Hybrid seeds, including biotech seeds, represent new business opportunities in India based on yield improvement, according to Usha Barwale Zehr, chief technology officer of Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company.
“Approximately 7,000 plant species are estimated to be used for human consumption, of which just four crops - wheat, maize, rice and potato - provide half of the total world food production and 15 crops contribute two-thirds. Many of these crops are grown in India, which has the potential to become a major producer of biotech rice and vegetables,” she told Business Standard.
According to a Corporate Catalyst India survey, of the total share of 14.5 per cent that agriculture and allied sectors contributed to India’s GDP in 2010-11, agriculture alone accounted for 12.3 per cent, followed by forestry and logging at 1.4 per cent and fishing at 0.7 per cent.
It is estimated that by 2050, the world’s population will exceed 9 billion, up from 7 billion in 2011. This means farmers will need to produce 70 per cent more food on less land than ever before. Across the globe, this increased demand for food, together with demand from competing uses, has been placing unprecedented pressure on many agricultural production systems. Increased urbanisation and limited water resources have constantly added to this crisis and the potential of climate change impacts are just beginning to show, demanding immediate attention and action, Zehr said.
“Over 55 per cent of the net sown area in India lacks irrigation facilities and hence, farmers rely wholly on rain water for crop growth. Water stress is the most important abiotic stress affecting the production of crops like maize and rice. Nearly 6.7 million hectare of farmland in the country has been affected by salinity, with Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra having the highest percentage of affected land area,” she added.
Stating that greater varietal and species diversity would enable agricultural systems to maintain productivity over a wide range of conditions, Zehr said on Sunday, the benefits of Bt cotton, the first genetically-modified crop to be approved for commercial cultivation, were evident.
According to the latest report by the Council of Social Development, India has moved from being an importer of cotton to one of the crop’s biggest exporters in the world. The growth rate of cotton area, production and yield between 2002 and 2011 increased 4.91, 9.25, and 4.95 per cent respectively, ever since the cultivation of Bt cotton in India began in 2002-03. The average returns from Bt cotton at the all-India level was Rs 65,307.82 per hectare. At the all-India level, 76 per cent of farmers reported that the quantity of pesticide usage on Bt cotton had reduced over the years and 71 per cent said that expenditures on pesticides for Bt cotton had also declined.
“The need of the hour is to liberate agriculture from the clutches of climate change and to utilise biotechnology to meet the growing food needs. India’s food security depends on producing cereal and legume crops as well as more fruits and vegetables to meet the demands of a growing population with rising incomes. To achieve this, the country needs a productive, competitive, diversified and sustainable agricultural sector to emerge at an accelerated pace, which includes plant biotechnology,” Zehr said.