|Demand of the question
Introduction. Contextual Introduction.
Body. Discuss the role of biotechnology in food security and various challenges faced by the sector.
Conclusion. Way forward.
Food insecurity is one of the most pressing problems today, creating directly or indirectly several other challenges. The challenge of nutritiously feeding the skyrocketing population will be even more severe in coming times. For instance, the National Nutrition Atlas released by the National Institute of Nutrition highlights that majority (two-thirds) of the states have a high percentage of malnourished children and high level of wasting. This is mainly because of the non-availability/non-accessibility of/to enough amounts of proteins and micronutrients for pregnant women and children under the age of five. The recently released Global Hunger Index also highlights that the situation is serious for India.
Food security has three dimensions:
- Availability of sufficient quantities of food of appropriate quality, supplied through domestic production or imports.
- Access by households and individuals to appropriate foods for a nutritious diet.
- Optimal uptake of nourishment thanks to a sustaining diet, clean water and adequate sanitation, together with health care.
Securing food security with biotechnology:
- There are a range of biotechnological approaches, including both traditional ones like selective breeding and fermentation techniques, and modern ones such as genomics, molecular breeding and genetic engineering, that can contribute towards achieving food and nutrition security.
- In the current era, advances in genomics sciences have equipped scientists to decode genomes for any crop species (the recent example being that of pearl millet) and we can get information on genes responsible for important agronomic traits. Gene information can be used to accelerate breeding programmes and develop high-yielding and better varieties faster.
- For example the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), have developed improved lines of chickpea (tolerant to drought), groundnut (resistant to foliar disease), pearl millet (having high iron and zinc contents) and sorghum (tolerant to drought).
- We have already seen the success of Bt cotton in our country, as India from being an importer a few years ago has now become a major exporter. The other potential GM crop to help the farming community is GM mustard.
- Biotech crops can play a significant role in food security, giving farmers satisfaction about their benefits and high adoption rates.Biotech crops helped alleviate poverty by helping 18 million small farmers and their families,totalling 65 million people.
- The spectrum of potential benefits from the application of genetic engineering and biotechnology to food crops in developing countries ranges from diagnostic aids, for example in plant diseases, through to gene mapping.
- The main objective of research and development for food security is to find improved seed varieties,that enable reliable high yields at the same or lower tillage costs through qualities such as resistance to or tolerance of plant diseases (fungi, bacteria, viruses) and animal pests (insects, mites, nematodes) as well as to stress factors such as climatic variation or aridity, poor soil quality.
- Equally important objectives are the transfer of genes with nitrogen-fixing capacity onto grains, and the improvement of food quality by overcoming vitamin or mineral deficiencies. All these crucial and basic needed expectations can be satisfied with the use of biotechnology.
Challenges faced by Biotechnology sector:
- Biotechnology research often requires access to laboratories with high-end scientific infrastructure, the supply of expensive chemicals and reagents with minimum shipping time between the supplier and the user, and a disciplined work culture and documentation practice due to regulatory and intellectual property filing requirement.
- Compared to the developed economies (the United States), biotechnology research in India is mainly funded by the public exchequer.Unless the private sector starts supporting applied research and engages with academic institutions, the innovation in applied and translational biotechnology will be minimal.
- Companies have not been able to launch new products at a significant pace because of bureaucratic red-tape and multiple regulatory bodies.
- Innovative companies face funding constraints since the investors have shied away from early-stage ventures.
- Another issue is the lack of trained manpower. While India has a considerable number of graduates and postgraduates in biotechnology and related fields, they are not employable. Thus companies have to invest heavily in their training before incorporating them into the business.
- India also suffers from brain drain. Top global biotech companies are able to poach the brightest Indian minds with attractive job profiles and good remuneration.
- Lack of manufacturing capacity. Several biotech parks (established through PPPs) are solely focused on providing biotech services and diagnostics rather than pure biotech manufacturing.
- Low wages of scientists (compared to the developed economies) and a few institutional research base have not helped create more jobs in biotechnology.
The developing countries are faced with the formidable task of doubling their food output over the next 25 years, and this in contrast to how it has so often been done in the industrial countries– in ways sparing of the environment and resources. Population pressure has already begun to affect the environment in large parts of the developing world. Because of intensive land use and widespread biomass shortage, cultivated soils are being depleted of essential nutrients and organic matter. Fisheries, livestock and forestry resources are also under increasing strain. Biotechnology is the one of the important way out for this.