Transgenic Vs Organic Agriculture

(Dr. krishan Bir Chaudhary)

In focusing our attention on higher yields, we not only give undue weight to one component of a complex issue, but also ignore the problems that come with the higher yields themselves. We have learnt this lesson from the past experience of implementation of Green Revolution.

Every one, from policymakers to scientists, of this country, try to extrapolate foreign innovations, without either application mind or looking for its far reaching consequences. Policymakers and scientists, in the field of agriculture, in our country, are no exception.

Introduction of transgenic agricultural crops, in India, is shrouded with controversies. Proponents of this technology vociferously advocate it over the traditional organic farming as a means to achieve increased agricultural production to ensure food security to feed the exploding population.

The MS Swaminathan taskforce on application of biotechnology in agriculture, while making its recommendations, has brought into focus a very vital issue, which is yet to be addressed by the country's policymakers. The issue is what should be the future orientation of Indian agriculture towards – organic farming or transgenic crops cultivation.

The policymakers have to decide which way to go. In the current situation in the country, we cannot reap best of the both. A mix of both the situations, however judicious, seems land us nowhere. There is a lucrative $ 37 billion global market for organic food which is growing day by day.

Even is US which is considered as a world leader in transgenic technology, the growing consumer craze has made the country, the world’s largest importer of organic foods.The European Union ranks second to US the world market for organic foods.

Equally too is the growing market size for organic herbal plants and medicines. The global market size for herbal plants is currently estimated at $ 14 billion, growing at the rate of 15 to 25 per cent a year and is likely to increase to $ 5 trillion in 2050, according to the World Health Organisation.

The global trade in processed herbal medicines and food supplements is estimated at $ 60 billion. Unfortunately, India has not yet benefited much either through exports of organic food or herbal medicines, despite its potential.

This is due to the fact that the farmers of this country fail to compete in the world market in the face of a high dose of subsidies in their whole agricultural system infused by the developed countries like India. US and EU in the notification of their input subsidies, investment subsidies and export subsidies fudge the figures to befool the developing countries like India.

The government of the day, singing to the tune of economic liberalization and globalization of trade, has meticulously planned to leave the farmers in lurch. It has decided to gradually withdraw from its social obligation of procuring grains from farmers at minimum support prices. Though by default, a large part of the country is still under traditional system of organic farming, the government has declared only 5347 farms covering 37,050 hectare as organic farms.

The data on chemical fertilizer use and pesticides use are with the government. These data show large part of the country is under organic by default. Besides the government's own estimate shows that 60 percent of the cultivated area is rainfed, where the use of chemical fertilisers Sande pesticides is either minimum or negligible or there is no use of it at all.

Why has the government been slow in declaring large areas of the country as organic? Does this show the inability of the government and its certifying agency APEDA/Or it is the intention of the government to benefit the fertilizer or the pesticide or the transgenic seed industries and withhold the farmers from getting the benefit of the global market for organic food.

The Swaminathan panel, while recommending various measures for boosting transgenic technology in the country has attempted to draw a dividing line. It has suggested that crops for developing transgenic should be carefully selected keeping in view the export potential.

The suggestion is justified, in the context of a number of countries rejecting genetically modified (GM) food imports and prefering to remain GM-free. The panel has also suggested “the alternatives available for meeting food and nutritional needs should be viewed comprehensively before to transgenic technology.”

The answer to this is- India is already a food secure country. The only thing needed is to increase the purchasing power of the poor. The panel’s recommendation for protecting the organic farming areas and agro-biodiversity sanctuaries seems difficult to implement. The country has not been able to contain the spread of illegal varieties of Bt cotton seeds in Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Maharastra, Madhya Pradersh and Punjab.

In this context, how can there be a guarantee that organic farming areas and agro biodivertsity sanctuaries be protected when transgenic technology is introduced on a large scale? Scientist while developing transgenic crops should ensure that their efforts are not directed towards changing the basic inherent quality of the crops endowed by nature. They need to evaluate to what extent the transgenic technology will be helpful in ensuring food and nutritional quality.

A clear cut transparent guidelines for introduction of transgenic crops in the country should be drawn up keeping in view the health and environment concern and the stake holders should be adequately educated on the matter. Till that time there should be complete moratorium in introduction of transgenic crops to save the framers of this country from the multinational seed barons.



(Editorial : Farmers' Forum Magazine)