Just five years ago, researchers testing genetically modified crops in India did so under intimidating conditions. Following protests from anti GM-activists, the Indian government had prohibited the planting of a transgenic aubergine.
The banning of the genetically-modified “brinjal” crop gave the power and momentum for state governments in India to veto trials of transgenic-crop fields.
However, when the new government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi was voted into power in 2014, India has quietly changed its GM field testing outlook.
Throughout the course of a year, eight states in India have allied with Modi’s commitment to approving field trials of GM crops. Consequently, much of India allows for the field trials of transgenic maize, rice, cotton, mustard, chickpea and brinjal.
In a report published in Nature.com, Bharat Char, who works for the Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company, a Jalna-based organisation which pioneered the GM brinjal, said:
“There is no better feeling than knowing that your technology is performing in the field” (1).
Embracing GMO Corn Trials
In the wake of India’s recent relaxed attitude and embracing of GM crop trials, Dominic Glover, an agricultural socio-economist at the University of Sussex, UK, said that the nation’s GM crop actions will be closely monitored by other countries around the world.
Due to the fact that India characterizes many of the tensions developing nations are experiencing concerning genetically modified crops, Glover believes, “India’s attitude towards transgenic crops has a symbolic importance beyond its borders” (1).
There is much debate surrounding the rationality of harvesting GM crops in India. Some argue that in order to feed its rapidly increasing population, India must deliver greater agricultural productivity by embracing genetically modified processes to generate higher yield crops.
These GM crops could grow well during harsh environments and droughts and be resistant to pests, says Govindarajan Padmanaban, a biochemist and former director of the Indian Institute of Science.
On the other side of the coin, many of the 100 million farmers in India have concerns that if GM processes become prevalent in India, the industry, their livelihoods and ultimately the country’s food chain will be reliant on expensive seed technologies.
Glenn Stone, an environmental anthropologist at Washington University in Missouri, shares these concerns that India’s farming community will be forced to rely on expensive GM technology which is owned by large international corporations.
India’s Changing Stance on GMOs
Following six years of trials, GM corn, which is not currently permitted in the country, is coming to its final phase of testing.
In a new strategy to expand crops in the country, Monsanto’s Indian subsidiary plans to share the results of the six years of trials with the Indian government.
According to the Monsanto Indian subsidiary, being herbicide and insect tolerant, GM crops are expected to raise yields by as much as 20 percent.
In response to the field trials of GM maize, chickpea, cotton, rice and eggplant taking place in up to eight Indian states, Bhagirih Choundhary of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications, said:
Out of 184 million hectares of corn being planted across the world, 30 percent – some 55 million hectares – is already under genetically modified technologies. Seventeen countries are deploying these technologies through their farm feeds” (2).
While Prime Minister Modi’s government is in favor of permitting GM crops in India, believing they are a crucial way to give the nation’s poor farming productivity a boost, opposition to the introduction of GM crops in India remains.
While India has quietly changed its course in relation to GMOs, the country still faces the challenge of convincing the groups and organizations opposing GM crops that this method of farming will do more good to India than bad.