Interview with Dr Marc Van Montagu, Founder & Chairman, Institute for Plant Biotechnology
Q. Nourishing nearly 9 billon people globally is a big challenge. What are ways to tackle this challenge effectively?
A. By 2050, nourishing two billion more people by 2050 in a changing climate would a big challenge. It will prove one of the greatest challenges in human history. To meet it, we should embrace an agricultural approach that combines the best features of traditional farming with the latest technology. We can make the world wonderful by the use of science and especially biotechnology in agriculture. The new innovations can transform agriculture to meet the requirements of food and feed of the world. Enormous future awaits agriculture and with best of science including molecular biology, target of feeding two more billion would not be an unachievable task. But acceptance of science by convincing society is a daunting task.
Q. What India needs to do for food Security?
A. India has excelled in IT, and there is no reason why it can’t do well in Biotech. Several decades back when I came to Bangalore it was small city, but now with 9 million people it has ever booming IT industry of world class. India should embrace a realistic approach that seeks to answer what science can do and what society wants. We need a realistic approach towards GMOs (GM crops and GM food) as well. We need to tell society about benefits and safeguards. It would be wrong to believe that scientists are not concerned about agro-ecology and biodiversity. Moreover, the government should have a long term vision for agriculture sector and role of science in it. Therefore, I firmly believe that sustainable intensification is the way out for future.
Q. Do we need stringent regulations?
A. No, I do not think so. 21st century plants will all GM plants. Nature is a big laboratory. India should accept the role of biotechnology and GM crops need no regulations as conventional farming. The government needs to have a long term vision for agriculture and science. The new innovations can transform agriculture to meet the requirements of food and feed of the world. Enormous future awaits agriculture and with best of science including molecular biology, target of feeding 1.2 billion in India would not be an unachievable task.
Q. What do you mean by sustainable intensification?
A. During Green revolution production and productivity increased many fold. We adopted the best inputs and agronomy practices. Likewise, with the help of new technology, we need to intensify the best inputs and practices. India and other developing countries can produce their own GM varieties of seeds. The six big MNCs would not touch anything except major crops. There would plenty of orphan crops which can be taken up by local companies both in public and private sectors. Therefore I feel that sustainable intensification is the best way out for increasing productivity.
Q. Generally, it is believed that Europe is opposed to GM. Is it true that Europe is GM free?
A. No, it is wrong to believe that Europe is GM free or all countries. United Kingdom is not opposed to GM but France is. Politics play critical role there also as in India. France needs nuclear power so they have a tacit understanding with NGOs opposed to GM. They (NGOs) do not oppose nuclear and in turn France is opposed to GM. Some countries are neutral on the issue. Going forward politics at European Union will determine the future of GM in several countries. The EU spent over 300 million Euros to prove through scientific research that GMOs are not safe. But results were negative. But they never publicized the results and neither they said, on the basis of the results, GMOs are safe. But by doing this European countries are not doing good to society. See what happens to ‘golden rice.’ Non-adoption of this product so far manifests Europe’s delusion. After a decade of research scientists developed this wonderful variety which is showing great results in other parts of the world but it is still not commercialized. However, It is wrong to believe that Europe is GM Free as they have adopted one crop, but import as many as 46 crops.
Q. Why scientists are not able to convince society about the benefits of science?
A. Scientists are confined to laboratories even if the world is crumbling. Scientists need to understand the need of society and politics as well. They will have to step out from their laboratories to convince people about the wonders science and especially biotechnology can bring in agriculture. We need a realistic approach towards GMOs (GM crops and GM food) as well. We need to tell society about benefits and safeguards. It would be wrong to believe that scientists are not concerned about agro-ecology and biodiversity.
The interview was shared by leading agriculture news portal www.IndiAgri.in
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