Agricultural biotechnology or agri-tech involves the use of scientific tools and techniques, including genetic engineering, molecular markers, molecular diagnostics, vaccines, and tissue culture, to modify living organisms used in agricultural fields. India has dedicated department named Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) under the Ministry of Science and Technology which looks after different types of genetic modification which can be helpful in farming practices. Biotechnology can help Indian farmers to combat present global and regional problems such as global warming, erratic monsoon, and desertification etc. by different ways and thus increase their income.
Benefits of biotechnology to Indian farmers
• Most common problem which persists across India is of erratic monsoon. Biotechnology can be used to develop those varieties of crops which can with stand optimum rainfall.
• Biotechnology has been successfully used to combat weed menace, pest control and to control alien invasive species. This will help to reduce cost farming and use of chemical pesticides and insecticides. Indian farmers being traditionally dependent on intensive subsistence agriculture will be benefitted.
• Farming of water intensive crops such as sugarcane in drought prone regions such as Marathwada and Anantapur districts of Andhra Pradesh and paddy in Punjab often leads to water scarcity and soil salinity respectively. Development of genetically modified varieties of these crops will help to conserve water and check flood irrigation.
• India has largest population of cattle and livestock’s in the world with limited pasture. Genetically modified variety of maize and soyabean kernels which contains high amount of protein are often in great demand for pasture although not allowed by government. Development in this field can help Indian farmers who practice mixed farming.
• Expansion of the Thar desert due to denudation of the Aravalli has impacted the ecology of the north-western pats of India such as western Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. Further, global warming coupled with low rainfall in regions separated by 100cm isohyet has opened door for dryland farming. Seeds which are resistant to impacts of global warming and drought can be developed by genetic engineering.
• Early ripening of crops due to global warming can also be solved through genetic engineering.
• Exotic and endemic domesticated animals which are on the verge of extinction can be reproduced by biotechnology with better traits than their ancestors. Murrah Buffalo cloning done in Hisar is a fine example.
However, there are some negative impacts of BT crops which has restricted its use for farmers Negative impacts of Biotechnology
• Till now, most of the crops developed have been rejected by GEAC citing negative impacts on human health and ecosystem.
• Hybrid seeds developed by some major corporations such as Monsanto are of high cost and are to be purchased again and again because crops produced from them do not bear seeds.
• New pests arise after use of these crops such as pink ball worm which developed during cultivation of cotton crops. There was no pesticide to counter these worms. This caused a great loss of crops to farmers in Punjab.
Under biotechnology, plants, bacteria, fungi and animals whose genes have been altered by manipulation (Recombinant DNA Technology) are called Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO). GMO technology has brought significant changes in agriculture and areas related to it.
Crops have been made more tolerant to abiotic stresses (cold, drought, salt, heat) so the farmers do not have to worry about the weather conditions and can help plants adapt to environmental stress and climate change.
It has reduced reliance on chemical pesticides (pest-resistant crops) which is pocket-friendly for the farmers and eco-friendly for the consumer by eliminating harmful chemicals from the ecosystem.
Post-harvest losses have been reduced by increasing crops’ abilities to withstand the transportation period.
The efficiency of mineral usage by plants has been increased by it (this prevents early exhaustion of fertility of soil) so a piece of land can be used for a long time for equally good yields.
It has enhanced the nutritional value of food (like Vitamin A enriched rice) which increases the market value of the product profiting the farmers and improves human health.
Plants developed using biotechnology naturally resist specific insects, weed plants and diseases so there is no loss of crop due to these reasons. (Like Bt crops) In addition, it has been used to create tailor-made plants to supply alternative resources to industries, in the form of starches, fuels and pharmaceuticals etc. which can boost the agricultural-industrial relations uplifting farmers.
However, there are concerns that genetically modified crops may transfer genetic material into natural, unmodified plants. For instance, a crop that is herbicide-resistant may transfer some of its traits to a weed, which would result in a herbicide-resistant weed.
Genetically modifies crops have a higher yield and the overproduction may lead to market instability, reduced export income, fewer product varieties etc.
Increasing farm output
New crops developed using biotechnology have the capacity to produce more output per area compared to conventional species. This means that more production from small land and subsequent increase in profits.
Ex: Green revolution in India.
Reducing pest menace
Pests are major threat to farm economy than other sources. To eliminate major threats to crops, scientists have come up with innovative methods using biotechnology to help in elimination of pests.
Ex: Development of sterile pests that poses less threat to crops.
Discovery of new varieties
New variety of species always have more demands in comparison to existing ones. By biotechnology new species are created that can create more profits for farmers.
Ex: New varieties of Basmati rice fetch more prices.
Climate resilient crops
Sometimes it is necessary to develop crops that can sustain in adverse climatic conditions. This will enable farmer to save himself from losses that occur due to crop losses.
Ex: Water resistant paddy can tackle incessant rains.
Nutritional capacity enhancement
Crops can be developed that are nutritionally fortified. This will ensure that micronutrients can reach all the consumers and benefits their health. These crops are created with the help of biotechnology.
Ex: Golden rice.
Indian agriculture sector has twin challenges of feeding its ever-increasing population on the one hand and practicing sustainable agriculture on shrinking farms on the other. Biotechnology is the only solution to grow more from less. Being home to more than 14.5 crore farmers and agricultural labourers of about 4.9 crore with their dependents makes a major chunk of India’s population of more than 60% which depends directly or indirectly on agricultural and allied activities. It can help India to improve their living standards which will reflect in human development. It will also help India to ensure food security, decreasing hunger and malnutrition to fulfill its international obligation of achieving sustainable development goals and domestic commitment of doubling the farmer’s income and agricultural export by 2022.
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