Biotechnology appears sustainable solution to achieve self-sufficiency in oilseeds and pulses

New Delhi (India), June 20: India is on the path of becoming self-sufficient in many sectors, with the spirit of ‘Make…

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Jun 20, 2023 - 18:45
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Biotechnology appears sustainable solution to achieve self-sufficiency in oilseeds and pulses
Biotechnology appears sustainable solution to achieve self-sufficiency in oilseeds and pulses

New Delhi (India), June 20: India is on the path of becoming self-sufficient in many sectors, with the spirit of ‘Make in India’. So how can agriculture remain behind? India is one of the top producers of farm commodities but is still insufficient in oilseeds and pulses. There is a big thrust on improving production and productivity, so India ceases to remain dependent on the expensive imports of edible oils and pulses. We need to focus on human resources development and technological solutions to boost secondary agriculture.    

The government of India has set the target of boosting the production of oilseeds and pulses to 54.1 million tonnes and 32.5 million tonnes in 2025-26, which is about around 40 percent increase from the current levels. This is very important since about 65 percent of edible oil we consumed in India is fulfilled through imports. In India, oilseeds output per hectare is 10 quintals, while the global average is 16 quintals. Similarly, the average output of all pulses is 660 kg per hectare in India as against 909 kg of the world average. So crop productivity is a major concern for us.

The government has gone into a mission mode and has made several interventions to improve yields and productivity through diversification of crops, ensuring higher prices, and making good quality seeds available for farmers. India is the largest producer as well as consumer of pulses. India has produced 25-27 million tonnes of the protein-rich commodity in 2021-22, a whopping 48 per cent increase in the past decade. And the imports have decreased to 2.7 million tonnes. Yet, the dependency on pulses imports is 9 percent. It is expected to reduce to 3.6 percent by the end of this decade.

There are some problems arising, though, thanks to the decrease in the acreage under pulses by 4.3 percent this year. Oilseeds cultivation, however, has seen an increase of 9 percent. The government is making high-yielding seed varieties available to farmers, a special Kharif strategy that works on area expansion and productivity enhancement for major pulses of arhar, moong and urad. The available land for farming is limited. So we need to focus on improving productivity to get higher output. 

We need to take measures to urge farmers to go for oilseeds and pulses. This can be done through education, better crop protection and insurance remedies, ensuring fair prices, and strengthening market linkages.

At the same time, we need to boost productivity. Good quality seeds play an important role in ensuring higher and nutrient-rich crop output. If the oilseeds cultivated are of the best quality, the oil recovery rate can be better, allowing more quantity of edible oil. This will bridge the gap between demand and supply at a faster rate.

The population in India and in the world is constantly increasing, which makes conventional plant breeding methods and seeds difficult to meet the growing food demand. We are already insufficient in pulses and oilseeds, and there could be bigger problems if the gap between domestic consumption and production widens. So we must take the benefits offered by biotechnological solutions. Genome engineering applications have a viable and faster approach to solving the problem of low productivity.

The seed varieties developed using genetic engineering support sustainable ways of farming. They allow required traits to develop, such as higher crop output, more nutrients, a better recovery rate in cases of oilseeds, and resistance to diseases, among others. Moreover, these tools, such as genetic modification or gene editing, help remove diseases in plants. The use of fertilisers and pesticides to goes down significantly in these cases. GM Mustard, which is awaiting a green signal from the government, has the potential to produce a 25-30 percent higher yield as compared to traditional ones. 

Government is sure that GM mustard can lead to an increase in the domestic production of oilseeds and make the country self-sufficient. We are already facing the negative impacts of climate change, which is leading got crop loss. Genetic engineering can help us develop new traits in crops which are climate resilient and tolerant to pests, diseases, droughts, salinity, chilling, high temperatures and flooding, among others. Genetically engineered varieties are cost-effective, environment-friendly, and quick in giving intended results. If we put our trust in science and biotechnology, we can soon become self-sufficient in oilseeds and pulses.

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