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MARCH 2009



India: Biotech Surge
- Sudhir Chowdhary, Financial Express (India), March 9, 2009

An interesting game of research might is being played out between India and China in the realm of biotech crops. After years of extensive field trials, China is getting ready to launch biotech (Bt) rice for commercial use within 24 months. The development is significant as rice is the most important food crop in the world, especially for the poor. Therefore, it could answer the current food security problem.

Not to be left far behind, researchers at various government and private institutes in India are conducting extensive field trials on, not only biotech rice but, a host of other biotech crops before they are made available for cultivation on a commercial scale. Specifically to biotech rice, field trials are being conducted at Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), New Delhi, Mahyco, Mumbai, MS Swaminathan Research Foundation, Hyderabad and Directorate of Rice Research, Hyderabad.

However, biotech eggplant (brinjal) may be made available as the first biotech food crop in India within the next 12 months. In total, there are now 10 biotech crops in field trials in India. These include cabbage, castor, cauliflower, corn, groundnut, okra, potato and tomato.

Clearly, India's increased public and private sector investments including government support for crop biotechnology has helped it outshine China. The facts speak for themselves. At present, biotech cotton is the only crop approved for commercial cultivation in India. Despite this, total area under biotech crop is 7.6 million hectares, a 23% increase in 2008 compared to the previous year, says a recent report from International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA).

China pales when compared to India. Besides biotech cotton, other biotech crops made available for commercial cultivation include poplar, papaya, petunia, sweet pepper and tomato. Yet, total area under biotech crops in China stands at 3.8 million hectares, with a shocking zero percent increase in 2008 compared to the previous year.

ISAAA chairman Clive James says, "India is fast evolving as a leading biotech region not only in Asia but globally too. In 2008, India became the fourth largest adopter of biotech crop in the world, displacing Canada to fifth ranking. Farmers in India planted biotech cotton on 7.6 million hectare, equivalent to 82% of the total cotton area, up from 6.2 million hectare equivalent to 66% in 2007." A record five million small and resource-poor farmers planted biotech cotton in 2008, which is significantly up from 3.8 million farmers