|AGRICULTURE TRIBUNE||Monday, June 16, 2003, Chandigarh, India|
juggling for fruitful trees
AP finds Bt
cotton less beneficial
At long last, the Punjab Government has embarked upon a crop diversification scheme through contract farming and certain recommendations of the Johal Committee report. The proud Punjabi farmer hopefully would soon not need to look for dole from the Central Government. The dependence on the minimum support price and monopolised purchase by government agencies has made farmers incapable of looking after themselves. The free market forces were kept at bay.
At times it appears that crises in agriculture, mostly manmade, have been stretched out of proportion. At every sunrise a new set of demands is raised by farmers. At the drop of a hat agitations are launched. It seems vested interests are happy to keep the pot boiling on one pretext or the other. Governments, having lost credibility, are found in a pitiable condition to address the problems. Political executives are past masters in dealing with agitations, befuddling the charters of demand of farmers and turning them back with high-sounding promises. The problems of the hapless farmers stand obfuscated. Neither the government has the wherewithal, nor do the leaders appear serious in solving the problems as that would deprive them of the very stock-in-trade of their political practice.
From hero to liability
With the dawn of the Green Revolution in the mid-sixties, ushered in by agricultural advancement and government backing, the hardworking Punjabi farmer became a national hero. This catapulted the lifestyle of the farmer. Modern luxuries, with their attendant vices, and unprecedented lavishness on all fronts, personal, social, crept in. Money/credit, which earlier was not easily available, went asking after the farmer from banks, arhtiyas and moneylenders, no matter at what cost. The "boom" lasted for about one and a half decade, from 1969 to 1985, only. Around the 80s farm economists and agronomists established and warned that farming as per the running pattern of wheat and paddy was a losing activity, but farmers remained caught in the position. They kept clinging to the minimum support price (MSP) increases and kept suffering the perils.
In the imbroglio of piling food stocks, sinking agricultural economy, the irony is that nobody who is somebody in the farm sector has ever pointed to the social sector, which if reformed can mitigate economic degeneration of the farm sector to a great extent. The social area, which encompasses social expenditure, personal lifestyle and work culture, directly and indirectly affects the farm economy.
Let's look at social ceremonies first. It is common knowledge that austerity at weddings is a thing of the past. Expensive cars, heavy jewellery, rich clothes, lavish entertainment programmes, free-lowing drinks and sumptuous dinners are routine. Above all, the lavishness is generally indulged in by raising loans, one way or the other. There is competition as to who has spent more. The marriage of one daughter at times leaves families broke. The same goes for the birth of a son, winning of a panchayat election or any other occasion for celebration.
Liquor is the other head under which money is sunk recklessly and, of course, from it flow a host of other troubles. Paradoxically, the Punjab Government is giving boost to liquor consumption year after year. In 2002 there were 5000 licensed liquor shops, which increased to 5250 after auction of vends in March 2003.
The areas of Bathinda, Mansa, Muktsar and Ferozepore, i.e. the Malwa belt, which make much hue and cry about the "sinking economy of the farm sector," also boast of the biggest appetite for liquor, apart from drugs.
Those who have experienced the dark decade of Punjab, 1982-1992, would also remember the 'social code' enforced by the 'boys'—no liquor, no ostentatious marriage ceremonies, limited number of baratis, no dowry, etc. The code was well received by the people in villages, even if they did not relish the methodology. This underlined the need for discipline in social life, which is all the more urgent now in view of the distorted definition of freedom, modernisation and morals.
Fortunately, there is an elaborate religious structure in Punjab comprising the gurdwaras, where religious leaders can take up the eradication of the various social evils. Traditionally, social reforms would come under the purview of social and religious organisations, but nowadays they practise more of politics than social work. Governments at the same time lack credibility to impact the social habits of people. However, a synergy between government and community efforts in the social field for eradication of the ills may bring about results.
While such a lifestyle may not have a direct bearing on farming, it does damage the economic condition of the farmer.
Apart from this, there are certain queer habits of farmers that are damaging the farm economy. One, the new-generation farmer is ill-disposed towards working on the farm. He looks for escape. The most common "occupation" in villages is to hang around a politician—an easy, elating life, but with no remuneration, rather at a considerable cost. The general indifference towards farming is so strong with landowners that 93 per cent of them depend on hired labour for farm operations although 45 per cent of the total land holdings in Punjab are less than 5 acres each. Young rural men are found running after even menial jobs in cities, while their parents at the farm have to pay hired labour.
Obviously the system, logistics and the returns on farming shall have to be drastically metamorphosed so as to attract the new generation "boys"-at present adding to the unemployed lot-to return to their land. Government extension agencies, charged with the responsibility of developing allied agricultural activities, somehow could not give good account of themselves. Therefore, a new volunteer corps drawn from agricultural universities, practical farmers, bankers, social workers should be formed for harnessing the wayward rural youth for activities such as poultry, piggery, dairy, horticulture and more, to make farming a profitable venture.
One very important area is the availability and end use of credit. There are private agents who exploit the farmers by arranging loans ostensibly for farm machinery, fertilisers, etc. The end use of the credit is, however, manipulated, in which the farmers get stuck and repay through the nose. Therefore, NGOs, possibly formed by retired bank hands, should come forward to arrange loans from financial institutions and educate and persuade the farmers to use the loans only for the declared purpose repay in time. Also, the attitude "if my neighbour has bought a heavy tractor, I must have a bigger one" must be discarded.
for fruitful trees
Genetic engineering is one of the most important tools of biotechnology. It encompasses isolation of a desirable gene, its insertion into a suitable vector to create a recombinant DNA molecule and transfer of this molecule into a host.
A transgenic plant contains one or more genes derived from another unrelated plant or species. The inserted gene sequence, transgene, brings about desirable change(s) in the plant. Traditional plant breeding has been limited to artificially crossing of plants within the same species or with closely related species. However, genetic engineering has enabled us to extract and use genes from a wide range of organisms like bacteria, fungi, viruses, animals, etc. Moreover, the host genome is not exposed to reshuffling/rearrangement as in conventional plant breeding.
The estimated global area of transgenic crops for 2001 was 52.6 million hectares, with soybean, corn, cotton and canola being the principal transgenic crops. However, not many examples of successful releases of transgenic fruit trees are available. There are several realised/potential applications of genetic engineering for the improvement of fruit trees in the following areas:
Disease resistance: Large number of pathogens infect fruit trees and reduce fruit quality and quantity. Genetic engineering and tissue culture have provided an alternative for the management of pathogens by the creation of disease-resistant plants. The resistant varieties not only reduce the use of the harmful chemicals but also stabilise the yield over the years. Papaya is severely damaged by the deadly papaya ringspot potyvirus. In the late 1980s, a research project was initiated to develop a resistant transgenic papaya by using a gene from the virus itself. New resistant transgenic papaya varieties, Sunup and Rainbow, were released for cultivation in Hawaii in 1998. This is the first commercialisation of a genetically engineered virus-resistant perennial fruit crop. On the same lines virus-resistant plants are being developed in citrus, banana, plum, apricot, grapes, strawberry and others.
Many fungal and bacterial diseases also do great damage to fruit tree crops. Genes for fungus-resistance have been cloned from different organisms and transferred to many fruit trees. For example, a gene isolated from dahlia (a plant) was transferred to banana and the resulting transgenic plants are being tested for tolerance to the fungal wilt pathogen Fusarium oxysporum.
Fire blight is a bacterial disease of apple. The Attacin E gene was isolated from giant silk moth and introduced into apple plants. Several transgenic clones have shown reduced susceptibility to the bacterial pathogen and one of these lines has showed a symptom reduction of 50 per cent after field inoculation.
Thompson Seedless, a popular variety of grapes, has been transformed with anti-bacterial genes and the transgenic plants are being tested for their resistance to bacteria. Work is also going on for citrus, pear and other important fruit trees.
Insect resistance: Genetic engineering for insect control has been attempted in many fruit trees using Bt toxin (from Bacillus thuringiensis), insect digestive-system inhibitor genes, etc. For example, citrus plants have been transformed with Bt genes for resistance against coleopeteran insects. Similarly, cowpea protease trypsin inhibitor gene has been introduced into several cultivars of strawberry and the transformed plants showed resistance to weevil.
Herbicide tolerance: Herbicide-tolerant transgenic crops are considered to be one of genetic engineering’s major successes. Transgenic plants are being developed in grapes, papaya, strawberry and other fruit trees that either detoxify the applied herbicide or reduce the target enzyme sensitivity to it.
Ripening: Today consumers are quality conscious. This has resulted in increased demand for high-quality fruit. Many factors (physical and biochemical) influence fruit quality. Higher concentrations of limonin in citrus juices causes bitterness. Biosynthetic pathways of limonoids have been worked out and different strategies are being employed to lower the levels of limonin. Also softening is a problem in most fruits. Efforts are on to increase the shelf life of many fruits, including mango and banana. This would reduce losses due to pre-mature or uncontrolled ripening. Similarly, transgenic strawberry plants with genes from potato are being tested for sugar balance, flavour and other quality characteristics.
Altering plant architecture: Tree stature, form and architecture are important for productivity. Certain genes of Agrobacterium tumefaciens and A. rhizogenes have been reported to modify the morphology and growth habit of plants. This could help increase production by reducing costs on many operations like pruning, thinning, spraying and harvesting. A gene conditioning a compact and columnar habit has been identified in apple. Once the gene is cloned, it could be introduced in a variety of fruit trees for the production of columnar trees. This would help high density planting.
Controlling juvenile period: The juvenile period is a very important trait in fruit tree species. It is desirable to have a short juvenile phase so that the trees come to bearing early. The few genes conditioning the trait need to be cloned so that they can be transferred across tree species.
Tolerance to abiotic stress: Plants may be exposed to adverse environmental conditions. These stresses interfere with the vital physiological processes of the plant. Studies are under way to identify and clone the genes involved in pathways leading to tolerance to various abiotic stresses.
Genetic engineering holds promise for
the improvement of fruit trees. This would ultimately lead to
increased/stabilised yields and more profit. However, many questions
regarding the effects of transgenic plants/products on environment,
other plants, animals and human beings need to be addressed.
AP finds Bt cotton less beneficial
Vijayawada: A study conducted by the Andhra Pradesh Agriculture Ministry and Acharya N G Ranga Agriculture University has found that losses outweigh gains in the cultivation of genetically modified Bt cotton.
Releasing the findings of the study last week, State Agriculture Minister V Sobhanadreswara Rao said the study showed that the yield from cultivation of Bt cotton was less when compared to other hybrid varieties in rain-fed conditions. The staple length, a yardstick for quality, was also less.
Stating that the high cost of Bt cotton seed neutralised the benefit from the low use of chemical pesticides to check the bollworm pest, to which the variety developed resistance. He said a "400 gm packet of Bt cotton seeds cost about Rs 1600 as against other hybrid varieties costing between Rs 300 and Rs 600 for the same quantity."
Moreover, farmers were able to realise Rs 150 to Rs 200 less per quintal from the sale of Bt cotton when compared to other hybrid varieties, he added.
The climatic conditions last year did not result in much pest infestation and the advantage of the low use of chemical pesticides could not be clearly seen, Mr Rao said.
According to an opinion poll conducted among 3,565 farmers who had cultivated Bt cotton last year, only 65 were for continuing with Bt cotton while 430 were against it. The remaining respondents expressed no opinion. Both the findings had been communicated to the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee, constituted by the Centre, he added.
agricultural scientist M. S. Swaminathan, he said even while
appreciating that biotechnology was a boon to develop crop varieties
that were drought tolerant and salinity resistant, a wait-and-watch
approach had to be adopted on the Bt cotton issue. UNI