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`Private-public participation needed in biotech sector'

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IN CONVERSATION: Union Minister of State for Commerce Jairam Ramesh (second from right) speaking to Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, chairperson, Karnataka Vision Group on Biotechnology, at the inauguration of "Agri-biotech Day" in Bangalore on Friday. Photo: K. Gopinathan
IN CONVERSATION: Union Minister of State for Commerce Jairam Ramesh (second from right) speaking to Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, chairperson, Karnataka Vision Group on Biotechnology, at the inauguration of "Agri-biotech Day" in Bangalore on Friday. Photo: K. Gopinathan

Staff Reporter

Undertake research in public spirit, says Jairam Ramesh

Bangalore: Private research and development in biotechnology should be undertaken in public spirit and investments made for sustainable growth in the agricultural sector, Union Minister of State for Commerce Jairam Ramesh has said.

He was delivering the keynote address at the inauguration of "Agri-biotech Day" as part of Bangalore Bio 2006 here on Friday.

"The Indian biotechnology industry is doomed if the private sector is the pushing factor. The twin engines of private and public investment are required to move the industry forward," Mr. Ramesh said.

He regretted the fact that over the past five years, institutions engaged in research and development of high-yielding crop varieties had been suffering owing to a sharp fall in government grants.

"This trend has to be reversed. There must be both public and private participation in evolving new varieties of seeds of both cash and staple crops," he said.

Mr. Ramesh appealed to private biotechnology organisations to conduct research in public spirit. Scientific efforts driven by commercial interests need to be tempered to fit into the public domain. This would ensure that the price of products were not too high for farmers, he said.

During the past five years, the country had witnessed a quantum jump in cotton production. From 167 lakh bales in 2000, production in 2005 increased to 243 lakh bales, he said. The yield from a hectare of land had also increased from 340 kg to 440 kg, he said.

Mr. Ramesh attributed the increased growth to factors such as better supply of water and use of biotechnology.

Cotton production

He said that only 8 per cent of the total area under cotton production comprised Bt cotton. This was owing to the misconception among farmers about genetically modified products. There was need to create better awareness, he said.

The Minister said the suicide rate among cotton farmers had been high during the past few years. This was because they did not have access to institutional credit, and hence had to depend on moneylenders. "The institutional rural credit society has collapsed. This is a big problem," he said.

Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, chairperson and managing director of Biocon, said the regulatory framework should be improved so that decisions on approving the import of biotechnology crops into the State was made easier.

Anup K. Pujari, Principal Secretary, Information Technology and Biotechnology Department, requested the Union Government to contribute to the State's venture capital fund for information technology and biotechnology. The State was looking to get more than Rs. 15 crore from the Union Government, he added.

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