Vol. XLIII No. 20 May 19, 2019

Karnataka: Seminar on ‘Science and Future of Agriculture’

CERTAIN leaders of the central government are making efforts to turn science into forum for nationalistic and religious grandstanding, much like what they have earlier done in Art, History, and social sciences. If present trend of attack on science and technology (S&T) is allowed to continue, future of India is in great peril, warned S Ramachandra Pillai (SRP), vice president of All India Kisan Sabha(AIKS) and CPI(M) Politburo member. He was delivering presidential address at FAS (Foundation of Agrarian Studies) annual public lecture at Bangalore.  The world renowned agriculture scientist Prof. M S Swaminathan delivered the first public lecture on “science and the future of agriculture”

SRP further said, “AIKS since its inception in 1936 has consistently argued for use of science and technology to increase agricultural production and productivity. It was part of the manifesto of AIKS. We always understood that abolition of landlordism and distribution of land to peasants alone will not solve the problems of peasantry and of agriculture.  The importance of agricultural research was stressed again in alternative agricultural policy adopted by AIKS in 2003. This demand was adopted when government had reduced public investment in Agricultural research, following implementation of neo-liberal economic policies. When many peasants’ movements opposed use of transgenic varieties, AIKS took up a firm position in favour of such varieties and for use of advances in science and technology (S&T) in agriculture. The AIKS apart from remunerative prices, loan waiver, cheap credit etc., has been demanding more funds for S&T particularly biotechnology. “

He cited the attack by leaders of the present BJP government on S&T and scientific temper. He gave examples of such statements of BJP central and state ministers and of unscientific temper of certain scientists. He called for a broad movement of scientists, social scientists, social activists and common people, to save S&T and scientific temper from these attacks and to free society from hunger and deprivation.

 In his illuminating public lecture Prof. Swaminathan recalled Ehlirich’s 1968 prediction of mass hunger deaths between 1970 and 1985 in India. He also briefly traced status of food security from Bengal Famine of 1942 to National Food Security Act 2013 through the green revolution.   He elaborated on his concept of ‘evergreen revolution’; a model for sustainable agricultural development to address zero hunger challenge, wherein three aspects of hunger – calorie deprivation, protein and nutrition deficiencies needs to be addressed.

Prof. Swaminathan advocated the use of gene editing and new technologies, such as CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) , which allows for altering DNA.  This can be extended to plants. There is no foreign DNA present in it and will not need regulatory mechanisms (unlike genetically modified varieties), except those setting ethical standards, he said.

Similarly, bio-fortified produce, where the nutrient and micro-nutrients within crops can be enhanced, will be key to tackling maladies, such as malnutrition and micro-nutrient deficiencies. While climate change continues to be a looming challenge that could upend agriculture, Prof. Swaminathan said practices such as sea-water farming could shield farmers from coastal erosion and help them overcome unpredictable monsoon yields.

 “It is one thing to make an announcement, (but) procurement is another thing. Many times, the prices in announcement are high, but procurement is low. We thought the formula of MSP as C2 + 50%, it can apply uniformly for all crops. This should be implemented, either statutorily or by conventional means,” he said answering a question after the lecture. An assured method of fixing prices was important, particularly for the new generation of farmers, who would like to know the return on their investment, he stressed.