The largest voter-turnout election in the history of the world offers the farmers of my country a remarkable opportunity to move into the 21st century.
More than half a billion of my fellow Indians finished voting last week. Narendra Modi will now be our Prime Minister, leading the Bharatiya Janata Party and its absolute majority in Parliament.
Modi and BJP prevailed for many reasons, from their pro-business outlook to public dissatisfaction with high inflation, slow growth, and widespread corruption under the previous government.
Farmers have a long list of complicated concerns: low crop productivity, many are still using primitive production practices and climate change will continue to challenge us. As a progressive Prime Minister, the single most important thing Modi can do to help India’s farmers is to spread scientific farming throughout the country so we can increase the yield of crops in a sustainable way.
“I am all for technology,” these are the words that Modi said in March, according to the Telegraph newspaper of Calcutta. “We should not discard a technology that helps farmers. We must have faith in science. … We must put technology and science to use, with regulations, and add value to produce.”
As an Indian farmer, I am hopeful these words represent the principles of Modi’s farm policy. If they do, it means that Indian farmers soon will enjoy more access to better crops—including the GM crops that a frustrating mix of scientific illiteracy and ideological agendas have kept just beyond our reach.
Modi knows the potential of GM crops. For 13 years, he was Chief Minister of Gujarat, a state in northwest India. Under his leadership, the state recorded the highest growth rate in agriculture. This was no small accomplishment: More than half of all the land in Gujarat is farmed. Cotton leads the way—and cotton is the one GM crop that India has permitted farmers to plant.
When Modi stepped into office in Gujarat, GM cotton was not available to anyone. Early in his tenure, however, New Delhi allowed its commercialization. As soon as farmers saw that it improved their yields and cut down their reliance on insecticides, they wanted to take advantage of it. Today, more than eight out of every ten cotton farmers in India use biotechnology. Nobody forced them to do it: They chose to adopt GM cotton because it makes sense.
GM crops have transformed farming everywhere they’ve been adopted, as the Green Revolution evolves into a Gene Revolution. Last month, a farmer somewhere in the northern hemisphere planted the world’s 4-billionth acre of GM crops, according to Truth about Trade & Technology, an American non-profit group that monitors agriculture statistics. This is a safe and sustainable technology, endorsed by scientific bodies and regulatory agencies around the globe.
India, however, has failed to participate fully in the Gene Revolution. Although our farmers may plant GM cotton, our political leaders up to now have refused to allow the commercialization of GM food crops like brinjal (known to Americans as eggplant).
As a result, India’s farmers don’t meet their full potential. I’m one of them: I grow brinjal on my 55-acre farm in southern India, along with other vegetables. If farmers like me could plant GM brinjal, with the scientific truth behind its benefits, we’d grow more food. This would improve the economies of rural areas and also fight the hunger and malnutrition that plagues our nation.
During his campaign, Modi sidestepped questions about GM brinjal. Even so, I’m confident that as Prime Minister, he will open India to more types of biotechnology. He won’t do it all at once—he has many other problems to tackle. Moreover, the forces of opposition, though profoundly misinformed, are strong.
Following his historic victory, Modi not only has the truth on his side—he also has the people on his side. He must encourage the research and development in university and bring them to the fields in short time by making changes in law, granting access to knowledge from around the world and collaborating with agri-related organizations.
I am raising my voice as a farmer for the use of science and technology for farmers benefit. I believe India enjoys its best chance yet to become a nation of modern farming. Modi, as our new leader, can guide us into the future and help get us there.
Rajesh Kumar farms 120 acres in two regions of India, using irrigation to grow brinjal, sweet corn, baby corn, tomatoes and other vegetables. He sells fresh produce directly to consumers through kiosks at several locations and runs a food processing unit for canning of vegetables. Mr. Kumar is a member of the TATT Global Farmer Network and recipient of the 2012 TATT Kleckner Trade & Technology Advancement award (www.truthabouttrade.org).