Apprehensions of various sections must be allayed: M.S. Swaminathan

In matters relating to genetically modified (GM) food crops, the government should ‘hasten cautiously,’ said eminent agricultural scientist M.S. Swaminathan. He was speaking on the sidelines of a visit to the Wheat Breeding Research Station of the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) at Wellington, near here, on Tuesday.

When asked about differences within the government over conducting field trials of GM food crops, he said that the apprehensions of various sections of the society vis-à-vis environment, health etc., should be allayed and a National Bio Regulatory Authority should be set up to go into various aspects of the issue. It must deal with the issue case-by-case. Bio safety experts should carry out gene pollution tests and the risks and the benefits should be carefully measured.

He noted that while the technology had been by and large accepted in items such as cotton, it was viewed with a great deal of apprehension when it came to edible items. When asked whether the farming community would accept the GM system of agriculture, he said that farmers were mainly concerned about yield and income stability.

He also pointed out that the Food Security Act cannot be implemented without the help of farmers.

Mr. Swaminathan said that productivity should be increased and it can be done only through an ‘Evergreen Revolution’. Referring to challenges such as the diminishing amount of land available for agriculture, he said that the use of farm lands for non-agricultural purposes should be controlled.

Food production strategy should change. At present, the country produces 260 million tons of food grains, 260 million tons of fruits and vegetables and 140 million tons of milk. Though wheat production has gone up from seven million tons in 1947 to 95 million tons now, the requirement would be about 150 million tons in a few years. In another twenty years, 200 million tons of rice would be needed.

Responding to a query, he said that in hilly areas like the Nilgiris, horticulture should be encouraged. Recalling his association with the Wheat Breeding Research Station of which he was the director about 45 years ago, Mr. Swaminathan said that the institute played a key role in keeping diseases such as rust at bay.

The institute will celebrate 60 years of existence in 2014. Earlier, interacting with scientists at the station, Mr.Swaminathan said that mechanisation should be promoted to tackle the growing labour shortage and water harvesting should be given a thrust.