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Last Updated: Monday, 5 January, 2004, 12:31 GMT
India unveils six-year GM plan
By Richard Black
BBC science correspondent, in Chandigarh

The Indian Government has announced details of a six-year plan to develop new genetically engineered crops which will provide better nutrition.

Government scientists say this kind of research is urgently needed to improve the health of the developing world.

India is currently self-sufficient in most foods but its population is expanding very rapidly.

The Plant Genome Research Road Map, as it's called, was unveiled at the Indian Science Congress in Chandigarh.

The government forecasts that in fifteen years' time it will need to import substantial quantities of grain, pulses, rice, fruit and vegetables.

It is a situation common to many developing countries - increasing demand, without increasing yields.

India has already developed a potato genetically modified to produce increased protein.

Professor Asis Datta, director of the National Centre for Plant Genome Research, says more crops with enhanced nutrition are needed - and he believes industry will not provide them.

"At this point, really, we are looking for nutrition security. I can tell you that companies will not be interested. I developed a potato which is protein-rich.

"When I give it to a farmer, he doesn't need to come back to me he can multiply."

Under the roadmap, government scientists will by the year 2010 have developed other GM varieties aimed at boosting nutrition. Oilseed rape, millet, pulses and sugar cane are among the crops to be investigated.

Not all experts believe that genetic modification is the way forward - some point out that rather than enhancing the protein content of potatoes, the government could simply ensure the availability of foods which are already rich in protein, such as pulses.

But the Indian Government believes GM is necessary if its burgeoning population is to be fed; and like other developing countries including China, is prepared to invest in research it considers essential.

The plan also involves developing crops resistant to environmental stresses, particularly drought and salinity.




SEE ALSO:
India tackles adult illiteracy
03 Jan 04  |  Science/Nature
'Mirage' of GMs' golden promise
24 Sep 03  |  Science/Nature
India's GM seed piracy
17 Jun 03  |  Science/Nature


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