Science is the answer to India’s farm woes

Innovation in Indian agriculture is the need of the hour. India needs breeding efficiency and modern tools like genomics and biotechnology.

The benefits of science are already visible. The positive impact of switching to insect-protected Bt cotton has led to higher yields, savings on pesticides and higher income for farmers.

While more than half of India is engaged in agriculture and allied professions, its contribution to the gross domestic product (GDP) was just 14.2%, as per the Economic Survey of 2010-2011. While the GDP grew by 8.62% from 2004-2005 to 2010-2011, agriculture’s share increased by only 3.46%. This is worrying because India cannot achieve inclusive growth without proportionate growth in agriculture.

For this, agriculture must become a viable occupation and this can only be achieved through modern technology.

Of all the technology available, breeding and plant biotechnology are important because they could provide a comprehensive answer to food inflation. Genetically modified seeds are resilient to drought, heat, pests and disease. They also use less water and their per-acre yield is higher than conventional seeds.

The adoption of Bt cotton is testimony to the above. This technology helped create more than Rs 30,000 crore in additional value for 60 lakh farmers by reducing insecticide use and boosting yields. India doubled cotton yields per hectare from 100 kg in 1950-1951 to 200 kg in 1986-1987 and 300 kg/ha in 1992-2001. Today, we are at 480 kg/ha.

Cotton is one of India’s most important commercial crops. It plays a major role in sustaining farmers and the 4 crore to 5 crore people engaged in related activities such as ginning and processing.

Before Bt Cotton, crops were heavily infested by two main groups of insects: biting and chewing ones known as the bollworm complex, and sucking pest insects. As a result, farmers were heavily dependent on insecticides. However, with Bt Cotton, they increased yields and incomes substantially.

Over the past decade, insecticide savings, higher yields, and incomes have elevated farmers’ standard of living – from purchasing automobiles to building structurally sound and bigger houses. Their children enjoy a higher standard of education; they are also investing in life insurance and farm equipment like tractors.

Now, seeing new value in cotton, farmers have begun cultivating it in non-traditional cotton areas. The nation’s cotton acres have risen from 7.7 million hectares to 11 million hectares.

Monsanto is proud to have played a role in this.

It’s clear, then, that agriculture research and technology is essential to improve farm productivity, and ensure sustainable growth and food security.

The United Nations has declared 2014 as the ‘International Year of Family Farming’, pointing out that there are 500 million family farms with more than 2 billion people across the world. They are crucial to global food production.

As elsewhere, they are the key to India’s food security. And science can ensure their prosperity and sustainability.

In order to meet burgeoning demand, it is imperative to innovate agriculture technology. The next few decades may well belong to a ‘gene’ revolution that builds on the success of the Green Revolution.

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