Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Talking Point: Debates: South Asian
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Listen now
... to both sides of the debate
 real 28k

Thursday, 4 January, 2001, 13:38 GMT
Genetic engineering: The future for crops in India?

The Indian Science Congress will begin in Delhi on 3 January 2001, and will focus on the threats to Indian agriculture.

Genetically-engineered seeds are being tried in India, which are intended to improve crop yields. But why are farmers protesting against using them?

Will the farmers themselves benefit from genetically-engineered crops, or just the multinational companies?

Are these companies taking advantage of the farmers in developing nations or is this a practical way of tackling the problems farmers face?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

Genetically engineered food crops have huge potential in solving the problems of malnutrition

Soma M, USA

As a crop biotechnologist, having worked in India and the West, I would say that genetically engineered food crops have huge potential in solving the problems of malnutrition (say iron and vitamin deficiency) and hunger. One possible danger comes from antibiotic markers and scientists have already found a solution for that. We should never oppose a technology that promises to increase production and improve the living standards of the masses. If the profits are being made by multinationals let's think of a way of narrowing the disparities. Let's not throw the baby out with the bath water.
Soma M, USA

The idea touted by the multinationals that GM foods will make India self-sufficient as far as food is concerned is not true. The green revolution in Punjab clearly showed that India can achieve near self-sufficiency using better farming techniques. Punjab produces enough wheat for nearly the entire country. The problem in India is not about lack of food, but lack of proper measures to distribute it. GM foods will not solve that issue.
Sriram Ramakrishnan, USA

The fears being whipped up by the Greens and their abettors about GMO are a myth

Sudhir Deshmukh, USA
The real tragedy behind genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is not any loss suffered by the multi-national corporations (MNCs) but by the poor and hungry masses in the developing world. With rapidly expanding deserts coupled with the indiscriminate destruction of forests, rainfall and water from underground sources is going to dry up in a very short time in the developing world. Thereafter, the only way to feed the hungry masses will be through hardy GMO seeds, which can rapidly grow under very adverse conditions. Thus, the fears being whipped up by the Greens and their abettors about GMO are a myth. The real reason is, developing nations want free access to the GMO modified seeds without paying any patent royalties to those MNCs that spend awful lot of research monies in developing these seeds.
Sudhir Deshmukh, USA

The promotion of genetically modified crops has got nothing to do with the improvement in food security of billions of people in India. On the contrary it serves to profit a few multinational firms that are promoting it. The problem with India is not food production, it is food distribution.
Girish, New Zealand

The use of these seeds is not at all good for the soil as it loses fertility and we will end up using the fertilisers and pesticides these companies sell.
Balaji, India

The problem lies at the ground level with bureaucracy. India should give priority to feeding the hungry with highly nutritious crops. Supposing a variety of crop can give you wheat with a high proportion of protein and nutrients in less time than traditional crops. I would say it should be encouraged not discouraged.
Vivek Sharma, Calgary, Canada

Farmers in India, have traditionally saved some proportion of the harvest for the next crop. What these MNC's want is for farmers to buy seeds every time they sow the crop. I wonder who will make more money?
Pal Sarai, UK

GMC is not only necessary but also mandatory for India to achieve self sufficiency in food

Brajesh Singh, UK
It is unfortunate for developing countries like India to oppose genetically-modified crops. Probably the so-called environmentalists do not understand that the reason behind the opposition of GMC by Europe is purely commercial in nature. They oppose GMC because most of the companies that are at an advanced stage in this field are American. GMC is not only necessary but also mandatory for India to achieve self sufficiency in food and to raise the economic growth rate for poverty alleviation
Brajesh Singh, UK

The developing countries with large populations such as India and China seem to be stuck between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, existing land is rapidly losing fertility and farming techniques don't seem to go beyond a certain point in boosting yield. This is countered by a steady growth in population. However, it should be recalled that in India, a significant portion of the harvest every year is lost to pests and ruination due to poor storage facilities. This needs to be addressed first. Secondly, the introduction of some modern agricultural techniques commonly used in the West will help boost yields even further. Genetically modified foods should be used sparingly and people anywhere should never be used as guinea pigs for experimentation with unproven technology.
Srinivas Rangaraj, Canada

Genetically-engineered crops are not the sole answer to hunger in Third World countries

Birbal Chungkham, Manipur/ USA
Genetically-engineered crops are not the sole answer to hunger in Third World countries. It is true that with the application of science and technology, production of either agricultural or non-agricultural items can be increased tremendously. Yet it is also true that hunger and starvation have also increased on an unprecedented scale. Therefore, the answer to hunger lies in the equitable distribution of wealth and knowledge, making the distribution system more democratic not only within a nation but across the globe.
Birbal Chungkham, Manipur/ USA

It not so much food production as the will or means of distribution that needs to be addressed. Genetic engineering is the fast track of natural engineering and I do not think the proponents have the moral fibre to bear the consequences if thing go wrong. The whole idea of exploiting the poorest of the poor in the economic process of the world makes the idea repugnant. We need guarantees in plain English without small print before these multinationals are let loose on humans.
Vinod Dawda, UK

The traditional crops of India are chosen because they survive one of the most hostile conditions, and they don't hurt nature because of being natural themselves. I don't think the new genetically modified seeds, tested in artificial conditions, will be able to sustain these conditions. It will result in small farmers losing all they have, in the name of these experiments. They will have to properly be compensated, which again I think the US companies will never do in case the experiments fail. For them, it may be just an experiment, but for small time Indian farmers, it's their livelihood.
Jee, India

The problems, that the farmers in India and even world-wide are facing are not so much due to low yield of crops as due to problems in what they choose to produce, and in selling all they produce for good price, before the produce is spoiled. Even the amount of food already produced in India and worldwide is more than enough to feed every human and use as fodder.
Farming is not a way to make big money quickly. But the MNCs and big farmers are trying to do just that on cost of other small farmers. The genetically modified crops are not going to tackle the reason for hunger and starvation on earth. They would just add to the complexity, exploitation, and poverty in our human society on earth. They will put one more bit of our life in control of the capitalists to capitalise on.
Amit Kumar, India

Farmers of the new crops may find themselves in a situation were they are unable to return to traditional varieties.

Sarah Ellerker, UK
The multinationals will benefit. Imagine the crops do produce the results the multinationals are claiming. Within a few years farmers will become dependent upon the increased profit (producing farmers) or yield (subsistence farmers) of the new crops and may find themselves in a situation were they are unable to return to traditional varieties. The argument from multinationals that increasing yields reduces malnutrition and starvation in the developing world is not valid for countries such as India experiencing rapid population growth.
Sarah Ellerker, UK

Let these bio-tech companies prove beyond doubt that genetically modified crops are safe for human consumption. I still haven't forgotten the genetic defects that monarch butterflies suffered on consuming these food. These companies are taking advantage of the poor farmers. Let them experiment in us and Europe before they sell them to poorer countries. NO one in India has forgotten Bhopal tragedy and how irresponsible US was in compensating the affected victims. Is Monsanto immune to law suits outside US?
Yerramsetty, US

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more South Asian stories