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article imageIt's green vs. biotech as India promotes organic agriculture

By Stephanie Dearing     May 15, 2010 in Food
New Delhi - India, at war with itself over the use of biotech agricultural crops, has decided to aim for the global organic food market, worth billions of dollars.
With money flowing into the country's economy from organic production, the government has set its sights on increasing India's organic market share to a value of $1 billion within the next five years, reported India Times. India's organic farming sector has seen promising economic growth, with the value of produce increasing from $12 million eight years ago to $125 million. While India is looking to the global organic market to increase GDP for the nation in the future, the country has not yet given up on biotech agriculture.
With up to 37% of its population living in poverty, India is looking to increased agricultural production as one approach to solving its economic problems. Organic production not only offers the allure of healthy income, the secondary benefits of sustainable production with its positive impacts on biodiversity and soil health, have attracted India's attention reported Thaindian.
Indian agriculture faces a growing host of problems, not least being a decline in overall agricultural production. The Planning Commission attributed that decline to factors such as "... technology fatigue, soil fatigue, declining fertilizer response rate depleting water resources, irrigation potential and capital stock and agro-climatic aberrations."
Activists such as India's Dr. Vandana Shiva should be happy with the news that India is encouraging organic agriculture. Shiva has long asserted that biotech usurps the rights of subsistence farmers and small producers in India. Shiva said biotech crops create a "... deepening crisis of hunger and starvation, debt and farmers suicides caused by high cost but unreliable GM and hybrid seeds... [as well as] serious concerns about the ecological and health impacts of GMOs." Biotech, the argument goes, serves to keep poor people poor. Monsanto controls 60% of commercial seed stocks in India.
Biotech supporters claim the green revolution will lift people out of poverty. Biotech is a growth industry in India, and is considered by the government to be green gold." India's biotech was worth over $2 billion in 2006-2007, reports the Investment Commission of India.
Biotech has been linked to thousands of farmer suicides in India, thought to be caused by the increased debt burden. However, India's agricultural Minister recently denied any link, saying suicides were widespread throughout India's population.
As researchers have pointed out recently, there is a lack of long-term studies on the effects of biotech agriculture. The most recent criticism came from Chinese scientists who discovered transgenic cotton created new insect pest problems for farmers. When it comes to biotech's socio-economic impacts, there is an equal lack of long-term studies.
Some limited research shows a positive relationship between biotech agriculture and economic benefits, but these studies have not examined larger periods of time, nor do they include the impacts of the growing resistance of pests and plants to GM agriculture.
The dangers in seeing biotech as a cure-all for poverty and hunger is that those promoting the technological fix tend to ignore the two key problems that create and exasperate poverty: access to land, and food distribution systems, as an article printed in the United Nations Chronicle pointed out in 2009.
With its high level of poverty and the already documented impacts of biotech on the soil and biodiversity, India's struggle to attain economic parity with the rest of the world means the country has quite a bit of work ahead.
The Hindu reported that Vandana Shiva was awarded the Sydney Peace Prize this year for her social justice work. She will receive the award on November 4 from Sydney University.
More about Green biotech, Green revolution, Organic agriculture, Organic food, Monsanto
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