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Gates backs GM crops: tech must help farmers,feed rising population

Giving his full support to the use of genetic engineering in agriculture,Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates today said if the world continued to produce food with existing technologies....

Written by Express News Service | New Delhi |
May 16, 2010 3:57:49 am

Giving his full support to the use of genetic engineering in agriculture,Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates today said if the world continued to produce food with existing technologies it would not be able to feed its increasing population.

In an interview with Shekhar Gupta,Editor-in-Chief of The Indian Express,for NDTV’s Walk The Talk programme,Gates,who is on a visit to India for work related to his charitable foundation,said the world needed newer crops with increased productivity,better adaptability to changing climatic conditions and the ones that use less of insecticides. And these,he said,could only be made through innovations in agricultural biotechnology sector.

“Technology,properly applied,is the reason,if you like,why nine billion people can live on this planet without destroying it,” said Gates who toured remote villages in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar during his visit.

“There is a rice,here in India,that… even when it gets submerged under water,it survives. That is a fantastic example of technology helping the poor farmers… As the climate gets more challenging,in fact,we absolutely need crops that can deal with drought,that can deal with rain… We need to use science in the right way. If we just stick to what we have now,we would not be able to feed the growing population,” he said.

His comments are significant in the backdrop of a raging debate over the need for genetically modified food crops in India. The topmost regulatory body on GM crops,Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC),had last year approved genetically modified variety of brinjal for commercial cultivation but its decision was put on indefinite hold by Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh.

Gates,who runs one of the largest charities in the world in association with his wife Melinda,said ideological opposition to genetically engineered food crops was something that he did not agree with.

“Yes,you need to have a proper regulatory authority that’s looking at how this (GM crops) is being developed. But you need that (regulatory framework) for all the new crops,no matter what technique,including normal cross- breeding,is used. But innovation is very,very important. After all,we are going to have to grow more food on the acreage that we have on this planet to be able to feed our growing population,” he said.

He said the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation,whose primary concern has been healthcare till now,was putting in money in agriculture projects as well.

Gates,who led Microsoft to become the world’s most valuable company,said he was very impressed with the government’s initiative to give unique identity numbers to the people.

“I am a big fan of the work being done in that aspect. It is a pioneering project. I am sure there will be challenges but I think it’s a very important piece of work,” he said,urging the government to put in enough safety mechanisms in place to ensure that the data being collected was used in a safe manner.

“As soon as the government starts to use digital tools,it needs to have clean rules in place about what is private and who can use what data,” he said.

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