Genetically modified plants and agrobiodiversity
There is lot of buzz that is going on whether genetically modified plants (GMOs) should be given clearance or not. There are different points in favor and against this issue. Issues like safety for human and animal consumption, seed security of our farmers, adverse effects on land fertility are some of the most prominent issues which get headlines of all major newspapers and magazines. Another harmful effect of GMOs is loss of agricultural biodiversity. The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, has already warned the world for the loss of agricultural biodiversity. According to their reports some 75 percent of plant genetic diversity has been lost since 1900 as a result of excessive cultivation of genetically uniform, mass-produced crop varieties. GMO plants are derived from genetic modifications of a specific variety of a plant which produce best phenotypes in terms of either yield or quality. So effectively, all the plants of a field where GMOs are grown are the product of a monoculture. In USA for soybean and maize, two most important crops, GM plants accounts for 93 and 52 percent of total cultivation, respectively. In a country like India, where government has limited control over the distribution of crops on agricultural land, uncontrolled cultivation of GM rice or wheat varieties could lead to a catastrophe. The scenario will even be more serious in case of plants which are the major source of food for the country. For example, a rampant use of GMO rice will result in extinction of many of the native varieties. Imagine a situation where GMO rice is being cultivated on 60% of our rice cultivating areas. Pathogens can always evolve and attack GM plant variety and destroy the produce for that year. This will bring down our economy on its knees.
I once got an opportunity to ask this question to a top official from Monsanto. In his presentation he had shown the rosy picture how farmers in Gujarat are being benefited by GMO cotton and tried to make a case that India should give clearance to GMO rice. I asked him that if a situation arises that a pathogen has evolved against which your rice variety is very susceptible, then what is the minimum time in which we can provide a new set of seed of a resistant rice variety to our market. He said it can take minimum 6 months to flood the market with such new seed variety. That means it will take minimum 10-12 month that the next rice produce will reach to the market. The question is what will happen in these 10-12 months how will our government feed its citizens.
The protection of agricultural biodiversity is another very important point that our law makers and scientist have to ensure before giving clearance to the GMO plants which provide basic food to our country.
First published on Biodiversity of India