POKE ME: GoI must not interfere between GM technology providers and licensees
Agriculturally advanced countries have been using the technology to improve farm output for their people as well as for exporting purposes.
By CS Prakash
One of the components of agriculture biotechnology, genetically modified (GM) crops, has realised tremendous benefits to farmers globally. It has provided them with a tool to address crop loss due to damage caused by biotic and abiotic stresses.
Agriculturally advanced countries have been using the technology to improve farm output for their people as well as for exporting purposes. The US has several food crops made from GM technology that include maize, soyabean, cotton, potato, canola, papaya, alfalfa and squash.
Recently, we have seen as many as 109 Nobel laureates come together to support GM crops and their benefits. In India, however, more weightage is still given to many environmentalists, NGOs and swadeshi groups whose arguments against GM crops are not based on science but on emotions. This acts as a hindrance not only to the introduction of new technology to improve India’s farm productivity, but also severely leaves a negative impact on the economy.
The agri-biotech industry takes risks by putting in huge money, effort and valuable human resource in conducting research over years to bring innovative technology to the farm. Scientists need about 10-12 years of work globally to develop a crop biotech product. After developing the product, there is much effort needed for regulatory approval before commercialisation.
If their breakthrough research does not get to the market after such humongous efforts, it not only discourages the scientific community but also the industry, farmers and consumers, who are deprived of latest technological advancements in agriculture.
Bangladesh has shown how embracing technology can enhance farm income significantly. Bangaldesh’s agriculture minister Matia Chowdhury has been at the forefront of raising such awareness. She was convinced by the research and partnership mooted by the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Institute (Bari) to bring new technology to its farmers struggling to find solutions to farming challenges with conventional methods of cultivation.
Today, Bangladesh is successfully sowing and harvesting Bt Brinjal, a technology developed in India, for the past three years. So enthused are they by GM technology that they are also in advanced stages of research in crops like transgenic cotton, golden rice, salinity-tolerant rice and late blight resistant (LBR) potato, all of which can take the country far ahead in terms of farm productivity as well as achieving food security for its citizens.
In India, regressive anti-science measures at the behest of certain vested interests are still be the order of day. This is quite clear from India’s recent price control measure for Bt cotton and capping of royalty on GM technology. These send the wrong signals to the world and also projects India as a country that does not honour technology agreements and intellectual property rights (IPR).
The Indian government will have to take a long-term view on the way forward for technology in agriculture. Getting swayed by vested interests or specific ideologies leading to such abnormal anti-R&D and anti-IPR policies can benefit only a few at the cost of the farmers and the nation.
The unusual action of the government in bringing price control and draft licensing guidelines has a backdrop of a commercial dispute between a few licensees and the technology provider. These measures appear to be in support of a few seed companies who have defaulted on payment of trait fees to the technology provider.
The licence of the biggest seed company that has defaulted has been cancelled and the promoter of this company is also the president of the National Seed Association, which represented to the Indian government for price control, leading to a perception that the stated objective and the actual intent of these measures are different.
The proposed compulsory licensing of technology and price control where the price reduction to farmers on a weighted national basis is less than the reduction in trait fee is widely believed to benefit only the sub-licensees, not the farmers.
India’s leading seed company, Nuziveedu, has been playing a game to ouster Monsanto from the country in the name of safeguarding farmers’ interest. Since Monsanto challenged Nuziveedu for not honouring the licensing contract agreement for Bt cotton and also cancelled its technology licence for defaulting on trait fee payment, all hell has broken loose. This also shows the world how Indian companies like Nuziveedu can still manipulate the local system for their personal interests.
By interfering in bilateral private agreements between technology providers and licensees, the government is weakening investor and innovator confidence. This will see a slowing down of research and no new technology will be made available to our farmers from outside, who are already under stress due to the vagaries of agriculture. In the larger interest of Indian agriculture and the economy, one would urge the government to reverse these anti-innovation measures.
GM Mustard, if approved, would have addressed the edible oil shortage in India -- as will Bt Chickpea and Bt Brinjal in providing nutritional food intake. To be globally competitive in food production and curtail imports of food grains from other countries, it is high time India has a conducive policy environment to promote and adopt modern and well-proven technologies like GM crops.
(The writer is Professor, Plant Genetics and Genomics, Tuskegee University, US)