They want GM crops: Farmers’ revolt is the outcome of a decade long political paralysis, which must end

June 27, 2019 Gubba Seed In E News

BJP’s 2019 election manifesto promised to double farmers’ income by 2022. Some of India’s farmers have decided not to wait for NDA to get the job done; they have gone ahead despite the government. In over 10 districts of Maharashtra, some cotton farmers have planted HT Bt cotton. This variety has not yet been approved by the relevant regulatory authorities but is estimated to cover about 15% of the cotton area. In a similar vein, a farmer in Haryana grew Bt brinjal, another unapproved variety. Growing unapproved varieties of crops is the outcome of a decade-long government paralysis.

Bt cotton is the only transgenic crop approved for cultivation in India. In the 17 years since it was approved, successive governments have declined to approve any other transgenic crop even after the relevant regulator, Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC), recommended commercial cultivation. In 2009, GEAC, after a five-year scrutiny, approved commercial cultivation of Bt brinjal. It failed to win an approval at the next stage: political executive. A change of government didn’t matter. In 2017, GEAC approved cultivation of GM mustard, a variety developed at Delhi University. It met with same fate as brinjal.

The experience of the last few months in Maharashtra and Haryana has shown that some farmers are no longer willing to pay the price for political paralysis. Indian agriculture is in urgent need of technological infusion. Transgenic crops are the obvious answer. According to government, the regulatory process for approval covers at least six stages. In response to a question from a parliamentary committee, government said that, on average, a proposal from lab stage to decision making on clearances takes at least 10 years. In this backdrop, it’s inexcusable that successive governments have held up political approval on account of fear mongering. The opposition to transgenic crops has increasingly become a matter of faith rather than science.

The present situation in Haryana and Maharashtra poses a challenge. By driving the infusion of technology underground, government has created a problem of its own making. A farmers’ organisation, Shetkari Sanghatana, has come out in support of farmers who are growing transgenic crops without approval. It’s inconceivable that Bt brinjal cultivation was confined to a solitary farmer. A parallel system can also lead to problems associated with spurious seeds. The best way forward is for government to follow the lead given by its regulator. End procrastination and approve transgenic brinjal, mustard and the next iteration of cotton.

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