Agriculture in need of a panacea

One of the biggest environmental issues that agriculture faces is ?Climate Change?. Climate change is the most important global environmental challenge facing humanity with implications for natural ecosystems, agriculture & health. The perusal of general circulation models (GCMs) on climate change indicate that rising levels of greenhouse gases (GHGs) are likely to increase the global average surface temperature by 1.5-4.5?C over the next 100 years. The difference of average temperature between the last ice age and present climate is 6?C. This will raise sea-levels, shift climate zones pole ward, decrease soil moisture and storms. Global warming is predicted to affect agricultural production.

It is estimated that India needs 320 MT of food grains by the year 2025. For a country like India, sustainable agricultural development is essential not only to meet the food demands, but also for poverty reduction through economic growth. Climate change impacts the livelihood of more than 50% households that are engaged in agriculture. The ongoing agrarian crisis in rural India could be catalyzed by climate change into a migratory rout, driven by greater monsoon variability, endemic drought, flooding and resource conflict. Traditional agricultural practices are becoming more and more unstable, innovative agricultural practices and technologies can play a major role in climate mitigation and adaptation.

Climate change has an adverse impact on the availability of both the quantity and quality of water required. During 2007-2012, around 55% of wells in India were reported to show a decline in water levels. Further, at least 330 million people have already been affected by drought in 2016. This was a big jump as compared to 2009, when the seasonal variations and resulting drought affected 50 million Indians. With the erratic availability of water and poor irrigation infrastructure, only 65.3 million hectares of land is irrigated out of the 329 million hectares of land presently used for agriculture. More than 60% of the crop area continues to be dependent on monsoons, and we all know how erratic rains are in India.

Along with such environmental impacts, climate change has a related economic impact on agriculture as well. Climate change impacts productivity, profitability, supply, demand, prices, and trade. Agriculture is important for the economy of the country as it contributes about 17.9% to the Gross Domestic Product of the country, and hence it cannot be ignored. Impacts are already visible, with the share of the agriculture sector in GDP having reduced to just 13.7%. in 2013.

Climate change is also responsible for excessive use of pesticides. Climate change may allow pest migration or population expansion, which in a way affects agricultural productivity and profitability, and use of pesticides.

In such a scenario, biotechnology in agriculture is the solution to a lot of environmental concerns. More than 17 million farmers around the world cultivate technology-enabled crops and have reported successes in productivity, drought tolerance, salinity tolerance and use water more efficiently etc. Biotechnology helps farmers grow crops even in areas which have been affected by drought or saline conditions. These seeds have proven to be pest resistant; and reduced the use of pesticides. This helps in improving water quality as otherwise pesticides get washed into water bodies, polluting the water which in turn has adverse effects on human as well as animal life disturbing the ecological imbalance further. The pest resistance of technology enabled crops also reduces the chances of yield loss.

Biotechnology is a crucial entrant in the world of agricultural technology and should be welcomed with open arms as it is here to change the world, for good. It is the panacea we have been waiting for.