By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: Is rice dying? Environment experts feel that the
rich biodiversity of rice is fast depleting with only a handful of
commercially viable varieties being cultivated the world over.
In the last 100 years as many as 1,00,000 varieties of rice have
simply vanished from the fields. Today there are fewer than a dozen
varieties planted in 70 per cent of the land under rice. Indian rice
varieties are famous for their quality, aroma and grain length and any
disturbance to the rice biodiversity will have a catastrophic impact
on the agro-economy of the country.
Tinkering with rice like attempts to produce golden rice and GE rice
has come in for sharp criticism from biodiversity experts.
“Rice is not just a daily source of calories. It is intrinsically
linked to Asian lifestyles and heritage,” argues Aziz Choudry,
researcher and activist from New Zealand.
A fact sheet published by Pesticide Action Network Asia and the
Pacific (PANAP) points out that rice is the staple food for half the
people on Earth, and is at the heart of Asia’s diverse cultures. Yet
its future, along with that of millions of small-scale rive farmers,
many of them women, is in jeopardy. “Transnational corporations are
shifting control of rice production away from farming communities
which have grown and nurtured countless rive varieties over
centuries,” it adds.
Dr Ricarda A Steinbrecher, co-director of EcoNexus, a public interest
research organisation based in the UK, cautions that with the advent
of science and modern technology in agriculture, the arrival of
uniform seeds, fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, the rich
diversity of rice varieties has decreased drastically.
“With three billion people consuming rice, profits promise to be high
for any company or corporation that can acquire proprietary rights
over the rice seed. Genetic engineering is an important tool towards
this end as it enables companies to claim ownership over the “new
seeds” they have “invented” giving them a legal basis to control its
sale and use,” Dr Ricarda clarifies.
Charito P Medina, environmental biologist from the Philippines, said
there was no need for “golden rice”, which is genetically modified to
hold more quantity of vitamin A. “Vegetables and fruits like sweet
potatoes, mangoes and carrots are rich in vitamin A and there is no
need to include vitamin A in rice,” Charito added.
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