India Must Listen to Its Farmers: An Indian Farmer’s Appeal to Access Biotechnology
Dec 06, 2012
By V. Ravichandran: Tamil Nadu, India
Farming in India has reached a very crucial phase. In a scenario of rising consumption needs and aspirations, and dwindling or varying natural resources, it has become imperative for India to innovate or access appropriate technologies that will enhance our agricultural productivity efficiently.
Since the Green Revolution in the 1960’s, researchers, government and the private sector have been working relentlessly to improve the efficiency and productivity of agriculture in our country, blending science with traditional knowledge so the farming system will be more responsive to the needs of its farmers.
Today, the progress we have made is in jeopardy. We are under attack from several anti-technology activists who are using false and unfounded allegations to question our desire to have access to better technologies and seeds. They have gone so far as to request that our Supreme Court place a ten-year ban on GM crop field trials in India; a radical and ignorant proposal that could devastate Indian agriculture at a time when farmers must grow more food just to keep up with a population that recently boomed past 1.2 billion people.
Thankfully, the Supreme Court rejected this outrageous idea.
The worst may be yet to come, however: The Court appointed a Technical Expert Committee (TEC) to assess the benefits of GM plants, but the body lacks a single member who is an expert on the science of how modern technology can improve farm productivity.
So the "expert" committee lacks expertise.
Early next year, the Technical Expert Committee will issue a new and more detailed report. It will receive full consideration, even if it includes suggestions as harmful as the one our country just dodged.
Enough is enough. Why must India’s farmers always be held back? We should enjoy the right to grow the food our country desperately needs.
India must transform its attitude toward biotechnology and embrace the science that is helping farmers in the United States and other countries achieve record levels of food production.
Around the globe, farmers have harvested more than 3 billion acres of biotech crops. The food they produce has become a part of conventional diets. Both farmers and consumers benefit: Farmers grow more food on their land and consumers see their food bills kept in check.
Yet India’s government has failed to keep up with the times.
A decade ago, it permitted the commercial cultivation of GM cotton—and ever since, yields have soared, both on my 60-acre farm in Tamil Nadu and across the nation. The proof of performance can be seen in our fields, where cotton production went up by 154 percent. The evidence is right in front of our faces.
Instead of trying to repeat this success by allowing farmers to grow other varieties of biotech plants, however, the government has permitted political protestors to dictate agricultural policy. More than 6 million of us now grow GM cotton, but we’re still forbidden from growing the kinds of food crops that farmers in Argentina, Canada, the Philippines, and elsewhere take for granted.
Nearly three years ago, we were about to take a big step forward with the advent of GM brinjal, a culinary vegetable that people in other countries call eggplant. Scientists recommended it and farmers wanted it. But the government said no, simply because a few loud voices were able to shout down common sense.
As I write this, I am battling on my farm to salvage my rice crop. This year, I’ve had to contend with a drought, followed by a monsoon, and then a brand-new dry spell. Modern technology holds out the promise of seeds that can endure the worst that weather can throw at us--everything from low moisture to submersion in water. In addition to the challenges of climate, farmers also must beat their traditional foes: weeds, pests, and disease. I am convinced biotechnology can help with that too.
But only if we enjoy access to the best agricultural tools that science can deliver.
India is a poor country, and sometimes I’m forced to wonder if anti-GM activists want to keep us that way.
The choice is clear: We can remain poor, and always be reaching for the begging bowl, or we can work together to come up with 21st-century solutions to our most pressing problems.
Up to now, we have for the most part chosen foolishly. To reverse course, our Supreme Court must continue to treat the advice of its own Technical Expert Committee with the skepticism it so richly deserves.
The next step is to choose wisely. That means listening, at long last, to the people who appreciate the true potential of biotechnology: India’s own farmers.
Mr. V Ravichandran owns a 60 acre farm at Poongulam Village in Tamil Nadu, India where he grows rice, sugar cane, cotton and pulses (small grains). Mr. Ravichandran is a member of the Truth About Trade & Technology Global Farmer Network (www.truthabouttrade.org).