Swaminathan calls for harmonising organic farming and new genetics

Special Correspondent

CHENNAI: While biotechnology has a vital role to play in helping India and the world achieve food security, there is a need to “harmonise organic farming and the new genetics” to ensure that agricultural productivity does not compromise ecological sustainability, agricultural scientist M.S. Swaminathan said here on Tuesday.

The use of genetically modified crops continued to be debated, and only an autonomous, professionally-led national biotechnology regulatory authority would “inspire public confidence” in them, he said, speaking at the start of a three-day international conference on recent developments in biotechnology.

Food security

Dr. Swaminathan said food security was one of the biggest challenges the world was now facing. The global demand for rice was expected to be 800 million tonnes by 2025, and 585 million tonnes was the global production in 2003. This would imply an increase in average yield from the current five tonnes per hectare to 8.5 tonnes.

“Land is a shrinking resource, so we need to produce more and more food on less and less land. What we need is an Evergreen Revolution, but with ecologically sustainable techniques like organic farming, horticulture and green agriculture,” he said.

Biotech advantages

With expected climatic changes and sea-level rises as a result of global warming, biotechnology could have a crucial role to play in ensuring bio-diversity and making crops more resistant to external stresses. “The main advantage of biotechnology and bio-diversity is that it makes available genes with different qualities [such as drought- and salinity-tolerance]. This becomes more important with the global climate change. We do not know which genes will be needed in future in the context of more floods, so there is a need to preserve different varieties,” Dr. Swaminathan said.

The M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation has developed sea-water tolerant varieties of rice by isolating genes from mangroves and transferring them to rice crops.

The crops underwent limited field trials, but there were several restrictions on extensive trials of genetically modified crops placed by the Supreme Court on petitions that raised questions about the impact of such crops on bio-safety.