One of India’s largest seed company Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company (Mahyco) said that it is planning to take its new technology including genetically modified (GM) seeds to other South Asian and African countries as stringent regulations and non-clarity in India regarding trial and commercialisation of GM crops has derailed its India plans.
Mahyco said it has reduced its research in GM crops in India and its research team which has been working on various solutions of insect and drought resistance to crops like cotton and rice, among others is looking to move to countries like Vietnam, Tanzania and Zimbabwe to introduce its new seeds. Mahyco, which has a joint venture with US drug giant Monsanto (which was acquired by Bayer last year), said that the government at the highest level is positive on technology, science and innovation but when it comes to implementation nothing is happening.
“The environment for science is very negative at the regulatory level because with all the steps that the government has taken it is to not encourage innovation and agriculture is getting brunt of it,” said Usha Barwale Zehr, chief technology officer of the family-run Mahyco group.
“At Mahyco, this has impacted at how we look at research or what research we focus on,” Zehr added.
The Maharashtra-based seed company said it has started to look at countries where it is allowed to take its technology. Zehr said it won’t be far-fetched to think that it stopped doing work in India and moved to other countries for introducing GM crops, because it doesn’t have any option. Mahyco, which spends anywhere between Rs 60-70 crore or 10% of its revenues in research, said there needs to be clarity on regulation process in India.
“The US regulatory process takes 18 months and that’s a regular pace, you can also have a fast review which is shorter. We have already started working in Africa, South East Asia and we have also grown some material in the United States. So we have to look at options,” Zehr said.
In India, the issue of GM technology has turned into a political and emotive issue with nationalist groups blocking the introduction of any new GM crops in the country. The last GM seed that was introduced in India was that of Bollgard Cotton 2 in 2006, after that the proposal to introduce BT brinjal was also rejected. Mahyco said it has licensed its BT brinjal to neighbouring Bangladesh which has allowed the use of the seed.
On Tuesday, the environment ministry put up a note by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee’s stating that “matters related to environmental release of transgenic mustard are kept pending for further review”. This committee has delayed the commercialisation of GM mustard seeds despite giving a go ahead in May this year and also a safety committee report that cleared the transgenic seeds for environmental release. However, due to pressure from certain environmental groups and the Hindu outfit RSS’ offshoot farmer group Swadeshi Jagaran Manch, the Indian government has remained indecisive in allowing commercialisation of GM seeds.