By Balwinder Singh Kang: Hanumangarh Town, Rajasthan, India
The world’s farmers have passed a remarkable milestone: We’ve just planted the world’s 5-billionth acre of genetically modified crops.
We don’t know exactly where it happened or even on what day it occurred. But we know that it must have taken place this spring, probably in the northern hemisphere, according to statistics maintained by the Global Farmer Network (formerly Truth About Trade & Technology), which has tracked the global planting and harvesting of these remarkable crops for years.
It possibly happened in India—and there’s even a tiny chance that it transpired on my small farm at Hanumangarh in the state of Rajasthan, where I grow GM cotton as well as conventional varieties of wheat, mustard, beans, and some vegetables.
I am able to say that GM crops have transformed my life for the better. The world needs more of them—and India’s government should approve new kinds so that farmers and consumers alike can enjoy the enormous benefits.
Before GM cotton, we sprayed our fields almost every alternative day with pesticides, and still we could barely control the bollworms. They ravaged our crops. Lucky for me, my farm became a testing ground for GM cotton in 2003, and I saw firsthand how these plants possessed a natural ability to fend off pests. I was convinced this was going to be a game changer for farmers, and I became one of India’s first farmers to adopt this technology.
Thanks to GM cotton, I was able to give a good education to my two children. I also renovated my house for the first time in 20 years. My neighbor, who farms the same amount of land, was a late adopter. There’s a big difference in our living standards.
When Indian farmers saw the benefits of GM technology, they were very quick to adopt these seeds. Today, 95 percent of all the cotton grown in India is GM—and last year, India became the world’s leading grower of cotton, slipping ahead of China and staying well in front of the United States, which ranks a distant third.
Despite all of this success, we haven’t kept up with the rest of the world. In 2010, our government banned the commercialization of GM brinjal, a staple crop. (Americans call it “eggplant”). This is a shame, because the successful cultivation of brinjal requires pesticide sprays every three or four days. Doing for brinjal what we’ve already done for cotton would make everything better: Farmers would save money and improve their health, consumers would stop worrying about residue, and helpful insects would thrive.
The problem isn’t science—we know how to make GM brinjal—but rather politics, because our political leaders have refused to let us have access to the basic technologies that farmers in many other countries take for granted.
India must embrace all forms of GM agriculture because we need to grow more food on less land. We have more than 1.2 billion people—nearly one in every five on earth—but only about 2.5 percent of the planet’s land and water resources.
We’ve replaced the bullock cart with the automobile, the telegraph wire with the cell phone, and folk medicine with antibiotics. Now we need to upgrade primitive approaches to farming with 21st-century methods that meet the challenges of population growth as well as economic and environmental sustainability.
GM crops not only can help us grow more food, they can help us grow better food. We’ll fight malnutrition as we develop GM crops that are fortified with additional vitamins and minerals. We’ll also gain a shield against climate change as we improve drought and flood tolerances.
All we need is the political will to let our scientific know-how take advantage of this proven technology.
In 28 countries over the last two decades, they’ve reaped more than $150 billion in benefits, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), which released its 20th annual report last month.
Wherever farmers have had a choice, they’ve jumped at the chance to grow GM crops. We need GM technology not only to help eliminate hunger from this world, but also as we strive for healthy and well-nourished future generations.
The more we’re allowed to plant them, the better we’ll do, as we move in to the future and hit new billion-marker milestones.
Balwinder Singh Kang has been farming since 1984. He grows GM cotton, hybrid vegetables, wheat, mustard and chick peas at Hanumangarh, in the state of Rajasthan, India. Kang educates farmers about the benefits of using the latest technologies in agriculture and is a member of the Global Farmer Network.