GM Crops are Part of India's and World's Future
News Mar 19, 2010
It is, of course, not surprising that there are concerns and protests -- nervousness is usually the handmaiden of change. Indeed, when Bt cotton was first introduced (in Gujarat?), there were huge concerns as well, writes Jamal Mecklai.
About 10 years ago, India's cotton textile industry was flat on its back. China is killing us. The government doesn't understand. Our borrowing costs are too high. We can't hire and fire. Export procedures are time-consuming and expensive. Our ports are in a mess. And so on. Fast forward to 2010 and it's an amazing new world.
Despite the global financial crisis -- or, to quote my old friend Rakesh Mohan, the North Atlantic crisis -- Indian textile companies showed top line growth ranging from 5 to 35 per cent in March 2009.
So, there you have it. New-age genetic research and technology brings new life to an old economy industry, one that is amongst the largest employers in the country. Isn't that a wonderful tale?
That made me think about the recent brouhaha over Bt brinjal -- hi Jairam.
It is, of course, not surprising that there are concerns and protests -- nervousness is usually the handmaiden of change. Indeed, when Bt cotton was first introduced (in Gujarat?), there were huge concerns as well.
Fortunately, the smiling wheel of technological progress pooh-poohed the nervous naysayers and look where we are today: more Mercedes per capita in Ludhiana than in any other city in India.
But, what of the concerns against genetically-modified foods? Are they safe? Couldn't they lead to unfathomable damage, genetic defects etcetera over longer time horizons? I mean, are we chasing short-term results with possibly horrible long-term consequences?
The truth, of course, is that I don't know. But it is also true that nobody really knows what impact any change will have over, say, 20 years.
And as I have evolved from a knee-jerk protestor back in my student days in the US, I have come to recognise that (a) technology is not good or bad, it just is; (b) a new invention or development will never disappear till it has had its time -- however brief or long -- in the sun; and (c) circumstance, God, the market (in the broadest sense of the word) will continuously modulate technology till it genuinely addresses the needs of people.
Clearly, the protests against Bt brinjal will sustain for a while longer -- we eat brinjal, after all. But, to me, it is clear that genetically-engineered crops are part of India's and the world's future, European purists notwithstanding.
And if this can get our foodgrain productivity to increase anywhere near as much as it has in cotton, look out! Agricultural growth will spurt, double-digit GDP growth will become the norm, and India's century will be here sooner than we think.
So, bring on the Bt -- maybe I, too, will learn to enjoy bharta or stuffed or thinly-sliced and lightly-sauteed baingan.