As you're well aware, there is plenty of food in India to feed the population, now and into the future. What's not there are the distribution systems and political will to feed the hungry people.
If anything, what's needed is a move away from poisonous herbicides and pesticides, towards a truly sustainable organic system which does not involve expensive inputs. Of course your company, Southern Petrochemicals Industries (SPIC) Corporation, is heavily involved in producing and distributing pesticides, so would favour continued use of these poisons.
And as for added GM nutritional content? Surely the best way is to grow the fruit and vegetable which contain natural sources of iron and vitamin A, instead of adding these as artificial supplements in GM food? Furthermore, I have recently found that Roundup contains an ingredient made from beef fat. Is this compatible with the religious beliefs of Hindus and Jains in India? I think not.
See below for an excellent example of the successes in Bangladesh for 65,000 households, who have stopped using expensive chemicals and are now successfully farming their own land organically. The same changes in India would be in the best interests of farmers, instead of tying them to unsustainable chemical use.
Even your assertion that: "Most varieties of GM crops show enhanced yield and this is an important consideration" is incorrect. As a scientist, shouldn't you be more careful in making untrue statements such as this?
Look forward to your comments.
Thanks & regards
Good news from Bangladesh (excerpts)
Korshed Alam is part of a revolutionary movement, but he doesn't carry a gun. Korshed's revolution is an ecological one. Like tens of thousands of farmers all over Bangladesh, he has abandoned the chemicals and hybrid seeds of 'modern' agriculture for something, well, even more modern.
"It's changed my life" he declares. "Before we changed, everyone had skin diseases from the chemicals. We couldn't even take the fish because they were poisonous, and there were no wild plants to eat because they were either dead or very bitter. Now, we've got good food and it even tastes different-it's healthier and there are more vitamins".
Conventional farming wisdom preaches the value of efficiency, of maximising the yield of a single staple crop like rice or corn. This is how Korshed used to farm. He would buy the latest 'high yielding variety' seeds at the local market, and spread artificial fertiliser on the soil. Obediently following the doctrines of the government and the World Bank, he would spray his crop several times to keep pests under control. But even as the poisons began to contaminate the soil and water all around him, he saw no alternatives. He explains: "Before we started using chemicals our soils was good, and just adding a little bit of fertiliser gave us a huge boost in productivity. But the yield soon began to go down and we had to put on more and more fertiliser per acre. The amount of fertiliser we had to use went up a hundred times over thirty years. To make things worse, the price tripled over the same period. So everybody was losing- but they had to keep pumping in chemicals to try and get enough yield to pay for next year's seeds and to buy enough to eat.
Locked into a vicious chemical treadmill, farmers all over the country started to go bankrupt. Many had to sell their land and move to the cities in a desperate search for work. And all the while no-one thought to question the basic economics of conventional agriculture. Corporate adverts for new hybrid seeds and even better chemicals flooded the billboards and the airwaves. Everyone thought there was no alternative.
Then came the 1988 flood. Floods are a regular occurence in Bangladesh, and far from being the disasters they are often portrayed as, regular flooding is essential to renew soil fertility and fish stocks. But the 1988 deluge was unusual-it lasted for weeks, and many farmers lost everything. It hit particularly hard around Tangail where a small, radical NGO called UBINIG was conducting a research program.
As soon as the water started going down, a group of farmers approached UBINIG asking for financial support to buy chemicals and seeds.
UBINIG called community meetings to discuss with farmers the alternatives to chmeical dependent farming. "It was the women who responded most positively" says Farida Akhter from UBINIG "Most of the men, especially the younger generation could not see any alternative to chemicals".
Then at one particular meeting an elderly midwife stood up. "We should not be using pesticides at all, because it destroys our bodies" the woman declared. She told the meeting about all the miscarriages she had seen and blamed chemicals for ruining the health of both people and animals. It was a breakthrough. Other farmers chimed in, telling stories of terrible diseases, of spiralling debts, and of soil that although once renowned for its softness had become more recently as hard as cement. "Now ournumber one principle is no pesticide" says Farida proudly. "We got that first principle from that woman".
That one meeting didn't just change the farming practices of those who attended, it sparked a nationwide movement- now called the Nayakrishi Andolon. 'Nayakrishi' means 'new agriculture'.
Korshed is now proud of his fields. "Using modern agriculture in this field here I only used to get one crop-of sugar cane," he says pointing across a stream to a small plot full of lush growth. "Now, because we've started intercropping I get seven: onion, garlic, potatoes, radish, leentil, pumpkin and sweet potato. And I still grow sugar cane in between. I don't have to buy any chemicals and I can sell the surplus at the local bazaar". Instead of artificial fertiliser, nitrogen is fixed in the soil by leguminous crops like pulses and okra. Compost is made from water hyacinth (which grows ferociously on all the ponds and used to be considered an invasive weed), banana leaves, rice paddy and cow dung. The soil is soft and covered in worm casts. "They are nature's plough" he says. Seein this example in Nandoria village, ten villages around have declared themselves Nayakrishi and eighteen more have expressed interest.
Throughout Bangladesh a total of 65,000 rural households have now converted to practising Nayakrishi. (and the number is increasing rapidly)
GM Crops Vital for Hungry India, Say Experts
New Indian Express, Sept 14, 2001 http://www.newindpress.com/
CHENNAI: Genetically Modified (GM) crops have significant commercial viability but caution needs to be exercised while introducing them to the Indian agricultural scenario, say experts. The advantages of reduced expenditure on pesticides, higher yield and enhanced nutrition may be offset by unacceptable pricing of seeds, control of technology by multinationals and the "unpredictable consequences of genetic modification,'' biotech watchers at the SPIC Science Foundation said.
Transgenic or GM crops contain genes which have been artificially inserted rather than through pollination. The inserted gene sequence may come from another plant or from a completely different species. "GM crops are more important for us in India than for those in the western world who have enough to eat,'' says Dr. Joseph Thomas, Director, SPIC Science Foundation. He said GM crops had proved pest resistant, especially rice, maize and several vegetables. "Their use can save us enormous amounts of money that will be otherwise spent on pesticides,'' he said. Dr Thomas said that rice crops had been traditionally ravaged by the yellow stem borer pest and the rice blast disease.
Despite nearly 11 million hectares under cotton cultivation, Tamil Nadu farmers are struggling with low productivity. About 50 per cent of the total quantity of pesticides used in India are applied on cotton crops, he said. "In such a scenario, why not opt for GM crops?'', says Dr. Thomas.
Nutrition is another potential area. GM crops enriched with Vitamin A and iron can be developed. Nutrition levels in Tamil Nadu are extremely low with 28.2 per cent of households consuming less than 1890 kcal per consumer unit per day and 61.3 per cent consuming less than 2400 kcal per consumer unit per day. These statistics (National Sample Survey Organisation, 50th round, 1993-94) are shocking as the internationally accepted average calorie consumption is 2700 kcal.
More than 100 million acres are under GM crops worldwide. The United States alone has nearly 75 million acres under these crops. Fifty per cent of soybean and 25 per cent of corn produced in the US are GM variety. So, does this Does this indicate widespread acceptance? "The concerns of the general public must be addressed and they must not feel that scientists are playing God,'' says Thomas. He likens the resistance in various quarters to that felt by people when "innovations like electricity generation and in-vitro fertilisation were introduced.''
Dr Swarna Vepa, Project Leader, Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture at the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation says, "a blanket approval can certainly not be given for the development of GM crops.'' She says that it is extremely important to be aware of "who makes the technology available and at what price.'' Government institutions should monitor their development and be actively involved. "If seed varieties are available only through MNCs, the competitive edge will be lost,'' said Dr Vepa. Development of drought resistant varieties should be a thrust area, said Dr Vepa.
Monsanto, Pro Agro and Pioneer Dupont are the MNCs active in testing seed varieties. But protests have been staged at both the local and international level. "Farmers have shown a tendency to buy expensive seeds when there is the possibility of increased yield,'' said Dr. Thomas."Most varieties of GM crops show enhanced yield and this is an important consideration'', he said. Dr Thomas was emphatic that marginal farming should not be sustained in India.