1 Mar 2009

India fourth largest adopter of biotech crop in the world

India became the fourth largest adopter of biotech crop in the world, displacing Canada, in 2008 and planting Bt cotton on 7.6 million hectares (82% of the total cotton are in the country), according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA). This was almost a million and half hectares over planted area in 2007 (6.2 m ha, equivalent to 66% of the total cotton area in the country).A record five million small and resource-poor farmers planted Bt cotton in 2008, significantly up from only 3.8 m farmers in 2007, the ISAAA said.

Worldwide, by the end of the second decade of commercialization in 2015, ISAAA predicts that four billion accumulated acres of biotech crops would have been planted. Further, 200 million hectares of biotech crops annually will be planted in a total of 40 countries. In 2008, three new countries and 1.3 million new farmers adopted biotech crops and planted an additional 10.7 m ha, the Association, which has been tracking global biotech crop adoption trends since 1996, said.

Last year, 13.3 million farmers in 25 countries planted 125 million ha of biote4ch crops, leading to the sixth largest growth spurt in 13 years of reporting . Infact, the two billionth cumulative acre of biotech crops was also planted in 2008, just three years after the first billionth acre was planted. That milestone, though, took a whole decade to be reached.

Cotton area in India comprises about 21% of the total are in the world and roughly 13% of the total cotton output in the world. At the national level, cotton production increased from 15.8 million bales in 2001-02 to 32.2 million bales in 2008-09, more than doubling cotton production in the short span of seven years. The ISAAA’s annual brief on Global Status of Commercialised Biotech/GM Crops 2008 maintained that for the seven year period 2002-08, there was a 150-fold increase in Bt cotton in India.

That is four times the 74-fld increase for global biotech crops during the 13 period from 1996-2008.Accordign to the report, averge cotton yields following adoption of biotech increased from only 308 kg/ha in 2002 to 591 kg/ha in 2008, registering a 50% increase in yield. In tandem, cotton exports increased from 0.05 million bales in 2001-02 to an estimated 8.5 million bales in 2007-08. Also, the number of biotech events increased from one Event in 2002 to 4 Events in 2007 and t o five Events in 2008. There were 274 location-specific Bt cotton hybrids in 2008 compared to only 131 in 2007 and only three in 2002. Accordign to the ISAAA brief, there has been substantial increase in the approval of double genes Bt cotton hybrids to delay insect-pest resistance. From only 21 BG II hybrids in 2007, the number went up to 94 BG II hybrids in 2008.

“In India, growers increased income by upt to $250 (Rs 10,000) or more per hectare, increasing farmer incomes nationally by $3.2 billion in the period 2002 to 2007 and $2 billion in 2007 alone,” the ISAAA brief has claimed. Adding to the increasing adoption of biotech crop was the apex court’s decision in 2008 to lift restrictions on all field trials and commercial releases such crops. During the year, India also drafted a plan to establish a National Biotechnology Regulatory Authority (NBRA) and adopted a new set of guidelines for GE (genetically engineered) plants and foods, even as the GEAC or the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee commercially released publicly bred Bt cotton varieties. India deregulated approved GM cottone Evetns and joined the OECD seed certification schemes.

Significantly, it was also the year when Mahyco received experimental seed production approval for its Bt Brinjal hybrids. For all that it was one of the leading, and earliest, developing countries to adopt biotech crops, India has yet to approve commercialsiation of any biotech food crop although Bt soyabean and Bt Maize are being cultivated by other countries for a decade or more now. In the face of criticism on the safety aspects of biotech crop in the country, commercial biotech crops have so far attracted less hue and cry in the second, and food safety centric, decade of worldwide GM (genetically modified) crop adoption. Biotechnology research in food crops in the country, however, are on for a wide variety of food crops such as banana, cabbage, acstor, cauliflower, corn, gorundnut, mustard, okra, onion, papaya, potato, rice and tomato.

“Future growth prospects for biotech crops are encouraging,” chairman and founder of ISAAA and author of the report Clive James said here, adding “The positive experiences int ehse new regional footholds in the south, north and west Africa will help lead the way for neighbouring countries to learn by example. Additionally, political leaders globally are increasingly viewing biotech enhanced crops as a key part of the solution to critical social issues of food security and sustainability.”

Africa is considered the “final frontier” for biotech crops as it has perhaps the greatest need for increased crop output and the most number of people to gain from it. Biotech famrming began in the African nations of Egypt and Burkina Faso in 2008, when Egypt planted 700 ha of Bt Maize and Burkina Faos planted 8500 ha of Bt cotton, joining S Africa, which since 1998 has adopted cotton, maize and soyabean biotech crops.

James said that increased political support from key regions such as the G-8 leadership (for the first time) to biotech crop, the EU and China had strengthened the acceptance of such crops in countries worldwide. “Biotech crops make two important contributions to global food security. First, they increase yields, which increase food avalabilityand supply. Second, they reduce production costs, which will also ultimately help reduce food prices. With 9.2 billion people to be fed by 2050, biotechnology plays a crucial role in helping to satistfy the growing demand.” As part of that goal, biotech is beginning to identify solutions to the growing challenges with drought being seen in sub Saharan Africa and Latin America, he said. Drought is the single largest constraint to increased productivity. For example, Argentina now faces a drought so severe that farmers have made a oss on their wheat crop. Drought-tolerant crops, maize in particular, are an emerging reality with seeds exp ected to be commercialized in the USA by 2012 or sooner and in Africa, by 2017, the ISAAA founder-chairman said.

A new biotech crop, RR sugar beet, was first commercialised in the USA and Canada in 2008.

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