EXTRACT: Navadanaya, a New Delhi-based NGO (Non-Government Organisation) has together with farmers from nine Indian States developed a register documenting over 2,000 indigenous rice varieties. According to Navadanya, the genetically modified rice strains are not only costly to cultivate but also are a poor match to the native strains in fighting pests, diseases and environmental fluctuations. Several indigenous rice strains adopted by the Indian farmers can withstand extremes of climatic conditions, survive submergence for a fortnight and even withstand salinity with a high degree of success.
Farmers discard Bt GM Variety
Radhakrishna Rao, INFA
Central Chronicle, Thursday February 1 2007 http://www.centralchronicle.com/20070201/0102301.htm
The sustained and no-holds-barred campaign by Indian farmers against the "backdoor and sly" move to introduce the genetically modified GM rice variety into the country, has resulted in the farmers in parts of Haryana and Tamil Nadu destroying the trial plots of GM rice. These experimental rice fields were being monitored by the Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company (Mahyco) on behalf of the American agro-business outfit Monsanto.
The increasing tempo of the countrywide opposition to GM rice has derived strength from the decision of the EU countries to ban the import of American rice, fearing contamination by the GM rice strain Liberty Line (LL-601). In fact, it was the detection of few grains of GM rice in the American rice consignments that proded the EU countries to suspend the trading in American rice. Following this episode, the world's largest rice importer Ebro Puleva stopped trading in the US grown rice. In fact, there is a vehement public distrust of GM variety of food in Europe even as the USA is trying to hardsell the theory that GM food varieties are safe for human consumption.
According to a well-known agricultural scientist, "Bt (GM) rice proponent might argue that since rice is a self-pollinated crop, genetic contamination is excluded. But genes travel to related plots on their own which is called gene flow. In 1966, gene flow was discovered to be much more common than it was previously thought. The process of putting alien genes into plants and animals to favour certain traits or confer resistance is, at best, an inexact science, with unpredictable consequences. Genes don't necessarily control a single trait".
Clearly and apparently, the European countries' decision to stop importing American grown rice could be utilized by the Indian rice exporters to fill this "vital gap". The EU countries used to import about 300,000 tonnes of rice from the USA to meet a part of its annual requirement running upto 12,000,00 tonnes. And the rice of Indian and Pakistani origin imported by the EU countries used to account for around 3,00,000 tonnes. "Since Indian rice is free from the GM contamination, this gap in supply certainly open up vistas for additional market access for Indian exporters", says K.S. Money, Chairman of the New Delhi-based Agricultural Products and Processed Food Export Development Authority (APEDA).
Indian exporters of Basmati rice who have already established a presence in the EU countries hope to boost their export by expanding their portfolios to include non-basmati rice varieties. Pakistan and Thailand are the other major exporters of rice to the EU countries. And in terms of quality and price, Indian rice has certain advantages over its Asian competitors.
Meanwhile, with a view to step up rice production to meet the needs of a fast-growing population, India is laying special emphasis on increasing the area under hybrid rice cultivation. Currently, over a million hectares of land under hybrid rice in India. And this is a far cry from just 10,000 hectares in 1995. But in the neighbouring China around 15-million hectares are under hybrid rice cultivation and this constitutes 50% of the total area under rice cultivation in this most populous country in the world.
"Hybrid rice is an option that could come handy at a time when India will have to increase rice production by at least 2 million tonnes by 2011-12", says B.C. Viraktamath, Project Director of the Directorate of Rice Research in Hyderabad. Incidentally, India is the second country in the world to develop and commercialize hybrid rice. Researchers, on their part, point out that the potential in the country for raising hybrid rice varieties, is anywhere between 8 million and 15 million hectares.
In the meantime, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) has signed an agreement with the Las Banos-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) for collaboration in research which includes genetic enhancement of rice in terms of yield and quality. The main objective of collaboration is to apply genomics and bioinformatics to discover new and novel genes capable of pushing up the rice yield.
As it is, in India the productivity of rice has now touched 2,000 kg per hectare and the country continues to occupy second position in rice export, next only to Thailand. But then in India there is a growing realization of the need to boost rice production without bringing in ore land under cultivation.
As such, the focus is on surmounting the technological challenges in breaking the genetic yield barriers, improving input yield efficiency and developing environmentally acceptable strategies for decreasing the losses due to pest attacks and diseases. There is also a growing concern in the country over the steady control exerted by the big and powerful multinational corporations (MNCs) over the genetic resources of rice.
Navadanaya, a New Delhi-based NGO (Non-Government Organisation) has together with farmers from nine Indian States developed a register documenting over 2,000 indigenous rice varieties. According to Navadanya, the genetically modified rice strains are not only costly to cultivate but also are a poor match to the native strains in fighting pests, diseases and environmental fluctuations. Several indigenous rice strains adopted by the Indian farmers can withstand extremes of climatic conditions, survive submergence for a fortnight and even withstand salinity with a high degree of success.
According to Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) all through the last decade, global production increased at rates marginally higher than those of the population growth. Right now, China and India account for more than half of the world rice yield. As it offers food security, rice is one of the commodities that remains widely subject to Government intervention.
As rice continues to be one of the most traded commodities, under protection, it presents considerable scope for further liberalization. However, due to its importance in income generation and political stability, Governments are often reluctant to lower their control over the rice sector. There is also a concern in rice growing countries including India that the global warming could adversely affect the yield of the rice crop in the years ahead. As such, the need for devising an appropriate strategy to blunt the threat of global warming to the rice crop, is being felt acutely.