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February 22, 2010


Feeding 9B; Reaping Benefits of Crop Research; African Green Revolution; Indian Farmers Are Doing It Wrong; Biological Diversity Act


* Feeding the Future
* Reaping Benefits of Crop Research
* African Green Revolution Needn't Be a Mirage
* India likely to have Golden Rice by 2013
* Sad Plight of Indian Eggplant Farmers - Spraying Alcohol Against Pests!
* Jairam GM Voice Finds No Echo in PM Panel
* Bt Brinjal and Biological Diversity Act
* Biotechnology Based Sustainable Agriculture - Recommendations
* Online Videos in Ag Biotech from ISAAA


Feeding the Future

- Caroline Ash et al. Science 12 February 2010: Vol. 327. no. 5967, p. 797 http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/sci;327/5967/797

Feeding the 9 billion people expected to inhabit our planet by 2050 will be an unprecedented challenge. This special issue examines the obstacles to achieving global food security and some promising solutions. News articles take us into the fields, introducing farmers and researchers who are finding ways to boost harvests, especially in the developing world. Reviews, Perspectives, a special single-topic podcast, and an audio interview done by a high school intern provide a broader context for the causes and effects of food insecurity and point to paths to ending hunger.

We have little time to waste. Godfray et al. (p. 812) note that we have perhaps 40 years to radically transform agriculture, work out how to grow more food without exacerbating environmental problems, and simultaneously cope with climate change. Although estimates of food insecurity vary (Barrett et al., p. 825), the number of undernourished people already exceeds 1 billion; feeding this many people requires more than incremental changes (Federoff et al., p. 833).

Scientists and engineers can make a big difference at every step from field to fork, from providing new strategies to smallholder farmers who must balance the needs of livestock and crops (Herrero et al., p. 822) to helping farmers get the most from fertilizers, water (Vince, p. 800), soil (Hvistendahl, p. 801), and seeds (Tester and Langridge, p. 818; Pennisi, p. 802). Innovation will be key to monitoring all stages of food production (Gebbers and Adamchuk, p. 828), from defending harvests against pests and disease (Pennisi, p. 804; Normile, pp. 806 and 807) to providing critical information and infrastructure (Stone, p. 808). And training enough scientists in all these areas will be essential (see associated Science Careers profiles at www.sciencecareers.org).

As Vince's profile (p. 798) of one Ugandan farmer illustrates, science and technology alone cannot guarantee food security. Economic, political, and psychological issues also play key roles. Yet there is optimism that a Green Revolution is possible in Africa (Ejeta, p. 831), although maintaining good governance throughout the world is crucial to success (see the associated Policy Forum by Smith et al., p. 784).

Much of this special issue focuses on how to increase the supply of basic staples. But Stokstad (p. 810) examines one idea for reducing demand: eating less meat; and Vogel (p. 811) highlights an alternative source of protein: insects. These alternatives are possibly unappetizing to many, but the quest for food security may require us all to reconsider our eating habits, particularly in view of the energy consumption and environmental costs that sustain those habits. As this special issue shows, science can help to make the choices less unpalatable.

Reaping Benefits of Crop Research

- David Baulcombe cience 12 February 2010: Vol. 327. no. 5967, p. 761 Email: dcb40@cam.ac.uk

In 2009, for the first time since the 1950s and the early stages of the Green Revolution, food security was taken seriously by policy-makers. There was substantial output from the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development, and with studies by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and a UK government Foresight group due this year, there is no sign that this renewed interest will fade. This revival follows assessments by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and others that population growth, urbanization, climate change, and the availability of natural resources present a challenge to global food security. Somehow the world must produce 50 to 100% more food than at present under environmental constraints that have not applied in the past.

David Baulcombe is Regius Professor of Botany and Royal Society Research Professor at the University of Cambridge. His research is on RNA silencing, epigenetics, and disease resistance in plants.


African Green Revolution Needn't Be a Mirage

- Gebisa Ejeta, Science 12 February 2010: Vol. 327. no. 5967, pp. 831 - 832

Africa missed out on the scientific breakthroughs that revolutionized agriculture in Asia. However, with locally developed and locally relevant technologies, a built-up human and institutional capacity, and supportive national policy and leadership, an African Green Revolution can be a reality.


India likely to have Golden Rice by 2013

- Food and Beverage News, February 22, 2010 http://www.fnbnews.com/

The Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) said it was preparing to release the GM rice known as Golden Rice for commercial cultivation in India by 2013.

IRRI director general Robert Ziegler said in New Delhi that the Golden Rice had been genetically modified to have large amount of nutrition. He said the rice helped combat Vitamin A deficiency. Ziegler said since the Golden Rice was more nutritious, there was possibility that farmers would command good price. Besides, Golden Rice would cost no more than other rice to the farmers and consumers. Due to its enormous potential to benefit public health, the technology behind Golden Rice has been donated by its inventors.

Golden Rice would be available to farmers and consumers only after it has been authorised by the agriculture, environment, health, and food safety agencies of their countries. Public health officials, non-government organisations, grain traders, and private industry will be consulted in each country before Golden Rice is introduced.

Golden Rice is being bred into local rice varieties in the Philippines, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, and Vietnam. National agricultural research institutes in these countries are testing Golden Rice to make sure that it grows just like other rice crops, with comparable yields and pest resistance, and the same environmental impacts.

Golden Rice can be planted, harvested, threshed, and milled like current rice varieties.


(Sad Plight of Desperate Indian Brinjal Farmers)

Alcohol Gives 'high Yield' of Brinjals?

- Sumi Sukanya, Times of India, Feb 22, 2010

GURGAON: Even as the controversy surrounding genetically modified Bt brinjal refuses to die down, it has now come to light that farmers in and around Gurgaon are using alcohol to increase the yield of brinjal crop. Farmers of every village growing the crop spray country-made as well as India-made foreign liquor (IMFL) on the soil and they claim that this practice not only results in better shape of the crop but also leads to increased yields.

Farmers said that this practice of using alcohol had been going on for the past several years and that it ensured that there were more flowers on a brinjal plant thus boosting production.

"We sprinkle alcohol in the soil right from the time we sow the seeds. In the last few years, it was observed that the brinjal crop yield had increased manifold," claimed Mamchand, a farmer of Sihi village, about 15 km from Gurgaon. Farmers in Sikandarpur, Hailimandi, Pataudi, Farrukhnagar villages, etc where hundreds of acres are dedicated to brinjal crop also spray liquor extensively. "Earlier we used molasses a by-product of country liquor as natural pesticide and the results were good. Later some farmers experimented by using liquor directly and it showed fantastic results. Gradually most brinjal cultivators in the region followed suite. Though the cost of production has increased a little, the high yield makes up for it," said Ajeet Yadav, a farmer in Sikandarpur.

Depending on their financial status, peasants used either country-made or IMFL. "We mostly buy alcohol from the army canteen as it is cheaper there," said a farmer.

Agricultural scientists at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), Pusa, Delhi, said there was no scientfic proof to establish that use of alcohol increased the crop yield, but "there was no harm". However, there were some among them who felt that alcohol may have helped the growth of the crop in some way.

"There is no direct relation between use of liquor and enhanced production. Use of biological pesticides like molasses and ethyl and methyl alcohol is prescribed as it is better than chemical pesticides and rodenticides, but there is no scientific proof that alcohol enhances the crop quality and quantity. It will not harm the crop or soil if concentrated alcohol is not poured into soil directly," said Tomar Icar, principal scientist at IARI.

Some experts said alcohol could be used to clean the crop but it doesn't affect the shape of brinjal. "The alcohol evaporates in 10 minutes. It makes no sense to believe that spraying alcohol will produce bigger and better brinjals," said a horticulturist from Gurgaon. "It's a myth. It has no scientific basis," he added.


Jairam GM Voice Finds No Echo in PM Panel

- Indian Express, Feb 20, 2010

His colleagues in the Government, Ministers Sharad Pawar, Prithviraj Chavan and Kapil Sibal disagreed with him and called for science, not ideology, to dictate Government policy on genetically modified (GM) foods. Now the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council (PMEAC) has joined in - it has taken a stand more nuanced than that of Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh.

Ramesh made a distinction between food and non-food and public and "private" research to justify his indefinite "moratorium" on Bt Brinjal. The PMEAC doesn't see it in such black and white terms.

"After the success of Bt Cotton and the benefits it has brought to the farmers in Gujarat and Maharashtra, it is imperative that the government must have a clear policy on Genetically Modified (GM) crops. The regulatory framework should clearly assess performance in the field and the impact on environmental and food safety issues and bring the results into the public domain at the shortest possible time," the PMEAC said in its Review of the Economy (2009-10) presented today.

While Ramesh is against the private sector driving research in seeds and agricultural biotech, the PMEAC underlines the value of private sector research and the need for public-private partnerships.

It argues that "basic research which benefits the poor and marginal farmer" is the responsibility of the state but underlines the "significant contribution" of the private sector in "evolving hybrid varieties of seeds for commercial crops."

"In extension of research findings to farm level, there is a large scope for public-private partnership (PPP), as the public extension system has virtually collapsed," the PMEAC said.

"India's first Green Revolution was not powered by the private sector," said Ramesh. "And there is no reason to believe that the second Green Revolution would be driven by private companies."

The PMEAC, headed by former RBI Governor C Rangarajan, identified technology and organizational factors as major constraints to sustainable growth in agriculture and lamented the fact that there's been no major breakthrough in agricultural research since the Green Revolution years. The council's members include economists Saumitra Chaudhuri, M. Govinda Rao, V S Vyas and Suman K. Bery.


Bt Brinjal and Biological Diversity Act

- C Kameswara Rao, AgBioView, Feb 22, 2010 http://www.agbioworld.org

(Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education, Bangalore, pbtkrao@gmail.com)

This note is a response to the news item from Express News Service of February 18, 2010

UAS faces flak over Bt brinjal

The Position Under BDA
Biological Diversity Act (BDA) of 2002 was notified on February 5, 2003 and the Rules that suppress any earlier notifications were Gazetted on April 15, 2004. All research concerning Bt brinjal started much earlier and the provisions of the Act are not retroactive except for agreements with foreign companies, nationals or NRIs that use or affect Indian biodiversity in some manner or the other, and did not get approval of the National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) after it came into force.

The Biological Diversity Act (2002, No. 18 of 2003) says that 'Any person who is not a citizen of India, or a non-resident Indian shall take prior approval of the National Biodiversity Authority in order to have access to biodiversity'. Another clause reads as 'Prior intimation has to be given to the State Biodiversity Board by a citizen of India or a corporate body, association or organization, registered in India for obtaining biological resources for certain purposes'.

The term for 'certain purposes' applies to 'commercial utilization' defined in Section 2 clause (f) as: 2(f) "commercial utilization" means end uses of biological resources for commercial utilization such as drugs, industrial enzymes, food flavours, fragrance, cosmetics, emulsifiers, oleoresins, colours, extracts and genes used for improving crops and livestock through genetic intervention, but does not include conventional breeding or traditional practices in use in any agriculture, horticulture, poultry, dairy farming, animal husbandry or bee keeping;

In the case of Bt brinjal:
1. No biological material collected from the wild was used.
2. No genes from any Indian biological resources were extracted and used.
3. 'Geographical Indication' or 'Traditional Knowledge' is not involved.
4. No benefit claims exist from any Indian organization or individuals.
5. No IPR issues related to the commercializable product are involved.
6. Results are not transferred to a foreign company, foreign national or an NRI.

7 Foreign company involvement is to the extent of providing against payment of technology costs for an innovative patented gene construct, using genes from a non-Indian source, and the same gene construct is already in use in India since 2002 in several hundred commercialized hybrids of Bt cotton.
8. TNAU and UASD are Indian public sector institutions whose scientists and other personnel are Indian citizens. The research is for the good of the farmer and the consumer and the developers have no financial interest.

9. Mahyco is an Indian company. Whatever hybrids were used to develop Mahyco's Bt brinjal transgenic hybrids or the varieties that were used to develop the non-Bt brinjal isogenics earlier, were the proprietary material of the Indian company and the research on Bt brinjal started long before the Gazetting of the Rules of BDA (April 15, 2004). (Any notifications or registrations of release of the parental OPVs or isogenic hybrids would be of help)
10. The OPVs used by the TNAU and UASD have been in the public domain, some were developed by the respective institutions and research on them started long before the BDA coming into force. (Any official notifications or registrations of the parent OPVs or isogenic would be of help)
11. Provisions of BDA do not apply to material that is in cultivation and those whose source and/or geneology are untraceable.
12. The whole R & D of Mahyco and the two Universities has been in the full knowledge and regulatory authority of GEAC, a statutory body.

13. The requirement of BDA (Sections 3 and 4 relating to obtaining Indian biological resources or transfer of results or apply for IPR abroad) shall not apply to collaborative research projects involving transfer or exchange of biological resources or information relating thereto between institutions, including Government sponsored institutions of India, and such institutions in other countries, if such collaborative research projects satisfy the conditions specified in sub-section (3), which reads as 'such collaborative research projects shall - (a) conform to the policy guidelines issued by the Central Government in this behalf; (b) be approved by the Central Government'. There is involvement of USAID and Cornell University, but there is no transfer or exchange of biological resources or information or IPR involved and so satisfies the provisions of sub-section 3 above.

14. Section 18 of the BDA refers to the Functions and Powers of the National Biodiversity Authority and not to any mandatory responsibility on the part of the researchers, as mentioned in para 5 of the news item.
15. The question of Mahyco obtaining permission of the BDA while releasing Bt Cotton in the market does not arise, as questioned in para 6 of the news item, as it happened in 2002 and the BDA was not in force at that time. The whole process was cleared by the GEAC, a statutory body.

Actually, Dr M S Swaminathan (even as an Indian citizen) should take NBA's permission since he has sourced the salinity tolerant gene from a species growing in the wild, and incorporated in to the rice genome, but do not know if he did so.

Indian Express, February 20, 2010

The environmentalists of the state and scientists of the University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad, are at loggerheads once again. This time, the environmentalists are demanding criminal proceedings against the UAS scientists for ignoring the Biodiversity Act when they were researching Bt brinjal.

In a letter to all members of the biodiversity board and the environment ministry, including Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, the environmentalists have accused UAS, Dharwad and its developing partners Mahyco and Sathguru (a front company of US Agency for International Development- USAID) of blatantly violating the Biodiversity Act, while Bt brinjal was being developed by them for commercial and environmental release.


Biotechnology Based Sustainable Agriculture - Recommendations

- International Life Sciences Institute - India; International Conference on Biotechnology Based Sustainable Agriculture


ILSI-India and ILSI International Food Biotechnology Committee organized the International Conference on “Biotechnology Based Sustainable Agriculture” on December 19, 2009 in New Delhi. The Conference was cosponsored by Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science and Technology, GOI and Indian Council of Agricultural Research.

About 130 participants from Government, academia and industry attended the Conference. Eighteen leading national and international experts addressed the Technical Sessions of the Conference on: The Dynamics of Sustainable Agriculture; Recent Developments in Biotechnology- Transgenics; Recent Developments in Biotechnology- Non Transgenics For Enhancing Conventional Breeding; Safety Assessment for Food and Feed Derived from GM Technology; and Laboratory Networking for Safety Management and Knowledge Sharing.

The Background
Indian agriculture is at crossroads. The Green Revolution had reached a plateau at the beginning of this decade. Food grains production has since been increasing at nearly the same rate as the growth of population.

The green revolution relied mainly on irrigation, fertilizers and hybrid varieties of seeds. After-effects of green revolution have been mining of nutrients from soils, lowering water table, developing salinity and creating soil, water and atmospheric pollution. Further expansion of irrigation is not easy and more intensive use of fertilizers will not give commensurate results.

With low growth of production, India may become a net importer of food grains from net exporter it was a few years back. To ensure food and nutrition security it is therefore important to look at new options, principally new technology, which are beneficial to farmers and acceptable to consumers.

There are many effective and sustainable technology options available to enhance agricultural growth. Conservation agriculture is one practical method consisting of laser leveling, use of zero-till, ferti-seeds drill, timely use of herbicide and field and farm residue management. Conservation agriculture has been favored in many countries but its commercialization is rather limited.

Why Biotechnology?
An effective option is bio-technology application to agriculture. What is important is to develop varieties that are stress tolerant, apart from herbicide tolerance and insect resistance which are already in use. The former are important considering the limitation of land and water resources. There are also non-transgenic bio-tech approaches for enhancing conventional farming like marker assisted selection as also other genomic technologies.

Biotechnology applications will enable:
• Improvement in productivity.
• Reduction in costs.
• Enrichment of nutrition content of crops. • Extension of shelf life of products.
There are still concerns about the use of transgenics. It is therefore important to have an efficient regulatory framework to ensure safety of GM foods. Codex has recommended “substantial equivalence” as criteria to ensure safety.

The Recommendations
On the basis of the presentations and subsequent discussions, the Conference made the following recommendations:-
1. Government, industry and academic institutions must invest adequately in agricultural bio-technologies through capacity building with emphasis on education, training and research.

2. Tissue culture micropropagation is a simple and cost effective technology which has not been adequately utilized and should be extensively used for mass seed production of crops likes potato, banana, mentha, sugarcane, ornamental and medicinal plants.

3. Transgenic technology holds significant promise for developing crop varieties possessing resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses. This technology has made a beginning with cotton and should be extended to other crops. which possesses’ tremendous potential for precision gene transfer and should be effectively used for improving various agronomic traits and crop productivity.

4. DNA marker technology such as marker assisted selection (MAS) possesses tremendous potential for precision gene transfer and should be effectively used for improving various agronomic traits and crop productivity.

5. The “Guidelines for the Safety Assessment of Foods Derived from Genetically Engineered Plants” and the associated “Protocols for Food and Feed Safety Assessment of GE Crops” approved by RCGM and GEAC in 2008 follow internationally accepted standards and are adequate to address human food and livestock feed safety assessment.

6. GM foods currently available on the international market have passed rigorous safety assessments and, to date, no adverse effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved.

7. Risk communication is often overlooked as an essential element of risk analysis. The Government of India should consider establishing a biotechnology risk communication cell so that the regulation of GM crops and foods and related decisions can be more effectively communicated to stakeholders and the public.

8. The government should seek to enhance societal confidence in biotechnology through public understanding of the safety and regulations of agriculture biotechnology by launching comprehensive outreach programs aimed at the public as well as other stakeholders including policy makers, media, and NGO’s.


Online Videos in Ag Biotech from ISAAA

Knowledge, Technology and Alleviation of Poverty
Full Version: http://www.isaaa.org/resources/videos/gs2008/default.asp
Abridged Version: http://www.isaaa.org/resources/videos/gs2008/abridged/default.asp

YouTube (Abridged Version): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=er8kUNoZvI8

Restoring Lost Cover: http://www.isaaa.org/resources/videos/restoringlostcover/default.asp

Silver Fields of Gold: The Story of Bt Cotton in China: http://www.isaaa.org/resources/videos/btcottonchina/default.asp

Nurturing the Seeds of Cooperation: The Papaya Network of Southeast Asia: http://www.isaaa.org/resources/videos/papaya/default.asp

Seeing is Believing - The Bt Cotton Trials in Burkina Faso: http://www.isaaa.org/resources/videos/burkinafaso/default.asp

The Story of Bt Cotton in India: http://www.isaaa.org/resources/videos/btcotton/default.asp

Fruits of Partnerships: http://www.isaaa.org/resources/videos/banana/default.asp

Asia's First: The Bt Corn Story in the Philippines:http://www.isaaa.org/resources/videos/btcorn/default.asp