Aman Mann is preparing the start a PhD program with her research focused on Climate Change and Agricultural Sustainability. She is the daughter of a farmer, Gurjeet Singh Mann, who farms in northern India and is a member of the Global Farmer Network.

Question:  Tell us about your educational path – and the topic that you will choose for your PhD.

Answer:  My educational path includes a four year undergraduate degree in Biotechnology which gave me an overview of the role of Biotechnology in Agriculture followed by a post graduate degree in Environmental Science. I will like to earn a PhD to get the best out of both of the degrees. The topic I’ll choose for PhD research is Climate Change and Sustainability. Knowledge from both degrees and my experience from our family farm; exposure to farm operations and the difficulties, will help me do my research in a significant way.

 

Question:  How has your background on the farm influenced your educational path?

Answer:  I am a farmer’s daughter and I used to visit my village to see my grandparents and spend time at the fields. My frequent visits to our family farm established my strong bond with agriculture. I enjoyed studying Life Sciences and the love for our farm made me choose Biotechnology as my major as an undergrad. My farm connection led me to study something which will help my farm as well as our farm community.

Aman Mann in front of family wheat field.

Question:  Tell us about the agriculture in your area of India and how it has changed over the decades.

Answer:  In our area three decades ago, millet, wheat, rice, cotton, mustard, and barley were the popular crops, while some areas even grew cane sugar, groundnut (peanuts) and castor, sesame, etc. These crops were decided by their demand in the local markets and the availability of irrigation and other facilities. Over the years more of this region became narrower in crop choices; wheat mustard, rice [field shown in Featured Image] and cotton became preferred crops. With scant rains and poor irrigation infrastructure, the wheat-cotton cycle became a predominant choice.

Wheat and Cotton [non Hybrids of – Gossypium hirsutum (Narma or American Cotton) & Gossypium arboretum (DESI or Asiatic Cotton)] remained very successful, hybrid cotton was later adopted for its better yield and better staple quality. A silent climatic change along with better irrigation facilities brought in rice cultivation, as the yield of cotton was not consistent. Slowly cotton also started falling prey to a number of new resistant pests, mainly bollworms. Disease and pest management in cotton fields was becoming an ordeal.

Around this time the buzz about Bt cotton reached farmers but they had no idea what it was and where they could get it. It was not introduced in India until the year 2002. The decline in cotton production along with rising cost of production soon made cotton a loss making crop. Eventually those who could switched to other crops, but most had to keep growing cotton.

Before 2002 some stealth seeds of F2 Bt cotton made their way into India in the Gujarat area. The fascination for such seeds made farmers from Punjab Haryana go and get these seeds in spite of their questionable quality, making inroads of the first ever GM crop being sown in this region. We did not grow any such seed on our farm. The experiences of other farmers were varied from disgusting results to very encouraging. The curiosity for such seeds was on the increase. In the meantime the government approved Bt cotton BG1. Agriculture departments, central and state institutes held several seminars for farmers to educate them about integrated pest management (IPM) and the benefits of Bt Cotton.

The procedure for growing Bt Cotton was tedious (the refuge area part), the seed price was another hindrance, yet farmers took to Bt Cotton in a big way, so much that there was great shortage of these seeds and counterfeiters made hay out of it. But in subsequent years Bt cotton became so successful and popular that it makes up over 95% of all the cotton grown here.

Bt cotton hybrids exhibited excellent control of American bollworms and reduced the use of insecticides, but had no effect on succulent pests such as the whitefly. Due to severe and unmanageable repeated whitefly attacks of Bt cotton in the recent years, the yield went down drastically.

Because of the struggle with these pests and non-availability of fail proof chemical control or any seed technology which is resistant to the whitefly, many farmers are again at a crossroads, leading to either reducing the area under cotton cultivation or some even giving up growing cotton and switching to rice cultivation. In this scenario because of scarcity of water, farmers are still awaiting another breakthrough in GM cotton which may be effective against other pests and diseases in addition to bollworms.

 

Question:  How can technology help in the battle against climate change?

Answer:  We need climate resilient agricultural practices to deal with heat stress, water stress and floods. Things have changed over the years and technology can get the solution to the current problems.  Good quality and improved seeds preferably GM seeds wherever this wonderful technology can help, shall lead to better yields or at least will not let the production go below the previous level. Good irrigation systems can make the optimum use of the depleting water resources. Precision farming can help achieve sustainability in this era when resources are depleting quickly. Without scientific and precise ways of farming the quantum of produce may go below the economic threshold, where we won’t be able to keep pace to even feed our growing population.

Rice field of Gurjeet Singh Mann in India.

Question:  What are some current technologies that you wish Indian farmers would be able to access, and why?

Answer:  Indian farmers require high quality machinery, better seeds, computerized irrigation systems and all other high precision techniques, crop monitoring systems and products available elsewhere in the world but at affordable prices. Because of small to very small land holdings, the majority of the Indian farmers cannot afford to spend much on inputs to grow a crop with precision and for better yield and sustainability.