Encouraged by the government’s recent decision to re-allow field trials of 200 transgenic varieties of genetically modified (GM) seeds, biotechnology companies have readied big investment plans on research and development (R&D) in this regard.
The environment ministry’s Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) last week approved 11 varieties of GM seeds for such seeds, saying more would be considered at its meeting next month.
However, field trials are all subject to a ‘No objection’ ruling from the state government concerned, where companies are proposing the field trials.
Investments in R&D had halted in the past year, due to uncertainty over regulatory clearance. The latter was the sequel to protests by several citizen groups against such testing. Now, however, the GM industry seems energised to restart.
“India’s biotechnology sector is estimated to restart investment on R&D, which they’d stopped in the past one year. We estimate an annual investment of Rs 600 crore on R&D of engineered seeds, beginning the financial year 2014-15. Over a year ago, biotechnology companies were cumulatively investing around Rs 200 crore annually,” said V R Kaundinya, managing director of Advanta Seeds and chairman of ABLE-AG, a body promoting GM seeds in India.
Biotechnology companies are also working on molecular and biological transfer of genes, and both intra-genic and extra-genic advancement of technology for higher yield of agri crops. Rice, wheat, sorghum (jowar), groundnut, maize, potato, tomato, cabbage, cauliflower, okra (bhindi), brinjal, mustard, water melon, papaya and sugarcane are some of the GM varieties awaiting commercialisation approvals.
Monsanto says it is investing a lot in Brazil, Argentina and South Africa, due to the ‘promotional regulatory policies’ of those countries. India, it says, also has a dynamic seed market, conducive for developers.
“We are currently using a variety of biotechnology tools to improve crop productivity. Molecular breeding methods for increasing the speed and precision of breeding are routinely applied,” says Raju Barwale, the MD of Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds (Mahyco). “Majorcon-straints on productivity such as insect pests, drought and salinity, and fertiliser uptake are focus areas of GM crop research and development.” They want field approval to test varieties in this regard for rice and cotton; bio-safety studies are also underway for insect-resistant rice and okra (bhindi).