yields, higher income, and helping them live with dignity.

Cotton production in Andhra Pradesh increased two-and-three-quarter times since the first planting of Bt cotton seeds, and farmers earn Rs 4,500 crore incremental income per annum by using hybrid Bt cotton seeds, as opposed to non-Bt varieties.

Imagine the improved status of our farmers if we can leverage the potential of these technologies with the right regulatory and market policies across crops. The power of plant technologies cannot be denied ? they lifted India to the position of world?s second largest producer and exporter of cotton, from being a large importer until 2002.

Today, the cotton farmer has more choices than ever before with 300 Bt cotton hybrids approved by the Government for cultivation.

The Indian farmer has rapidly adopted higher-yielding hybrid seeds with Bt cotton technologies, twice as fast as US farmers, and a third faster than Chinese farmers ? a clear sign of the robust value derived from these technologies. Why stop them or deny them access to the latest technologies?

Benefits of technology

Today, India has the world?s fourth largest area cultivated under biotech crops. Technologies have provided farmers with cumulative benefits surpassing Rs 31,500 crore from 2002 to 2009 (ISAAA). Studies further reveal that 87 per cent of India?s Bt cotton farmers enjoy better lifestyles, 72 per cent invested in their children?s education, and a significant 67 per cent repaid their long-pending debts (IMRB).

Seed biotechnology enhances food, feed, and fibre crop production; promotes resource conservation and energy efficiency; reduces the environmental footprint of agriculture by using lesser water, land and energy; improves economic viability for farmers and communities; and advances agriculture product safety.

India needs farmer-friendly regulation comparable to Brazil, the Philippines, and the US, and encouragement of R&D. Plant science and politics must not mix.

With population increasing and arable land decreasing, increasing yield and productivity is the only way to solve the food insufficiency problems.

Biotech seeds can help provide these benefits in a sustainable way, so that increasing populations can be fed without additional pressure on natural habitats, and simultaneously give a much needed fillip to rural incomes and quality of life.

The first fallacy is that farmers need to purchase hybrid seeds every year. GM technology is independent of the farmer?s choice to buy seeds every year or save seeds from his crop. More importantly, it is recommended that hybrid seeds are bought every year as the virility or vigour of the seeds weaken every time the saved seeds are re-sown. The fact is Bt technology can be inserted either in hybrids or OP varieties. The seed is the hardware, the Bt technology is the software.

Second, it is believed that GM technology leads to loss of biodiversity. The variety of biological and genetic diversity is progressively reduced in the commercial arena because of the process of selection and breeding.

Genetic diversity is maintained in the gene banks of various governments and institutes. Current biotech crops have equal or less impact on biodiversity compared with conventional crops. Biotech crops have contributed to the development of conservation farming, which can significantly reduce erosion and restore soil quality, and conserve topsoil and moisture content, which in turn helps preserve biodiversity. Another commonly cited argument is that GM technology increases the cost of seeds. Farmers are intelligent and choose the seeds that provide them with the highest yield, income and ease of cultivation. The farmer?s cost of Bt cotton hybrid seeds account for around 5 per cent of the total cost of cultivation, while labour and fertiliser costs account for over 30 per cent of his input costs. Plus, hybrid Bt cotton seeds help him double his production, creating significant insecticide savings.

Wide choice

It is said that Indian farmers will become dependent on foreign companies as seeds are imported. First, Indian cotton farmers have the widest choice as India is the world?s most competitive market for cotton seed. Bt cotton technology is available from five different sources, including Indian and global technologies, with one source being the the Government?s of India?s CICR. Second, more than 350 Bt cotton hybrids are approved for use by the Government of India, providing the farmers with a wide choice. In India, it is compulsory to test and register all seeds at local State Agriculture Universities within the ICAR system. This ensures that only good quality locally relevant seeds are available. Farmers always only buy seeds developed to suit their agronomic and environmental conditions and based on their experience. In any case, the actual seed is produced by the Indian companies. Even in Bt cotton that is the only GM crop approved and is being used in India, 90 per cent of
  the seed used by the farmer is produced by Indian companies. No Bt cotton seed is imported and sold to the farmers.

SAFETY CERTIFIED

As for the belief that GM foods are not safe for human beings, the safety of GM crops is established through various rigorous regulatory data generation work done in different parts of the world, including India.

Scientists and international health organisations including WHO, FAO, among others, have concluded that biotech crops, foods, and feeds are as safe as conventionally bred crops, foods, and feeds. Over 3,200 renowned scientists worldwide have signed a declaration in support of agricultural biotechnology and its safety to humans, animals, and the environment. Biotech crops are among the most extensively tested foods in the history of food safety.

The view that Europe does not grow GM crops and hence we should also not grow them is also commonly voiced. GM crops are being cultivated in six European countries and another 27 European countries have approved the consumption of GM foods by their population. They import and consume GM food in these countries.