Soil scientist and analyst Devinder Sharma writes today on his blog, Ground Reality, that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has stirred a hornet’s nest when he warned against succumbing to ‘unscientific prejudices’ against genetically modified (GM) crops. Speaking at the 101st Indian Science Congress at Jammu, he claimed that biotechnology has great potential to improve yields and his government remains committed ‘to promoting the use of these new technologies for agricultural development’ . . .
The day after Prime Minister openly came out in support of the dangerously risky GM technology, Monsanto stocks rose by 5.45 per cent.
The stakes are very high. For the multi-billion dollar industry, India’s refusal to accept GM crops can spell a death knell. Considering that many State governments have refused permission for holding field trials of GM crops, and the opposition from the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture and the Supreme Court appointed Technical Expert Committee (TEC), the industry has been mounting pressure through the back channels.
A summary of Sharma’s rebuttals of the so-called ‘scientific’ claims of the GM industry:
- Increased yields? It is now 20 years since the first GM crop was introduced in the United States, and US Department of Agriculture’s own studies show that the yields of GM corn and Soybean are less than that of conventional varieties. In India, the Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR) Nagpur, which monitors the cotton crop, has admitted: “No significant yield advantage has been observed between 2004-2011 when area under Bt cotton increased from 5.4 to 96%.”
- The argument that the world needs GM crops does not hold true. But acording to the USDA estimate for 2013, the world produced enough food for 14 billion people – twice the existing population. The real problem is that nearly 40% is wasted. In the US alone $ 65 billion worth of food is wasted, enough to meet the food requirement of the entire sub-Saharan Africa. India, has close to 250 million people going to bed hungry – not because of a shortfall in food production. In June 2013, India had a record food surplus of 82.3 million tones. It has exported 20 million tonnes and there are plans to export another 20 million to reduce the carrying cost of stored food.
- The promise of reduction in pesticides usage has not been fulfilled; researcher Charles Benbrook records that between 1996 and 2011, farmers in US applied an additional 181million litres of chemical pesticides. In Argentina, the application of chemical pesticides has risen from 34 million litres in the mid-1990s when the GM soybean crops were introduced to more than 317 million litres in 2012. In Brazil, pesticides use has gone up by 190% in the past decade. Chinese farmers are spraying 20 times more pesticides to control pests. In 2005, Rs 649-crore worth of chemical pesticides was used on cotton in India. In 2010, when roughly 92% of the area under cotton shifted to Bt cotton varieties, pesticides usage in terms of value increased to Rs 880.40 crore.
- More worrisome is the emergence of hard-to-kill weeds. Estimates show that in US over 100 million acres is now infested with super weeds. Besides using a cocktail of chemical pesticides to control it, some US States are going in for hand weeding since chemicals are no longer effective. In neighbouring Canada, more than 1 million acres are infested with super weeds. Studies show that 21 weeds have now developed resistance after GM crops came. Insects also are now developing immunity against GM crops. In India, Monsanto has already accepted that bollworm pest is becoming resistant.
Beneficial changes ahead?
In fact, all evidence now points to an end of the era in industrial agriculture. With soils poisoned, underground water mined ruthlessly, and with the entire food chain contaminated by chemical pesticides and fertilizers leading to more greenhouse gas emissions, the focus is now shifting to ecological agriculture.
As Businessline reports, in Andhra Pradesh, nearly 3.5 million acres today are being cultivated without the use of chemical pesticides. Farmers do not use even fertilisers in 2.0 million acres. Production is steadily rising, pollution has come down, soil fertility is rising, farmer’s income has gone up and there are no suicides.
Isn’t that a model of farming that the Prime Minister should be advocating?
If it can be done in 35 lakh hectares I see no reason why it cannot be practised in 350 lakh hectares. That’s where the future lies.