In the row over Bt brinjal, the voice of the farmer still remains unheard. “I can count on the fingers of both hands the number of farmers across the world who don’t want biotechnology,” says Brett Begemann, executive vice president, global seeds and traits, Monsanto.
Begemann, on a visit to India, said that the challenge ahead is to double food production by 2050, a task impossible without biotechnology.
He feels that those who oppose Bt crops and advocate locally grown organic food are only few and far between. “If you live in a city with its limited space, is it possible to have large gardens of organic vegetables and chickens scratching around?... So let us be realistic, to feed large numbers of people on the same amount of land, we need technology.”
He cites the Indian experience with Bt cotton as an example of how biotech can change lives. With 22.5 million hectares under Bt cotton cultivation, the farmer is getting an extra Rs 8,000 per acre. Bt cotton farmers make Rs 12, 000 crore annually and Rs 2,500 crore is saved on insecticides. The economic value to the nation from Bt cotton is more than Rs 40,000 crore.
What does he say to the allegations that open field trials could lead to pollen contamination? “Pollen flow has been there ever since farming began. These are old arguments that are being regurgitated.”
Begemann sees great environmental and economic advantage of biotech crops. There will be less pesticides around and surely “it’s no one contention that this is a bad thing. If the Indian prime minister, a man of immense knowledge, has spoken of the need for technology in farming, we can be certain we are on to a good thing.”