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.
Since the 2000s, floods have multiplied four-fold, and droughts have surged by over a third in a generation. Experts have predicted for a long time that crop failures can be aggravated by climatic variability, potentially leading to food shortages. This threat is especially true for drier conditions which can make crops susceptible to disease and pests. By 2050, the UN estimates, we’ll need to produce 50% more food to support the world’s expanding population. However, the majority of our prime farmland is already in use and suffers from the effects of over-use. Therefore, we must find a way to grow more food on the same or lesser land.
AN EMERGING TECHNOLOGY, GENE EDITING CAN HELP DEAL WITH GLOBAL FOOD CHALLENGES
Scientists have been working on emerging technologies that can help improve desirable characteristics of a plant by leveraging its genetic code. Academic researchers and agri-businesses are modifying staple crops with revolutionary gene-editing technologies to make them more resilient to changing climate and address the growing worries about food security. CRISPR gene-editing technology, a new biological method for creating commercially valuable crop characteristics, has recently attracted scientific interest. Scientists expect CRISPR to improve environmental sustainability, food quality, and production.
UNDERSTANDING THE POTENTIAL OF GENE EDITING AND CRISPR
Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeat, or CRISPR is a relatively recent method of modifying an organism’s genome. This powerful CRISPR technology enables scientists to change DNA sequences and adjust gene function in species more quickly. Gene-edited plants differ from the GMOs as they mostly do not have introduced DNA . Instead, many of the CRISPR-edited plants could appear naturally in nature — due to spontaneous mutations. This process not only makes obtaining regulatory approval easier, but it may also promote public acceptance, which is essential for making CRISPR-edited food acceptance for consumers. Here are some ways scientists are utilizing CRISPR to create healthier, more enticing, and more durable foods.
Our brains naturally create the chemical Gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), which could help treat high blood pressure, sleeplessness, and other health issues in addition to reducing stress and anxiety, according to research that has connected GABA to these effects. Now, people in Japan can enhance their GABA consumption without using supplements by consuming a gene-edited cultivar of tomatoes designed to generate less of an enzyme that degrades the fruit’s natural GABA.
Researchers from China and Germany deactivated a maize kernel-producing gene in corn using CRISPR technology – with an increase to 16 from 14 rows per ear, corn yields rose by 10%. A similar gene was silenced in rice, increasing yields by 8%.
A leafy vegetable with lots of nutrients, mustard greens have fewer calories. Still, due to a reaction between two ingredients, they have a notably bitter flavor, which may deter some grocery shoppers from adding them to their carts. A food-tech company has created mustard greens with a softer taste by editing off one of the two bitterness-causing elements using CRISPR.
“Polyphenol Oxidases” (PPOs) cause the starches in a potato to react with the air when it is chopped or peeled, turning the flesh brown; this can reduce the potato’s nutritional value and make it appear less appetizing. In 2020, Argentine researchers shared that they had silenced using CRISPR a gene that triggers cells to make PPOs, leading to potatoes that brown slowly.
African bananas are susceptible to the bacterial disease banana xanthomonas wilt (BXW), which is particularly contagious. It has cost, the economy billions of dollars in losses over the last ten years and put millions of people’s jobs and food security in danger. Researchers in Kenya are using CRISPR to decrease the expression of specific genes that rise in infected banana plants, resulting in bananas that are resistant to BWX.
Latest developments in technology, genomic sequencing, and artificial intelligence have made it possible to significantly alter how plants have been grown in the last ten years. Using these technologies, we can strive toward producing enough food and fiber for everyone on the planet while ensuring that the environment and farming communities are well-cared for. Agricultural institutions and governments should collaborate to make science-based decisions to establish a direct road to market that is open to businesses and organizations of all sizes to maximize the benefits for all.
7 ways CRISPR is shaping the future of food (freethink.com)
Our environment is a delicate balance of biodiversity and climate that respond of human interventions. Agriculture is most impacted by any changes in this balance and contributes the most to the environmental changes. Agriculture systems have been facing new environments that are changing faster than their rate of adaptation in different habitats and ecosystems. The ecological landscape is being substantially altered by warming temperatures and changing precipitation patterns, which in turn endanger the habitat of some plant and animal species. As a result of inclement weather conditions like drought, heat wave and flood the agricultural output has decreased and the world’s food supplies are impacted. Various warming scenarios are predicting a greater global drop in agricultural output.
THE CUTTING-EDGE TECHNOLOGY OF GENE EDITING COMES TO THE RESCUE
Gene editing is a powerful tool to help species adapt to climate change or lessen the consequences of climate change on agriculture in response to these difficulties.
Gene editing lets researchers to genetically alter specific locations in an organism’s genome. Compared to other plant breeding techniques, it is precise, quick, efficient, and less expensive. By enhancing features like increased nutrition, pest and disease resistance, and drought tolerance, editing technology enables us to improve the quality of crops. A few examples of recent gene editing research and applications that will help plants adapt better to climate change are listed below.
BUILDING TOLERANCE OF SALINITY IN RICE
Drought and salinity are two significant abiotic factors that influence rice, demanding an investigation into the possibilities of utilizing gene editing to develop resistant varieties. One such investigation involved using CRISPR/Cas9 to disable the rice gene OsRR22, which is linked to salt susceptibility. Edited rice plants performed better under high salt conditions without a drop in grain yield, plant biomass, or grain quality.
ENHANCING TOLERANCE FOR DROUGHT
The primary locations of water loss in plants are the stomata, which are anatomical structures on the surface of all agricultural plant tissues. Rice has been edited by focusing on stomatal growth to increase its resistance to drought and hot temperatures. In a specific study, rice lines with lower stomatal density showed encouraging yields in extreme drought and maintained lower temperatures. Thus, by lowering stomatal density through gene-editing methods, plants may be better able to withstand water shortages and likely be more tolerant to heat.
INCREASED DISEASE RESISTANCE IN RICE
Modeling two severe rice diseases in Tanzania, leaf blast and bacterial leaf blight, suggested that climate change may affect pests and diseases differently across geographies and time scales. A variety of rice diseases have responded very well to gene editing. To create OsSWEET13 knockouts, CRISPR/Cas9 was employed. SWEET family genes encode sucrose transporters that can be utilized by pathogens. This gene’s mutation significantly increased disease resistance.
VARIETIES OF SEMI-DWARF BANANAS
For efficient banana harvest and mechanized plant maintenance, experts recommend dwarf cultivars. The creation of a semi-dwarf type of banana has been aided by gene editing. CRISPR/Cas9 was used to create knockouts of genes involved in making certain plant hormones that regulate various developmental processes. Strong winds and storms are predicted to get worse due to climate change; this semi-dwarf variety may be more resilient to lodging and wind damage.
PROMOTIONAL EDITING FOR MAIZE DROUGHT TOLERANCE
Gene editing techniques can also assist knock-ins (gene insertion) in addition to producing knockouts. To boost drought tolerance in maize, scientists employed CRISPR/Cas9 to introduce a gene promoter in a particular region. ARGOS8, a gene linked to drought tolerance, was preceded by an alternative maize promoter. Greater grain production was made possible while sustaining yields under normal growth conditions because of this exact insertion.
DEVELOPMENT OF VIRUS RESISTANCE IN CUCUMBER
CRISPR/Cas9 was utilized to prevent viral infections by creating deletions in the eIF4e gene in cucumber. Reduced symptoms and viral buildup were seen in homozygous mutant lines that were resistant to papaya ringspot virus-W, zucchini yellow mosaic virus, and cucumber vein yellowing virus.
Gene editing techniques have created enormous possibilities for crops that can better withstand the effects of climate change. As discussed above, several gene editing initiatives have demonstrated promise in promoting climate resistance. Consequently, the use of advanced technology like gene editing in crop production is strongly recommended by several experts in the agriculture sector. According to scientists, gene editing can aid in developing robust crops to counteract the detrimental effects of climate change on agricultural production.
Climate change: Gene editing can help create resilient crops – Genetic Literacy Project
We don’t just eat to stay alive; food decides our way of life and daily lifestyle. However, how we now produce food can impact the environment by polluting land and water, hastening climate change and the biodiversity, and decreasing the productivity of our farms and fields, over time. Global food production must become sustainable in the coming years to help agricultural communities flourish and facilitate the restoration of natural resources.
When we look for solutions to strengthen the global food supply chain while dealing with the deteriorating consequences of climate change, regenerative smart agriculture is one of the most practical answers to boost food production to feed the expanding world population. A sustainable food system can take us beyond simple sustainability and accelerate positive growth that benefits the millions of farmers and other food producers across the globe.
REDUCING NATURAL RESOURCE USE FOR SUSTAINABLE PRODUCTION
Regenerative smart agriculture focuses on reducing the resources needed for food production, principally soil and water, but not exclusively, to ensure sustainable production. It considers water bodies, rivers, and lakes to improve the health of the farm’s environment. The health of the soil is a primary focus area, but other factors, such as fertilizer and water management, are also taken into account.
Smasrt farming creates healthier soils, producing food of superior quality and nutrient density, improving rather than degrading the environment, and ultimately resulting in productive farms, economies, and communities. Farming methods like conservation tillage, crop rotation, pasture cropping, and mobile animal shelters enrich topsoil and increase food production.
WHY IS SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE ESSENTIAL?
The loss of the planet’s biodiversity, and degradation of fertile soils threaten our continued existence. Chemical pollution, decarbonization, and desertification contribute to soil deterioration rates. These factors have the potential to seriously harm not only public health but also the quality of the food supply, leading to malnutrition. We need to re-carbonize and safeguard the soils to have enough arable topsoil to feed ourselves. An essential part of regenerative farming consists of diversifying species above and below the earth to boost biodiversity. For instance, planting a million trees on farms and in landscapes, such as fruit and shade trees in cocoa-growing regions, aids in the restoration of crucial ecosystems.
ROLE OF TECHNOLOGY
Regenerative tools, including no/low till, crop rotation and diversity, cover crops, and lowering farm inputs all contribute towards sustainability. Precision agriculture components like deeper analytics to guide seed selection, inputs and pest management offer advantages from a conservation viewpoint over a reasonable period. Today, we have access to innovative, and ever-more-precise methods. A new area of aided breeding has opened up due to decoded genomes and methods for analytics and regulating genes that drive particular plant features. This can include transgenic (foreign gene modification/insertion) and intragenic (internal gene alteration).
Food production has impacted the environment and it is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and uses 70% of all freshwater. On the other hand, it is also responsible for the livelihood of a substantial part of the world’s population.
Smart agricultural techniques combined with emerging technologies can help us effectively deal with these challenges. Changing to a food system would allow us to produce food both on land and at sea in ways that are compatible with the environment. Together, we can turn the challenge of securing global food security into our most incredible opportunity: we can build sustainable agriculture systems that foster growth for people, businesses, and the environment.
In addition to traditional solutions, new and developing technologies will undoubtedly be used in the future of food and agriculture. While creating a food supply for a rapidly expanding population, we can restore habitats, protect clean drinking water, increase biodiversity, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by developing innovative strategies in collaboration with producers.
The future of food: The regenerative imperative (newhope.com)
India has made significant progress toward being a self-sufficient food producer after being a net food importer in the 1960s. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that India is the second-biggest producer of rice, wheat, sugarcane, groundnuts, vegetables, and fruits. It is the largest producer of milk and pulses and a significant producer of plantation crops, spices, fish, poultry and livestock. It ranks first or second among several non-food crops, including cotton and jute. This success has also created a crisis of abundance as the food supply chain infrastructure needs significant strengthening to manage excess production.
HOW MUCH FOOD IS LOST BETWEEN HARVEST AND RETAIL?
Any food that is discarded, burned, or otherwise disposed of after harvesting along the food supply chain is referred to as food loss. This loss excludes the retail level and any waste that is applied to other productive uses, such as the production of feed or seed. To highlight the different terms, while “food waste” occurs after the food reaches the retailer or customer, “food loss” occurs during or shortly after harvest
As per an estimate, during or immediately after harvest, globally up to $600 billion worth of food is lost on farms or in their vicinity. FAO sets India’s food loss and waste at 40%, whereas the government-owned Food Corporation of India (FCI) puts it at over 15%.
Comprehensive studies on agri-losses have been undertaken in India by the Central Institute of Post Harvest Engineering and Technology, Ludhiana (CIPHET), a unit of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). Using production data from 2012–13 at 2014 wholesale prices, CIPHET estimated the annual value of harvest and post-harvest losses of primary agricultural produce at the national level at Rs. 92,651 Crore.
COLD STORAGE CHALLENGES
In a diverse country like India, food is produced in one region and then shipped all over the nation. For instance, grains are grown in Maharashtra and transported nearly throughout India. The government plays a significant role, purchasing around 75 million tonnes of the 300 million tonnes of grains produced in India through the MSP mechanism. A significant quantity of these grains is stored in traditional godowns or outside in the open shade leading to substantial losses to the exchequer.
India had 8,186 cold storage facilities with a combined 374 lakh million tonnes capacity as of September 2020. Bengal and Uttar Pradesh account for roughly 65% of this. Potatoes use about 75% of the cold storage space. According to estimates, India loses between 30 and 40 percent of its fruits and vegetables yearly due to inadequate cold storage facilities. This is significant as we are striving for nutritional security, especially for the vulnerable sections of the population.
IMPROVING INDIA’S POST-HARVEST SUPPLY CHAIN INFRASTRUCTURE
India’s hot and humid weather generally makes maintaining cold storage facilities more challenging. The problems magnify with extended heat waves and a rise in the frequency of extreme weather phenomena, including floods, droughts, and cyclones. We need a complete upgradation of storage facilities (especially in rural areas) that can minimize power and water usage while reducing post-harvest losses. One way to achieve this is by expanding access to finance for climate resilient technology adoption for storage facilities.
The Ministry of Food Processing Industries has been implementing several schemes to reduce losses in agricultural produce’s supply chain and improve the existing food processing infrastructure. These schemes include Mega Food Parks, Integrated Cold Chain, Value Addition and Preservation Infrastructure, and Setting Up/Modernization of Abattoirs.
Recent innovations and modern solutions could help overcome food insecurity, enhance access to nutrition and ensure long-term food sector sustainability. All stakeholders must collaborate to encourage private sector innovations that can share the burden of improving agricultural resilience and complement public sector projects.
For example, Cooling-as-a-service is a global innovation where local cold-chain technology providers own, maintain, and operate cooling systems in a decentralized manner. In India, this innovation has been initiated through the Your Virtual Cold Chain Assistant program, conceptualized to minimize post-harvest losses by decentralizing cold storage facilities.
The Indian government introduced the Agriculture Infra Fund (AIF) on July 8, 2020, as a long-term debt financing plan for developing post-harvest management infrastructure and community farm assets. The government has initiated an action plan to invest about Rs. 9,200 crore over the following four to five years to facilitate the construction of wheat silos with 11-mt capacity using the PPP mode at 249 locations throughout the nation. These are significant steps on road to minimizing food loss.