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A GM Crop Decision that Transforms Indian Agriculture

A GM Crop Decision that Transforms Indian Agriculture

The environmental release of GM mustard DMH-11 marks a new era in self-reliance and sustainability in agriculture in India.

GM Crop
A farmer on the outskirts of Guwahati | Photo Credit: The Hindu

The Need for Science-Based Crop Improvement

The adoption of science-based technologies for crop improvement, such as genetic engineering for developing genetically modified (GM) crops, has become a necessity in addressing the complex challenge of achieving global food and nutritional security. According to the Global Food Security and Nutrition Report of 2019, achieving the ‘Zero Hunger’ target by 2030 is a daunting task.

Accelerating the pace of genetic crop improvement is essential to increase food production and achieve self-reliance. We require superior crop varieties and hybrids that provide enhanced yields, adaptability across various environments, and require fewer natural resources. While the Green Revolution of the 1960s-70s significantly increased food production, new biotech/GM crops are now needed to combat climate change and produce nutrient-dense food.

The Impact of GM Crops Worldwide

Genetic modification of crops has shown significant promise in increasing productivity and contributing to global food, feed, and fiber security. According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) report of 2020, 72 countries have adopted GM crops, benefiting over 1.95 billion people. India, with the commercialization of Bt cotton more than 20 years ago, has experienced economic advantages for farmers and the nation.

GM crops have expanded beyond the major four crops (maize, soybean, cotton, and canola) to include other economically important food crops. They offer traits such as insect and herbicide resistance, climate resilience, and improved nutritional quality.

Economic Benefits and Biosafety

Global economic gains contributed by GM crops from 1996 to 2018 amounted to $224.9 billion, benefiting over 16 million farmers, with 95% of them from developing countries. GM food crops have demonstrated their biosafety over the last 25 years.

Addressing India’s Edible Oil Deficit

India faces a significant deficit in edible oils, with 60% of its demand being met by imports. Mustard, a vital edible oil crop in India, has a lower per-hectare yield compared to the global average. Increasing mustard’s productivity is crucial for farmers’ economic well-being and achieving self-sufficiency in edible oil production.

Extensive research at the Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants (CGMCP), University of Delhi South Campus, has resulted in the creation of a GM mustard hybrid, DMH-11. This hybrid offers higher vigor and yield, which will boost domestic edible oil production and increase farm incomes.

The Barnase/Barstar System and Herbicide Tolerance

The GM mustard hybrid, DMH-11, is based on the barnase/barstar system, which removes male fertility in one parent and restores it in the offspring. The herbicide tolerance gene serves as a selection marker for developing the GM mustard. Herbicide tolerance has advantages, including saving soil moisture and nutrients, effective weed control, and selection of genetically transformed lines for hybrid seed production.

A Landmark Decision for Indian Agriculture

On October 25, 2022, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India, approved the release of DMH-11 and its parental line for cultivation. This decision will bolster genetic engineering research in the country, leading to new crop varieties with improved traits.

As Indian mustard varieties have a narrow genetic base, the approval for barnase-barstar-based hybrid production in mustard opens the door for breeding mustard hybrids with higher yields, disease resistance, and improved oil quality.

Achieving Self-Reliance and Sustainability

This advancement will benefit farmers by increasing yield per hectare and reducing the oil-import burden. It paves the way for achieving self-reliance in edible oil production. The environmental release of DMH-11 marks the beginning of a new era in self-reliance and sustainability in Indian agriculture.

More improved GM food crops are needed to boost the profitability of Indian farmers and secure the nation’s food and nutritional security.

Source: The Hindu

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