Biotechnology and genetic engineering would assume a greater role in the battle against pathogens and plant diseases that caused crop loss: Swapan K. Dutta
Kerala cannot afford to overlook the potential of Genetically Modified (GM) crops to emerge as a substitute for toxic chemicals used against plant parasites in polyhouse cultivation, Swapan K. Dutta, Deputy Director General (Crop Sciences), Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) has said.
Talking to The Hindu on the sidelines of the National Biennial Group Meeting of the All India Coordinated Research Project on Nematode pests here earlier this week, he said states like Kerala that were increasingly turning to protected cultivation could no longer ignore the benefits of genetic engineering for pest and disease control.
Dr. Dutta said biotechnology and genetic engineering would assume a greater role in the battle against pathogens and plant diseases that caused crop loss. “The controlled conditions that help to optimise crop production inside a polyhouse are conducive for pests as well, forcing farmers to use toxic chemicals for control. Through genetic engineering, the plant itself develops protection against pathogens. That way you avoid toxic chemicals. States like Kerala will soon have to pay attention to GM technology”.
Highlighting the potential of plant genetic resources, he said, “In nature, plants continuously try to defend themselves against hundreds of thousands of pathogenic bacteria and nematodes. If scientists can understand the genes that plants activate against pathogens or diseases, it will be a million dollar discovery with potential impact on plant as well as human health. Understanding the resistance mechanism of the gene could provide a breakthrough in disease control”.
Terming Kerala’s move to switch over to organic farming as a political gimmick, Dr. Dutta said it had no meaning. “It is not possible for a whole State to make the switch to organic farming. Our experiments show that organic farming will not give sustainable production and high productivity”.
Observing that farmers in Kerala, like their counterparts elsewhere in the country, used subsidized fertilizers and other chemicals, Dr. Dutta noted that there were some niche areas like speciality and high-value fruits and vegetables that could be kept organic. “Organic farming helps in increasing soil fertility. But to keep production and productivity high, you need to have other fertilizers”.
Dr. Dutta said plant-parasitic soil nematodes, a microscopic variety of worms, constituted a major threat for protected cultivation of fruits, vegetables and flowers. “Surveillance, monitoring and pest management assume more importance in protected cultivation.”