Role of Biotechnology in Sustainable Agriculture
Author: NILESH JOSHI

The word “sustainable” comes from the word “sustain” which means to maintain, endorse, or to stand for. People involved in sustainable agriculture are trying to identify and solve the problems in our current agricultural system in order to provide food, feed, fiber, and fuel in a healthy environment for people over the long term. At least for now, no one has developed a fully sustainable agriculture, and for the foreseeable future there will always be room for improvement.

The three “shank” of sustainability:

Imagine that a 3- legged tabouret, what happens if one of the shanks breaks or one shank is missing entirely? The whole tabouret falls over. The 3-legged tabouret has become a lection for the need to consider the economic, environmental and social impacts of agriculture (or any of our auctions). If our agricultural system has unacceptable impacts in any one of these welkin, it can’t support producers and contribute the community over the long term. In order to be sustainable, three areas must be addressed by our agriculture, food, and natural resource systems. These three areas are economics, environment, and community.

A sustainable agriculture must a fair and reasonably secure living for farm families. It should minimize scathe to the natural environment. It should maintain basic natural resources such as healthy soil, clean water, and clean air. And it should support viable rural communities and fair treatment of all people involved in the food system, from farm workers to consumers.

"Sustainable agriculture" was addressed by Congress in the 1990 "Farm Bill"

Under that law, " the term sustainable agriculture means an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will, over the long term:

  • Satisfy human food and fiber needs;
  • Enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agricultural economy depends;
  • Make the most efficient use of non renewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls;
  • Sustain the economic viability of farm operations; and
  • Enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole."
Introduction:

Researchers have propose agricultural biotechnology, that is “any technique that uses living organisms or substances from these organisms to make or modify a product” as a tool for escalating food production, while, at the same time, making agriculture more sustainable from an environmental point of view.

Researcher suggested that genetic engineering can be used for development of salinity, drought, disease resistant and nutrient efficient varieties which better cope with food hunger problems and feed ever increasing population. These characters are particularly desirable in an altering climate where the population grows and competition over arable land increases. The first generation of major biotech crops – cotton, soybean, corn, and canola – encompass with trans-genes for resistance to herbicides and insect pests, either solitary or both together, has significantly contributed to sustainable agriculture through higher yields due to efficient control of pests/weeds, harsh reduction in chemical sprays, and substantial net profit to farmers. Further, it has resulted in several vague ecological benefits such as less exposure of humans, animals, air and water to chemicals, and conservation of biological control agents and other beneficial organisms.

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Sustainable biotechnology:

  • Fulfil human food , fiber , and fuel needs
  • Increasing overall production and productivity of agricultural crops like cotton, soybean, canola, maize and many more
  • It also compromise with reduction of green house gases emission through less requirement of tractors for spraying herbicides and pesticides
  • Established success; 22 percent increase in biotech soybean,30 percent increase in biotech corn
In India Bt cotton started to be grown since 2002, area under Bt cotton in 2002 was 7.5 million hectares in 2013 it was increase up to 11.5 million hectares with production of 37 mn bales from 13.6 mn bales which is 272 percent increment in production. With Bt cotton the yield per hectare has increase quite significantly. Increase in production encouraging the farmers to grow more Bt cotton, since cotton growing being more and more profitable. The increase in yield leads to reduction in cost of production per Kg of cotton .Bt cotton enables complete elimination from bollworm attacks and saves Lakhs of crores of rupees in pesticides spray and denied of health problems by using poisonous chemicals.

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Feeding the global population:

Agriculture biotechnology play a vital role to feed the more than 7 billion population According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) believes that more than 800 million people in the world do not have enough to eat, causing 24,000 people to die every day from hunger, most of them are children’s Additionally, this hunger leads to several problems such as retardation in height, brain development and many more diseases mostly in the children’s below 5 year old. This suggests unremitting malnutrition throughout their childhood, which can restrict overall health as well as their ability to learn.

Around the world, billions of people live with at least one micronutrient deficiency such as vitamin A, iodine, iron, zinc or folate. The facts speak for themselves. Approximately one third of the developing world’s children under the age of five are vitamin A-deficient, leaving them with weakened immune systems and prone to diseases. Iodine deficiency is one of the main causes of mental impairment in children. And 500 million women aged 15 to 49 have anaemia mainly due to iron deficiency, which reduces their productivity, economic potential and reproductive outcomes health. We refer this hidden hunger because the deficiencies are not visible.

The causes of micronutrient deficiencies are multiple and interconnected. At the ground level, the problem is related to an inadequate diet, either in quantity (easily detect) or quality (not so easy to detect until damage has been done). All through the world, people living in poverty do not eat sufficient amounts and diversity of nutrient-rich foods, such as meat, eggs, fish, legumes and vegetables, to swathe their daily needs, which increase in periods of growth, pregnancy or lactation. And it is not a problem only for the poorest. Micronutrient deficiencies are also frequent in emerging and high-income economies, where overweight and obesity rates are rising, multiplying the burden of disease and disability.

Awareness is the main key on demand basis. Families, caregivers, policymakers, and healthcare providers both from public and private sectors also play a vital role for demand as well as for supply of nutrient rich bio fortified food items. It requires strong policy system and encouragement among farmers especially small scale farmers to adopt and grow GMOs (crops) on large scale with minimal risk. Private sector and governments need to provide incentives to support micronutrient interventions and lean food systems towards healthy foods.

These hidden hunger problems related to different micronutrients can fulfil only with production of genetically modified crops such as golden rice, flavr savr tomato and many more crops which is developed through genetic engineering technology.

Therefore biotechnology play a vital role in modern agriculture and also through development of high yielding crops as well as insect, herbicide and disease resistant crops which doesn`t require chemicals spraying and save Lakhs of crores of rupees and also reduce the emission of green house gases, and keep our environment healthy.

Biotech provides the “toolbox” to help produce yield sustainability:

Biotechnology can be used to fulfil the growing demand for food by recuperating yields, recuperating the nutritional quality of crops, and plummeting the harmful impact on the environment. Using traditional techniques, such as selective breeding, scientists have been working to improve plants and animals for human benefit for hundreds of years. However, it’s more time consuming, often taking 10 to 12 years to breed plants in the traditional manner. With modern biotechnology approaches, modern crop breeders can select a specific genetic trait from any plant population and move it into another plant with greater easiness and precision, selecting for the most beneficial traits. These tools also allow plant breeders to select for traits that wouldn’t be possible through traditional breeding.

Adaptation of genetically modified crops such as Bt cotton in India played a potential role in eliminating pesticides sprays against bollworm attacks as well as keep our soil healthy and also reduction of green house gases which was being emerges out during chemicals sprays on the crops.

Biotechnology also play a vital role through development of crops which is resistant to drought, salinity, alkanity and iron toxicity ,leads to increase yield from less available arable lands.

Agriculture is main source of green house gases emission:

The ever increasing population our planet require more and more space for living, it’s leads to squeezing of forests ecosystem ultimately results into deforestation play a major role in the emission of green house gases other than that cattle feedlots and fertilizer use currently account for about 25% of all green house gases emission and 14% of all EU CO2 emissions.

Decrement in the use of pesticides through insect resistant biotech crops:

After development of genetically modified crops such as Bt cotton, canola, corn etc there is significantly reduction in use of pesticides which leads to decrement in fewer sprays per hectare area.

1996 to 2007 the growing permanent reduction in fuel use was estimated at 7,090 million kg of CO2 (arising from a reduction of 2,578 million litres of fuel).

In 2008, a biotech industry lobbying group, the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), claimed that in 2007 alone use of GMO crops resulted in a reduction of pesticide use of over 77,000 metric tons of active ingredients. The group said that was equivalent to using 18 percent less pesticide on farmers' fields.

Carbon sequestration:

Interest in terrestrial carbon sequestration has increased in an effort to explore opportunities for climate change mitigation. Carbon sequestration is the process by which atmospheric carbon dioxide is taken up by trees, grasses, and other plants through photosynthesis and stored as carbon in biomass (trunks, branches, foliage, and roots) and soils. The sink of carbon sequestration in Agriculture, forests and wood products helps to equalize sources of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, such as deforestation, forest fires, and fossil fuel emissions.

Sustainable Agriculture practices can increase the ability of Agriculture to sequester atmospheric carbon while enhancing other ecosystem services, such as improved soil health and water quality. Planting new trees and improving agriculture health through thinning and prescribed burning of crop residues are some of the ways to increase Agriculture carbon in the long run. Harvesting and regenerating Agriculture and forests plants can also result in net carbon sequestration in Agriculture and wood products.

There is 5-fold increase recorded in Argentina, with GM herbicide tolerant (HT) soybeans estimated to account for 95% of the no -till soybean area.

Opportunities and production of bio-fuel:

Advances in Genomics provide new challenges and opportunity for Marker assisted selection of high yielding biomass crops, these improvements can be achieved through genetic engineering technologies and increase in the cellulose, oil content/availability, growth characteristics, biotic and abiotic stresses, pesticide and herbicide resistant crops.

Biotechnology has provided enabling technologies for - Yield increases and conversion processes for fuel crops such as corn ethanol and soy biodiesel; 2nd generation biofuels – even more sustainable as does not compete with food or feed use – No till cropping for greater residue collection for cellulosic biomass (fronds, trunks etc); – Dedicated energy crops (jathropha, switch grass, algae).

Genetically modified mustard (DMH11):

DMH (Dhara Mustard Hybrid)-11 is genetically modified variety of mustard developed by Centre for Genetic Manipulation of Crop Plants at Delhi University under the supervision of Dr. Deepak Kumar Pental (Professor, Department of Genetics). It is developed by using three genes viz., barnase, barstar and bar from Bacillus amyloliquefaciens for hybrid seed production. The barnase gene confers male sterility to a plant in which it is inserted and barstar gene/s restore the fertility to produce fertile hybrid plants and seeds. The third gene bar synthesize an enzyme call PAT, which is responsible for tolerance to glufosinate in the plant. Glufosinate is a broad spectrum herbicide, which indiscriminately eliminates weeds and any plant that does not have the bar gene. Glufosinate herbicides contain the active ingredient phosphinothricin, which kills plants by blocking the enzyme responsible for nitrogen metabolism and for detoxifying ammonia, a by-product of plant metabolism.

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Why genetically modified mustard is required;

There is the argument from researchers and promoters of GM mustard is that India import imports Rs. 60,000 crore worth of edible oils every year, so there is urgent need to reduce over dependency on foreign countries on edible oil and raise domestic crops such as GM mustard which can fulfil our edible oils demand. To improve yield of our domestic varieties hybridization is potential technique as it’s successfully demonstrated with many other crops.

Controversy:

Environmentalists are raising bio safety concern is that through introduction of GM mustard it may adversely affect environment, human and animal health, it has external gene that makes the plant resistant to herbicide, thus it will force the farmer to use only select brand of agro-chemicals. Technical expert committee appointed by Supreme Court in this regard earlier had found that HT crops completely unsuitable in the Indian context. The herbicide resistant crops may adversely impact the manual labourers for whom weeding provides livelihood (loss of job).

Conclusion :

Biotechnology play a vital role in this modern era to boost production of agricultural crops ,recent advances in genomics provide new opportunities in selection of plants which can be used for development of high yielding varieties. Bt cotton in India grown since from 2002 and it boost cotton industry and large scale adaptation of Bt cotton in India by farmers and boost farmer’s income. After adaptation of Bt cotton at large scale there is significant reduction in use of pesticides in India and also in the emission of green house gases and its maintain sustainability of our Agriculture. In last 3 decades Biotechnology has proven its role in modern agriculture to boost production and productivity of agricultural commodities and strengthen our economy. To increase production and productivity of Agriculture and allied sector commodities, there is need of time to adopt genetically modified crops such as genetically modified mustard and other crops by Government policy makers as well as by the farmer’s at large scale to combat with hunger problems and we all should agree is that genetically modified crop is ultimate option to feed our ever increasing population with sustainability at ecological, environmental and community level.

References:

1. FDA’s Center for Food Safety & Applied Nutrition

2. The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2006: Eradicating world hunger-taking stock ten years after the World Food Summit. 2006. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Rome, Italy.


About Author / Additional Info:
I am M.Sc. 2nd year student at Indian Agriculture research institute , Pusa campus New Delhi India