Current food crisis beatable with intelligent planning: Suman Sahai

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New Delhi, Apr 29 (UNI) Realising the crucial importance of genetic diversity to long term food security, Gene Campaign has said that the current food crisis is beatable and with some intelligent planning, India can become not only self sufficient in food but also a food surplus country.

Dr Suman Sahai, Convener, Gene Campaign, said here today that to tackle the current food crisis genetic diversity must be maintained in crop varieties, livestock, forest species, aquaculture, and most of all, in the soil and soil biodiversity which was essential for sustained good yields.

To tackle this problem effectively, Gene Campaign has been setting up Seed-Gene Banks of traditional crop varieties in villages of Jharkhand and Uttaranchal for the past few years. Jharkhand already has 10 such banks, with a total of over 2000 crop collections, chiefly rice. More farmer level banks are being set up every year.

Dr Sahai further suggested the way ahead for India was to invest heavily in setting up field level Gene-Seed Banks to conserve all available genetic diversity of crop plants, specially food staples like rice. India is the birthplace of rice and several other important food crops, vegetables and legumes. Also, it was important to maintain a seed source of locally adapted seeds accessible to farmers, she said.

She has also asked to characterise the properties of all the varieties so that plant breeders can use these properties/ genetic traits to breed new crop varieties for the changed situation, like drought and salinity tolerance and tolernace to high temperature, resistance to diverse pets and high yield.

India is right in crop genetic diversity because here farmers maintain several hundred species of the same crop. Despite the Green Revolution, significant diversity was still available, Dr Sahai said and added that this must be conserved. Other than the National Gene Bank, the Government is not doing much in this regard but civil society should take this up on a war-footing scale to create a huge pool of genetic wealth that can be tapped to breed new varieties.

She also mentioned the most serious long-term challenge pasing to Indian agriuclture was global warming and Climate Change.

According to all estimates, agriculture in South Asia would be the worst affected by global warming as it could cause irreversible damage to land and water ecosystems and lead to loss of production potential.

Heavy and variable precipitation, heat waves, cyclones, droughts and floods are likely to be more frequent and intense, resulting in greater economic shocks and for that remedial and adaptive steps need to be put in place immediately to enable Indian agriculture to cop with the aniticipated changes.

Gene Campaign convenor also stated that India had begun biofuel programmes and its draft policy proposed to start with a blending proportion of 5 per cent biofuel with 95 per cent petroleum by 2012, 10 per cent by 2017 and above 10 per cent after 2017.

''This must stop. India must get off the US-led bandwagon of biofuel and its politics and devote itself to producing as much food as possible,'' Dr Sahai said.

Speaking about GM crops and food security, Dr Sahai said the food crisis seemed to have given an upwind to the GM industry which was sharpened its rhetoric that food security could not be met without GM foods. And in that direction, the first question is, where are the GM crops that will fight global hunger? Which crops are available that will increase crop production and bring in higher levels of nutrition? What role does Bt cotton play in increasing the availability of food? Will the food crisis be solved by Bt Brinjal and Bt Okra, waiting in the wings to enter farmers' fields? She pointed out that the biofuel bandwagon was also promoted by the GM corn lobby...'grow more GM corn...produce more biofuel'. A similar tack is beginning with GM sugar for ethanol as fuel.

The high global prices of food are going to stay because they are directly connected to the price of oil, which does not appear to be coming down any time soon. Western agriculture is expensive because it is heavily dependent on petroleum fuels. It is entirely mechanised and chemical intensive. Most fertilizers and feedstock are based on naphtha, a petroleum product.

In India, agriculture is labour intensive, not mechanised, hence less dependent on petroleum. Chemical fetilizer use is supplemented with bio-organic nutrients. Groups like Gene Campaign are spreading the use of composts like vermicompost, Blue-Green algae and other biofertilisers that maintain oil health along with adding nutrients.

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