The Centre is looking to garner support from states in pushing genetically modified food crops to revive the agriculture sector using GM mustard as a test case.
Around half the Indian states have refused to give no-objection certificates for conducting field trials of genetically modified (GM) seeds – a must before getting final approval for commercial use. This has slowed down the development of bio-technology in agriculture to a large extent.
The move comes at the time when agriculture economy is in crises due to unseasonal rainfall in March-April for second year in a row and two drought years. The National Institution for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog believes GM crops, along with an increase in area of irrigation through the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sanchayi Yojana, will answer India’s agrarian crises.
The body was tasked by the Prime Minister’s Office to build consensus among states, and a report was expected by February end. However it failed to do so, and has been given more time to get state administrations on board.
“The last government always spoke about benefits of GM crops but didn’t do much to benefit from it. It (UPA) got bogged down by undue pressure of activists and was not able to convince the states about its benefits. We want the states to realise its gains,” said a senior NITI Aayog functionary.
The functionary added that getting states to support GM Mustard – being considered by Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee for final approval – will be a test for the future of GM crops in India. The committee is expected to take over a year to come out with its final conclusion.
“We want to convince the states that GM Mustard can improve productivity and reduce our dependence on import of oil seeds,” the official said.
NITI Aayog had in December 2015 come out with a paper supporting GM crop technology, in which it said the GM seeds have emerged as a “powerful new technology promising high productivity and lower use of fertilizers, weedicides and pesticides in the last one to two decades”. Claiming that they have gained increasing acceptance among farmers around the world, the paper said, “They (GM seeds) are likely to play increasingly important role in addressing many of the current problems in agriculture.”
However, states remain unconvinced.
Anti-GM activists added to predicament as they said the claimed benefits of GM mustard are highly exaggerated.
“By comparing results (of GM mustard) with very old checks or comparators, the crop developers are trying to show exaggerated benefits,” Sharad Pawar, a fellow of the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences (NAAS), said at a briefing organised by anti-GM crop campaigners in Delhi last week. “The tests do not conform to Indian Council for Agriculture Research (ICAR) protocols.”
NITI Aayog remains unfazed by the campaigners, who in a detailed presentation before the task force in 2015, stated that GM crops created a monopoly for companies promoting GM seeds instead of benefiting farmers.