Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar has said the lack of a cohesive governmental policy on genetically modified (GM) crops could harm India's long-term food security, a matter he would raise with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Pawar told HT that a squeamish policy had “totally demoralised” government scientists, while stifling private initiatives, both of which were critical for keeping pressure off food availability for a growing population. To be sure, the minister said he would publish a book on the role of GM crops.
Government scientists need "direction", he said, because technologies take years to develop. "All this has serious food security implications."He made the remarks when asked about a recent parliamentary standing committee report, led by Left MP Basudev Acharya, which recommended quitting farm biotechnology.
Pawar said the nation's ability to incrementally increase food output through conventional means could diminish over time. India's productivity, or yield per acre, in major crops is among the lowest globally. For instance, India has more land under paddy cultivation than China, but its yields are only about one-third.
The nation allowed GM cotton in 2002, but clamped a ban on Bt brinjal, the first genetically modified food crop, in 2010.
The biotech industry said it envisaged a bigger role in the farm sector.
"Along with structural reforms, biotechnology can ensure higher productivity and help India become a major exporter of food," said Ram Kaundinya, who heads the Association of Biotech Led Enterprises-Agriculture Group. Drought-resistant crops, for example, could reduce dependence on the monsoon, he added.
But, opinion on whether to allow GM food crops, in which genes are altered for higher yields or nutrition, has been divided, with several groups still fiercely opposing it. A proposed bill for a biotechnology regulator has yet to be signed into law.