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APRIL 2009



GM Wheat Will Improve Productivity Growth

The Hindu (India),
April 22, 2009

India needs to consider all options, including genetically modified (GM) technology, to increase wheat productivity which has been stagnant at an average 2.7 tonnes per hectare for the past six years, renowned agriculture scientist Thomas A Lumpkin has said.

In an email interview, Lumpkin, who is the Director General of Mexico-based International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT), has warned that India may be a net importer of wheat by 2020, if the yields of the grain remain stagnant.

"India needs to consider all options to reinvigorate productivity growth, with important roles for novel germplasm, agronomy, and enabling policies. To help create a breakthrough in germplasm, wheat would benefit from more intense private sector involvement  "Novel techniques like GM and hybridisation provide major options and incentives for that," he said.

Noted agriculture scientist also said a gene, that would enhance the bioavailability of zinc in wheat, could have a significant impact, given the widespread zinc deficiency among Indians. The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre was associated with India's Green Revolution. Norman Borlaug, who brought Mexican wheat to India in 1966-67, was a researcher at the institute. Lumpkin said India, the world's second-largest wheat producer, is currently self-sufficient with 26 million hectares dedicated to the crop.

He added: "Over the next five years, it is likely that India will be self-sufficient in wheat production, barring extreme climate events (heat, drought) or rust epidemics." However, he added that it was "irresponsible" not to think about how India would confront growing demands for food and feed crops and the needs to protect the environment and conserve resources, while confronting climate change, beyond a mere five-year horizon.

Considering the increasing water scarcity in South Asia, it is likely that irrigation water will be used more and more for high value crops, and wheat will be grown in more extensive systems, reducing output further, he warned.

Asked in what ways GM wheat will be beneficial for India since the country has not reported large scale damage due to pest attack, Lumpkin said, "Weeds like phalaris minor pose constraints to wheat production in India. The glyphosphate- based herbicide known as 'Roundup' kills all weeds.

"A genetically modified form of wheat that tolerates 'Roundup' will allow the use of glyphosate in wheat plots." Wheat variety 'PBW 343', which is cultivated on 7 million hectares across Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh, is susceptible to Ug99, the latest major stem rust.