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Biodiversity Is Key In The Road Map To Food Security With No Role For GM Crops

By Neha Saigal

18 October, 2012

There has been much talk around biological diversity and biosafety in the country as India was host to the eleventh meeting of the Conference of Parties to the Convention of Biological Diversity (COP-11) and the sixth meeting of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (COP-MOP6) in Hyderabad. During these conventions there are also elaborate speeches made by our political leaders that bring in a new ray of hope to the environment & nature which always seems to take a back seat when we talk of a country’s development.

One such recent speech was that of the Indian Prime Minister’s at the inauguration of the high level segment of the 11th CoP, where he stated all the right things, but the question that lingers is whether he meant all of what he said and whether it will reflect in policy making from now on. If one were to focus on part of the speech around food security, one would be left thoroughly confused as the government’s policies in agriculture are in a different direction. I also choose to focus on the food security bit of the PM’s speech as it was made on 16th of October which was marked as World Food Day.

Quoting a part of the PM’s speech “We know that food security is a key challenge for the world, particularly in an increasingly climate vulnerable world. Biodiversity, found in our forests and our fields, could provide us keys to the solutions of the future. So we need to build a movement to conserve traditional varieties of crops.” But on the contrary the Prime Minister has been strongly advocating that Genetically Modified (GM) crops are key to increasing productivity in agriculture and also his government strongly asserts that they are essential for food security. It is clear from these contradicting lines of thought that there is a huge lack of understanding within the Manmohan Singh’s Government on the issue of food security, though it has been one of the supposed main agenda’s of the UPAII government.

On one hand there is an understanding that agro-biodiversity systems are essential to food security especially in the face of climate change. In India farmers for many years have developed locally diverse crop systems with traditional seeds which have been sustainable and this has also played an important role in fulfilling their nutritional requirements. On the other hand the government is advocating for GM crops which is in conflict to encouraging biodiversity in fields.

It’s no secret that GM crops encourage monocultures and are also known to contaminate other non-GM crops, there have been instances in our own backyard of contamination. So, in the context of food security we need to decide whether we want GM crops or biodiversity in our farms as both cannot co-exist. Added to this there is growing scientific evidence that GM crops are not safe for human and animal consumption and this does not fit into the ambit of food security which is also about access to safe food.

There is an increasing consensus around the world that food security is going to be more and more dependent on agro-biodiversity and not on chemical intensive agricultural practices or GM technology in agriculture. A very exhaustive and comprehensive report was produced in our own country by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture headed by Shri Basudev Achariya. The report which was unanimously accepted by 31 MPs across party lines was tabled in Parliament on the 9th of August 2012. The Committee has recommended the government to come up with a fresh road map to ensure food security that involves sustainable agricultural practices and excludes technologies like GM in agriculture that jeapordise biodiversity and human health.

So respected Prime Minister you got one thing right that biodiversity in our forests and fields is essential for achieving food security especially in these vulnerable times, but if you are going down that road, you have to realize that GM crops play no role.

Neha Saigal is Campaigner for Sustainable Agriculture with Greenpeace India.

All views expressed are personal.




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