How GM in India can help achieve food security

November 5, 2014 | 0
GM food security


Food security is the nucleus of our most important national debates. On food security depends our economic and social security as well.

With the Green Revolution in the ’60s, Indian agriculture ushered in an era of modernity. Chemicals, high-yield crop varieties and mechanisation boosted agricultural output. This was also necessitated by the population, which has grown from 440 million then to 1.2 billion today. More than 55% of this population is dependent on agriculture.

As India strives to ensure that these numbers are provided for, genetically modified (GM) crops can play a leading role.

We live in an age where the viability of agriculture – especially for small farmers – is under threat. Many farmers are switching over to other professions in search of a better life. The National Sample Survey estimated that in Uttar Pradesh alone the number of agriculture workers fell from 4.03 crore in 2004-05 to 3.54 crore in 2011-12.

The share of agriculture in the gross domestic product, meanwhile, has fallen from 61% to 13.7% over the past five decades. As demographic pressure and food demand increases, the strain on our water and land resources will amplify. Already, the groundwater table is falling and poor soil fertility is a concern.

By 2030, India’s water demand will grow to 1.5 trillion m3, driven by demand for rice, wheat and sugar for a growing population moving towards a middle-class diet. At this time, we have achieved only half of that demand (740 billion m3).

How, then, can India feed itself?

This is where GM crops can be a game-changer. They significantly raise farm yields while consuming less water and reducing use of herbicides. They are less susceptible to drought, disease and pests and are often more nutritious.

The debate over the safety of GM food has been put to rest by organisations such as the World Health Organisation and the Food and Agriculture Organisation, which have declared that GM crops are not inherently less safe than conventional crops.

Also, though GM seeds are more expensive, they are cheaper than conventional ones when expenses are weighed against yields since their germination rate is higher. They also need less insecticide and tillage.

If we don’t act fast, we could find ourselves in the midst of a food crisis. Almost 2 billion of the planet’s 7 billion people face starvation. By 2050, the world will have 2 billion more mouths to feed. We will need to produce as much food in the next 40 years as we have in the past 10,000 combined to feed 9 billion people.

Domestic food, feed and fibre needs are expected to double between 2020 and 2030. Food consumption is evolving too, with demand for vegetables, fruit, cereals, milk, fish-eggs-meat likely to be 850 million metric tons (MMT) by 2020; it was about 440 MMT in 2007. The Indian government estimates a shortfall of 14 million tons of foodgrain by 2020.

Use of the latest seeds, technologies, knowledge, practices and market access must be encouraged – especially because India’s crop yields trail the global average. Monsanto India is committed to making available seeds that will ensure insect protection, weed management and tolerance of drought, flood, heat, virus and disease. Researchers are also looking at seeds that yield consumer benefits such as healthier oils and better nutritional content.

It’s apparent that present agriculture systems will not be enough for our needs.

GM crops can be the answer.

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