India plans network project on 12 transgenic crops

Friday, 19 December 2003, 08:00 Hrs
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NEW DELHI: India is planning a project to develop 12 transgenic crops to improve their resistance to diseases and pests, biotic stresses and extend shelf life.

"A network project on transgenics, covering 12 crops is on the anvil," Agriculture Minister Rajnath Singh said here Thursday.

"The proposed research project of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) will cover maize, pigeonpea, chickpea, soybean, cotton, brassica, tomato, brinjal, banana, papaya, potato and cassava," Singh told a meeting of parliament's consultative committee attached to his ministry.

The project will focus on specially targeted trait improvement such as resistance to insect pests, fungal diseases and viral diseases, tolerance to abiotic stresses like cold and drought and extended shelf life for the 12 crops.

"Other crops may be included as the programme develops," Singh told MPs.

Globally, genetically modified (GM) crop varieties covered an area of 58.7 million hectares in 2002. The principal biotech crops were soybean, corn, cotton and canola.

In India, only transgenic Bt cotton hybrids - MECH-184, MECH-162 and MECH-12 - were approved for commercial cultivation last year.

Singh said initial steps had been taken for indigenous development of transgenics in India in rice, cotton, potato, mustard, pigeonpea, chickpea, brinjal, tomato, cabbage, cauliflower, tobacco, pulses, castor and groundnut to address the problems of resistance or endurance to biotic and abiotic stress factors or those related to nutritional factors.

Transgenic lines developed in different crop species by ICAR institutions, as well as other state-owned and private sector institutions are under various stages of development or testing in the country.

"Advances have been made at ICAR experimentation plots in transgenic potato in terms of improved nutritional quality and balanced amino acid composition," Singh said.

Given the continuing apprehension of environmentalists who differ with the government on the success of Bt cotton hybrids, the MPs stressed the need for proper assessment of risk factors involved, and for proper communication between scientists and farmers.

Source: IANS
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