The course of GM crops in India
Genetically modified crops are the plants in agriculture, the DNA of which has been modified using genetic engineering methods. Majority of the techniques are carried out to include a new trait that does not occur naturally in the species. More than 10% of the world crop lands are cultivated with GM crops, the usage of which increased considerably in developing countries, with about 18 million farmers growing 54% of worldwide GM crops by 2013.
India has the world’s fourth largest genetically modified crop acreage. This rank is attributed to Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) Cotton, the only crop to be genetically modified in the country. At present, the Bt cotton crops takes up 96% of the cotton crop cultivation. After its introduction in 2002, India’s cotton exports increased, upraising farm incomes by $18.3 billion between 2002 and 2014 and reducing insecticide applications from more than 24 sprays to only two – three sprays per season.
“All over the world about 18 million farmers in 27 countries planted GM crops in 17.5cr hectares last year. In India itself about six million cotton farmers are benefitted in terms of reduced pesticide usage, convenience of pest control, reduced pollution, higher yields and overall improvement in profits by more than Rs 8,000 per acre,” Ram Kaundinya,Chairman of Agricultural Group of the Association of Biotechnology led enterprises (ABLE-AG).
Scientists have successfully created a viable hybridization system in mustard using the GM technology which is claimed to produce25-30% more yield than the best varieties such as ‘Varuna’ currently grown in the country. Recently, GEAC (Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee) has approved the commercialization of mustard DMH-11, a transgenic crop developed by Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants at Delhi University.
In 2014-15, India imported 14.5 million tons of edible oil valued at $10.5 billion. The country’s own edible oil production is below 7.5 million tons, of which mustard’s share is roughly a quarter. The need to raise domestic crop yields and cut dependence on imports is seen as a necessity by many agriculturists to sustain the crop requirements. Many of the opinion that utilising GM technology will make the agriculture sector too dependent on foreign multinational seed companies. The claiming health concerns are also plaguing the growth of GM crops in India. But while the central ministry controls the release of specific strains of GM seeds, agriculture is very much a state-level issue, and it is the individual states that can sway the GM debate in India.