The fate of my nation depends on it.
I’m old enough to remember India in the 1960s, when my country couldn’t feed itself. We had to import millions of tons of grain and other foodstuffs just to survive. The situation was so bad that Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri went on the radio and appealed to his fellow citizens to give up one meal per week, in the belief that this sacrifice would enable others to eat.
I was about seven years old at the time. My family met the challenge by forfeiting a meal every Monday. So did a lot of other families. In our area, the restaurants and canteens would shut down temporarily to encourage participation.
The root problem was that we were primitive farmers–or, to put it in modern terms, we were organic farmers by default. Our age-old practices simply had failed to keep up with the demands of a large and growing population.
Then the Green Revolution introduced the latest methods and technologies to India’s farmers. We started to irrigate our fields, apply pest controls to our crops, and plant better seeds in our soil. Our yields soared. In a single generation, we went from a land that lacked food security to a country that could meet many of its basic needs.
In 2011, India is home to more than a billion people. Since the start of the Green Revolution, the size of our population has more than doubled–and we’re still doing a better job of feeding ourselves than at any point since I was a boy who gave up a meal on Mondays.
This isn’t to say everybody in India now consumes a hearty breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We remain a developing nation that is riddled with large pockets of poverty. We struggle with the emerging problem of “hidden hunger,” which is the phenomenon of people who have access to food but still lack a properly nutritious diet.
So we must do better.
It won’t be easy. Our population continues to boom. Some demographers say that by 2030, we’ll pass China as the world’s most populous country. No matter what happens, Indian farmers will need to fill a lot of mouths. So will farmers throughout the rest of Asia and Africa. We have a social and moral obligation to do everything in our power to feed this swelling mass of humanity.
We’ll require access to the best agricultural tools of the 21st-century, including genetically modified crops. Our political leaders must help the Green Revolution blossom into the Gene Revolution.
I’ve participated in the Gene Revolution since 2002, when New Delhi first approved GM cotton. This crop has boosted yields and improved my ability to work as a farmer who produces crops in a sustainable way. It has also enhanced my quality of life because it demands less back-breaking effort to grow. Just about every Indian cotton farmer now chooses to grow GM cotton–a sure sign that this is an outstanding piece of Gene Revolution technology.
Yet GM cotton doesn’t feed anybody. We need to apply biotechnology to food crops as well, just as farmers have done everywhere from the United States to the Philippines. Indian scientists already have determined that GM brinjal (eggplant) is perfectly safe for human consumption. Last year, however, government officials chose to ignore their own experts and surrender to the pressure tactics of anti-GM radicals. Their decision put a vital crop that is a staple for many Indians out of reach, at least for the time being.
This indifference to India’s food security will prove costly if it isn’t reversed soon. Farmers need access not only to GM brinjal, but also to biotech corn, rice, and wheat. We need better resistance to weeds and pests, drought and disease, and floods and salinity.
The Gene Revolution stands ready to deliver these benefits, but only if we permit it to succeed.
The alternative is to go back to the future–except that the skipping of meals may no longer be voluntary.
Mr. V Ravichandran owns a 60 acre farm at Poongulam Village in Tamil Nadu, India where he grows rice, sugar cane, cotton and pulses (small grains). Mr. Ravichandran is a member of the Truth About Trade and Technology Global Farmer Network.