Cautions researchers on use of biotechnology
NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday called for a second green revolution in rice with focus on improving the economics of rice cultivation and use of resources.
There was concern that the growth rate of production and productivity in rice cultivation had tapered off in the recent years. As a dominant crop in production systems, rice required special attention in addressing natural and manmade challenges to its eco-system, he said.
Inaugurating the Second International Rice Congress here on "Science, Technology and Trade for Peace and Prosperity," Dr. Singh urged agriculture scientists to develop new rice varieties that were tolerant to submergence, drought, salinity and had a wider adaptation to climatic change.
Referring to use of biotechnology in developing rice varieties such as the "golden rice" and the "iron rich rice," he cautioned researchers to address the social, economic and ethical questions associated with biotechnology.
"There are some anxieties about the risks associated with new biotechnological products, which can at the same time provide food security for the poor."
Dr. Singh said that while future evolution in rice would change the destiny of millions of people through improved and affordable supply, scientists must strike a balance between using the potential of biotechnology to meet the requirements of hungry people and addressing the concerns of interfering with nature.
"You have to address the question of how the potential of this creative science should be directed and controlled for human welfare, progress and prosperity in harmony," he told a galaxy of eminent farm scientists, policy makers and researchers from 40 countries that included Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, Minister of State Kantilal Bhuria, M.S. Swaminathan, R.S. Zeigler of the International Rice Research Institute, Gurdev Singh Khush and Mangla Rai.
Dr. Singh also placed before the Congress the challenge of evolving new technologies to address the issue of the economics of rice cultivation and of the irrigated rice crop facing the threat of water shortage that was forcing a paradigm shift towards maximising output per unit of water instead of per unit of land.
"Can you come out with technologies that convince farmers to use less water in rice production without compromising on returns?" he asked.
The Prime Minister also sought a multilateral trade regime that would enable the rice farmers who were mostly small landholders to harness the full potential of their resources and capabilities.
Mr. Pawar highlighted the projected demand for rice that would approach 515 million tonnes in the next 25 years to feed about 8.3 billion people around the globe.
"The challenge lies in achieving the targets primarily by enhancement in productivity. The task ahead is becoming more daunting as non-agriculture sector is now directly competing with agriculture for land, water and other resources which are already shrinking rapidly."
The Prime Minister conferred the M.S. Swaminathan Award for "Leadership in Agriculture" on renowned plant breeder Dr G.S. Khush.