Calling upon the scientific community to focus on ‘non-transgenic’ biotechnology as it is possible to make definite progress in this sector because it is free from controversies unlike transgenic BT, Agriculture Minister Krishna Byre Gowda on Tuesday stressed the need to allow farmers to have a say in whether they want BT.

‘Farmer is sovereign’

“Ultimately, the farmer is sovereign and he should have a say in any crucial issue that is related to him. It is our duty to support whatever the farmer wants and whatever benefits him. We must understand that agriculture is a difficult profession and that is the reason why people are moving out of this. In such a scenario, we must hear the farmer,” Mr. Gowda said, while inaugurating a two-day national conference on ‘Biotechnology, a versatile tool for agriculture in the emerging context’, organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry here.

In this regard, he called for taking the debate on pros and cons of BT to farmers’ fields as they were the ones who had to actually make the decision.

Non-transgenic BT

Observing that Indian agriculture required hi-tech interventions to make it sustainable by increasing productivity, Mr. Gowda said it was better for the scientific community to focus on non-transgenic BT as it could address various issues, including developing drought-resistant varieties. “If you do not provide the required technology, there could be a threat to the food security and sustainability of the agriculture sector,” he warned, while pointing out that the agriculture sector was growing at a rate of only 2 to 3 per cent while the per capita food consumption was growing by about 5 per cent.

Taking exception to criticism from a section of people who perceived him as pro-BT, Mr. Gowda sought to make it clear that the government was not supporting BT. “We are providing subsidy to only non-BT cotton seeds. We are committed to providing any quantity of non-BT cotton seeds if the farmers want.”

Objective analysis

At the same time, he stressed the need for an objective analysis of all the available technologies, including BT. “ The government has taken an objective stand by asking agricultural universities to hold a debate by involving farmers and activists opposing BT.”

University of Agricultural Sciences-Bangalore Vice-Chancellor K. Narayana Gowda said that BT, “if used in right perspective”, could provide solutions to several problems, including that of developing drought-resistant varieties, increasing shelf life of fruits and developing biocontrol agents to fight pests.