By: Prof. R K Yadav (Deptt of Genetics and Plant Breeding C.S. Azad Univ. of Agril. & Tech. Kanpur & Executive Editor-ICN Group)
KANPUR: Agriculture production in India has increased considerably during the last five decades largely due to the development and large scale cultivation of high-yielding dwarf varieties of rice and wheat, and greater applications of water and nutrients. This increase in food production has made India self-sufficient and contributed tremendously to food security.
However, the population expected to reach 1.8 billion in 2050 will impose great demand for increased food production. The additional food will have to be produced on existing agricultural land with dwindling natural resources and changing climate. In addition, crop losses due to insects’ pests, diseases and decline soil fertility will worsen because of climatic condition.
Conventional technologies of agriculture are inadequate to meet these formidable challenges. This calls for harnessing the powerful tools of molecular biology and biotechnology in agriculture.
Biotechnological approaches such as marker-assisted breeding and transgenic crops have awesome capability to increase crop productivity, lower production costs, conserve biodiversity, make efficient use of external inputs increase stability of production to improve economic and social benefits and alleviate poverty in developing countries including India.
Introduction of Bt cotton in India has revolutionanized cotton production. India has emerged as the fourth largest producer and exporter of cotton. On average, Bt-cotton farmers realized pesticide reduces of roughly 40-50%, and yield advantages of 30-40%.
All these are indicators of the extraordinary impact and acceptance of Bt technology in cotton by the Indian farmers. This is quite comparable to the success of dwarf varieties of wheat and rice during the green revolution period.
Biotechnology-derived crops can also effectively manage fungal, viral and bacterial diseases. For instance, genetically modified papaya completely replaced the diseased affected papaya in Hawaii and is under cultivation for more than a decade. Virus resistant squash, watermelon and plum are cultivated in U.S.A and China.
Weeds are another biotic stress factor that seriously affects crop yields. Commercialization of herbicide tolerant soybean, maize, cotton, canola and sugar beet has significantly enhanced crop yields and also promoted environmentally sustainable conservation farming practices in countries other than India.
Marker-assisted breeding is another powerful tool to improve crop productivity. It does not involve genetic engineering but heavily relies upon molecular techniques, which are integrated into plant breeding programmes.
Genes conferring resistance to various diseases are identified in crop varieties. These genes are tagged by molecular markers and mobilized to high yielding disease susceptible varieties. Scientist developed and commercialized rice varieties (Pusa Basmati 1 and Samba Mahsuri) tolerant to bacterial leaf blight disease.
Two genes that provide resistance to the pathogen were brought together to make the varieties tolerant. The Improved Pusa Basmati1 variety has 12 percent yield superiority over its parent. Similarly, a popular rice variety Swarna was made tolerant to flooding and submergence.
It is needed to make these biotechnological advantages affordable to the farmers with their health and environmental concerns. So that large numbers of farmers could adopt these new advances. A world population numbers continue to climb, agricultural development remains necessary for eliminating hunger and malnutrition.
Many of us see these biotechnological could be used as a means to address these problems. Partnerships between the public and private sector can result in more efficient production of genetically modified crops/varieties that are useful to the developing world including India.