GM Seeds - - boon or bane?

GM Seeds or Genetically Modified Seeds are touted as the next best thing to mother's milk and manna from heaven to save the Indian farmer! Many, including our Union Agriculture Minister and Prime Minister, believe Genetically Modified seeds are necessary to usher in a second Green Revolution in India.

The Monsanto seed company's website has published a pledge report which waxes eloquent on the plight of "chronically undernourished" millions of Asia and Africa and the urgent need to prevent "forest loss and fragmentation of natural habitat" through the use of GM seeds. The report is very verbose but gives no exact numbers about the field trials or the results from the farmers. Steering clear of all the convoluted hyperbole, the arguments favouring GM seeds are:

Agricultural Productivity is going down or "is being held back by the realities of soil degradation, insufficient fresh water, biological competition, and limited quantities of arable land". Soon, we need to encroach into existing forest cover to meet growing demand for food. GM seeds can produce more per acre. Usage of pesticides for growing crops is harmful to the environment. GM seeds are pest and disease resistant. Therefore GM seeds are economically and ecologically desirable.

These arguments are as fallacious as they sound logical. HYHV (High Yielding Hybrid Varieties), and more so GM seeds, require heavy fertilizer inputs , which is the root cause of soil degradation and water salinity. Farmlands productive for hundreds of years have gone arid after the green revolution. In planning a second green revolution, we are keener than ever to rapidly pursue this path of self-destruction. Further, GM seeds have not delivered the promise. ( Please see http://www.i-sis.org.uk/GMcropsfailed.php and http://www.btinternet.com/~nlpwessex/Documents/yieldproblems.htm ) . As early as 1983, Dr. Richaria recommended a breeding program based on 445 native rice varieties and pointed out the adverse impact of HYHV in rice productivity -

( http://www.tribuneindia.com/2000/20001016/agro.htm#2 )

Be that as it may, it is a fundamentally wrong premise that our existing land cannot meet the food requirements of a growing population. India has 400 million acres of agricultural land and a rough population of 1000 million people. About 100 million acres of this is irrigated. Even ignoring 300 million acres of rain fed land, we end up with an understandable equation that 1 acre should feed 10 people. This is not only easy to do but 10 persons just cannot eat what one acre grows round the year! A model 1 acre farm, with 25 cents farm pond, 25 cents fruit trees inter-cropped with fodder, 50 cents of crops, 1 cow and a few chicken, can yield - using non-hybrid native seeds- 750 kg of rice, 100 kg of pulses, 3000 kg of fruits, 3000 kg of assorted vegetables, 2000 litres of milk, 40-50 kg of cooking oil, several hundred kilos of fish, eggs and chicken. Even if our population doubles and reaches 2 billion, we will still be able to feed them a very healthy and balanced diet with existing land, water, native seeds and indigenous agronomy.

Our problem is not productivity of seeds or soil, but poor agronomy borne of ignorance. Pests are the result of our pure cropping pattern; in a mixed cropping system they are balancers and enable natural selection. This is why integrated organic farms have high productivity and need little external inputs to maintain productivity. In meddling with the crop genes to improve productivity, we are solving the wrong problem. We need to improve our agronomy, and restore/reclaim soil health. If we take care of the soil, the crops will take care of themselves. This is the ancient truth all organic farmers are rediscovering. Instead of quarrelling with facts, we need to put our house in order and align our planning and world trade with facts.

Organic farmers like Baskar Save (400 coconuts/tree) and Anthonysami of Puliyangudi (100 tons/acre of sugarcane) have demonstrated sustained high productivity. Herbal pest repellants are sufficient for getting high yields with no harm to the ecology or consumer. GM seeds have NOT given high yields in proportion to the hype or even the cost of seed. Concern for world hunger and environment are just false faces of business greed, aimed at exploiting India's HUGE seed and fertilizer market. A kilo of non-GM cottonseed costs 70 rupees while that of Bt-Cotton costs over 2500!

A 10-year research program to develop a weevil resistant GM pea in Australia was abandoned last year when test mice developed lung disease after eating the peas. Who can correctly predict the fallouts of eating genetically modified food? Without quite knowing why, our intuition tells us it is not wise to meddle with Mother Nature. As Gandhi wisely quipped, when we doubt if something is right, then it is most likely to be wrong. We have a choice now - to be inveigled by commerce or to listen to our inner voice and return to Nature. Soon it may be too late for choice.

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