An Indian Smallholder Farmer Speaks Out: Allow Us to Embrace Biotechnology
Oct 11, 2012
By Rajesh Kumar: Salem, India
My last visit to the United States changed the way I farm on the other side of the world.
In 2009, I traveled from India to Des Moines to attend the Global Farmers Roundtable, a project of Truth about Trade and Technology, held in conjunction with the World Food Prize. I met farmers from Iowa as well as Australia, Honduras, South Africa, and elsewhere. We learned about each other’s work, discussed common challenges and opportunities, and enjoyed some of the best sweet corn I’ve ever tasted.
When I returned to India, I worked with a group of local farmers to open a new sweet corn processing factory. The knowledge I gained in the United States made it possible. I’ll always be grateful to Iowa and the people I met at the Global Farmer Roundtable and World Food Prize for pointing us in the right direction.
I hope Indian farmers can imitate Iowa farmers in other ways as well. Most importantly, we must embrace biotechnology--or at least we must be allowed to embrace biotechnology. Right now, large forces and special interests are blocking the way. They must be stopped.
More than 1.2 billion people call India home. By 2025, demographers say that we’ll pass China as the most populous nation on the planet.
Many of our people are already poor and malnourished--and the problem could grow worse. If we’re to thrive in the years ahead, India must adopt the very latest technologies in agriculture.
This happened once before, during the Green Revolution of the 1950s and 1960s, when new seeds, methods, and equipment transformed farming in developing nations. The success of this movement is said to have saved billions of lives.
Now we have to do it again, this time with biotechnology as one of the tools. If last century’s improvement was the Green Revolution, then this century’s innovation is the Gene Revolution. The United States and many other countries--Argentina, Brazil, and Canada--already are taking full advantage of it. By growing genetically modified crops, their farmers enjoy large yields that are the envy of growers everywhere.
Now much of the rest of the world must adopt this solution. India is not the only country with swelling numbers of people. To keep up with global growth, the world’s farmers have to double food production by 2050--and we have to do it largely on land that’s already in cultivation. In other words, we must grow more with less.
India faces particular problems. Our crop yields are stagnant or dropping. Many young people avoid farming, believing it’s a profession for the poor and illiterate. To top it off, our government does little to promote agriculture.
The problem isn’t that we have no biotechnology in India: Many farmers plant GM cotton. They know the amazing benefits. I’ve grown GM cotton several times myself, appreciating the boost in yield and the reduced reliance on herbicides. It requires just one spray, whereas non-GM cotton needs six applications or more. That makes GM cotton healthier for farmers, in addition to being economically sensible.
Yet we don’t have access to other kinds of biotechnology--most notably brinjal, which Americans call eggplant. For Indians, it’s a staple crop. In 2010, GM brinjal was on the verge of commercial approval. Researchers had perfected it and farmers wanted it, but our government in New Delhi said no. It bowed to political pressure from special interests that took advantage of widespread illiteracy and scientific ignorance.
I’m returning to the United States next week, once again for the World Food Prize. This time, I’m the recipient of the Kleckner Trade and Technology Advancement Award. It’s a humbling honor--and one that I hope will allow me to go back to my home with additional credibility, as I continue to advocate for biotechnology in India as well as the rest of the developing world.
I want to keep on changing the way we farm--and I hope Americans will continue to help me and my fellow farmers make the most of the Gene Revolution, for the sake of India and the world.
Rajesh Kumar farms 120 acres in two regions of India, using irrigation to grow brinjal, sweet corn, baby corn, tomatoes and other vegetables. He sells fresh produce directly to consumers through kiosks at several locations and runs a food processing unit for canning of vegetables. Mr.Kumar will be recognized as the 2012 Kleckner Trade & Technology Advancement Award recipient in Des Moines, Iowa on October 16 during the TATT Global Farmer Roundtable / World Food Prize events. He is a member of the TATT Global Farmer Network.