Biotechnological applications in organic farming
MSSRF scientists are integrating a wide variety of biotechnological applications in improving the productivity, profitability, stability and sustainability of major cropping systems. Among the techniques of particular value are vermiculture, biopesticides, biofertilisers including stem-nodulating green manure crops, azolla, blue-green algae and improved rhizobial strains. Such biopesticides and biofertilisers are best produced by village level self-help groups. In fact, there are good opportunities for gainful employment in the area of producing such biological software for sustainable agriculture.
The era of precision breeding opened up by advances in genomics and genetic engineering has become an ally in the movement for environmentally sustainable advances in agriculture, a phenomenon I have christened as "ever-green revolution" (see, Swaminathan M.S. 2000). Knowledge is a continuum. The 20th century was marked by spectacular advance, in crop productivity triggered by Mendelian breeding. The 21st century will witness even more spectacular progress from an intelligent integration of Mendelian and molecular breeding. The enormous power which transgenic technology has conferred on human kind imposes an ethical obligation, which should be discharged by developing transparent and multi-stakeholder method of risk-benefit analysis, capable of inspiring public confidence and trust.
At the same time, the tendency to decry all advances in the breeding of transgenic crops will not be in the interest of sustainable food and nutrition security. India’s population exceeds a billion and there is no option in the future except to produce more crop per unit of land and per every drop of water. In my Coromandel Lecture titled "Agriculture on Spaceship Earth" delivered on 26 February, 1973. I mentioned "we are fortunately in a position to build a positive policy of economic ecology based on a series of Do’s rather than Don’ts (Swaminathan, 2001).
Getting the best out of the new genetics for farm families will be possible only if the principles of economic ecology as well as a "do" philosophy underpin science and public policies.
Sustainable Food Security
The concept of food security has been undergoing an evolutionary change during the last 50 years. In the nineteen fifties, food security was considered essentially in terms of production. It was assumed that adequate production will assure adequate availability of food in the market as well as in the household. In the seventies, it became clear that availability alone does not lead to food security, since those who lack purchasing power will not be able to have access to balanced diets. Purchasing power again is related to jobs or livelihood opportunities. More recently, it is becoming evident that even if availability and access are satisfactory, the biological absorption of food in the body is related to the consumption of clean drinking water as well as to environmental hygiene, primary health care and primary education. Finally, even if physical and economic access to food is assured, ecological factors will determine the long-term sustainability of food security systems. Based on the above considerations, the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation and the United Nations World Food Program have recently brought out a Food Insecurity Atlas of Rural India (Vepa et al, 2001)