India needs to increase the production of essential food items like edible oils for its approximately 1.4 billion people, the second-largest population in the world. The previous fiscal year saw India spending a record $19 billion on vegetable oil imports. Before supplies could improve, the Russian invasion of Ukraine hampered imports and increased costs further.
It is imperative for India to identify and implement effective farming practices because of its expanding population and decreasing arable land. According to scientists, India can benefit by adopting farming technologies like Genetically Modified (GM) crops to enhance food security and reduce reliance on imports.
INCREASING ADOPTION OF GM CROPS
Today, GM crops are planted in more than 30 nations. In some instances, adoption rates of GM crops have exceeded 95% without any adverse impact. Until recently, only cotton could be grown as a GM crop in India.
The Indian government recently granted environmental approval for mustard that has been genetically modified (GM). The environmental release of the genetically modified mustard hybrid Dhara Mustard Hybrid (DMH-11) created by Delhi University for its seed production and testing before its commercial release was authorized by the biotechnology regulatory body Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) in October 2022.
With this development, India’s first food crop may be ready for commercial release in roughly two years. Using DMH-11 for commercial production could boost output over currently available conventional hybrids by 25–30%. This boost in output is likely to significantly increase the country’s oilseed production, which is now only about 1,200 kg/hectare compared to the average global yield of 2,000 kg/hectare
HOW GENETIC MODIFICATION ENHANCES CROP QUALITY AND YIELD
Because it can provide specific alterations in crop types that are extremely difficult to obtain through regular breeding of plant lines, GM is a highly beneficial technology. The scientific objective behind genetic alteration in DMH-11 was to make the mustard crop adaptable to hybridization.
Hybrid plants produced by crossing genetically different parents show greater yields and adaptability. This phenomenon called heterosis, also known as hybrid vigor, has been extensively used in crops like maize, pearl millet, rice, sunflower, and many vegetables. Across all crops, hybrids produce 20–25% more yield than conventionally developed cultivars.
Traditionally the rising demand for GM crops results from features like insect tolerance and herbicide tolerance. The excellent nutritional value, greater production, and longer shelf life of GM crops are further advantages. GM mustard on the other hand bring forth an efficient way to produce mustard hybrids by producing male sterile lines. All the different scientific breakthroughs generated via the genetic modification process could assist farmers in finding sustainable and profitable agricultural solutions while also ensuring the well-being of associated communities, animals, and the environment.
ROLE OF RESEARCH INSTITUTIONS
Creating a favorable environment for our agricultural scientists to research biotech crop and develop improved crops, is in the best interests of consumers and farmers. As per recent reports, Indian institutions are developing genetically modified seeds for 13 different crops, including rice, wheat, and sugarcane, to increase their output and quality. These research initiatives include breeding GM crops for various features, including increased yields and tolerance to biotic and abiotic stress. The government-run Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and other organizations are researching to create GM varieties of the potato, pigeon pea lentils, chickpeas, and bananas.
India has inherent advantages, and experts see enormous prospects for the agricultural potential to be unlocked with the appropriate technology, investment, and policies. Increased government funding for research and development of new seed varieties that are more durable and sustainable is required to safeguard the interests of farmers.
Several factors, including the use of fertilizers, water availability, and soil health, influence the yield of a specific crop. Therefore, while promoting new solutions like GM crops, all other production aspects must also be taken into account. The government has invested heavily in specific farmer-centric programs; to support such programs, big infrastructure investments that improve soil, water, and general farming methods need to be prioritized.
Moving forward, it is important for stakeholders and decision-makers to create an encouraging framework for the industry to invest in emerging technologies that could boost agricultural output. Collaboration with public sector organizations would be critical in the distribution of seeds to guarantee fair price and pan-India availability.