Prof. PK Khosla, vice chancellor, Shoolini University, Solan, Himachal Pradesh
Biotechnology uses scientific knowledge and technology for the exploitation of living organisms and systems for the benefit of mankind. It is one of the fastest-growing areas of scientific, technical and industrial innovation in agriculture, pharma and health sectors. Today, the biotechnology sector is embroiled in heated controversy in the world. In this article I have focused on biotechnology in agriculture since it is more controversial.
The controversy is that, big agri-business houses promise solutions to food security through cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops, while environmental extremists think GM crops, especially when the farmers have to incur high cost on GM seeds in comparison to traditionally bred seeds, as Frankenstein monsters capable of unleashing super-weeds, allergies, toxins, fatal deaths and various environmental problems. The people, especially the farmers, are confused and are at cross roads for using GM crops in agriculture.
Today, we are facing the biggest challenge of feeding the ever increasing population. The 2009 FAO report on "Global agriculture towards 2050" has projected the world population to be 9.1 billion which will be more than 40 percent of today's population. We have to produce about one billion tonnes of more cereals from the present annual production of 2.3 billion tonnes to plus 3 billion tonnes. With 1.747 billion people and 2.4 percent of the total global land mass, India is projected to be the most populous in 2050 and we shall be under tremendous pressure to raise the food production manifold on limited agricultural land.
In the sixties of the last century, we were in a similar dilemma and we overcame the situation by ushering in the "Green Revolution" based on cultivation of high yield Mexican varieties of wheat and rice with high inputs of irrigation, fertilizers and pesticides. According to Nobel Laureate Dr Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution, it will be impossible to feed the people of this millennium with the current agricultural techniques and practices. Further, the food needs of the fast growing population in this century can be only met by increasing food production using new technologies, including biotechnology and recombinant DNA, otherwise millions of people will be condemned to hunger, malnutrition and starvation, as well as to social, economic and political chaos.
In view of non-availability of additional agricultural land, the cultivation of pest and drought resistant GM crops holds the most promise for producing more food on less land and diverting the spared land for forestry purposes. This would also help in increasing our forest cover and achieve the national goal of maintaining a minimum of 33.3 percent of the country's land area under forest cover for a healthy and sustainable environment as per the Forest Policy; actual forest cover at present is only 21.05 percnet (State of the Forest Report 2011).