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India's Agri-Biotech Cliff

The stalemate in agri-biotech is turning away investors

Published: Apr 15, 2013 06:16:14 AM IST
Updated: Apr 10, 2013 12:22:02 PM IST

The 2013 budget gave agriculture a much-needed bonanza: Rs 500 crore for crop diversification; Rs 3,415 crore for agri-research. But with the Biotech Regulator Authority of India Bill pending before Parliament and the logjam on genetically modified (GM) crops, which has turned away industry and investors, agri-biotech is facing a cliff.

How many crops?
About 12 crops are ready for advanced testing in multiple locations, or for commercial release. These include:

  • Food crops: Rice (including public sector golden rice), maize, sorghum, groundnut, sugarcane, brinjal, cabbage
  • Non-food crops: Castor, cotton and rubber
  • Research pipeline has 74 crops, including pomegranate, banana and papaya

The loss
  • Complete deadlock for the past three years
  • 50 proposals lying with the government
  • Constitution of a new regulator
  • No venture capitalist or private equity investments in the past three years, despite agri-biotech being the third largest revenue earner in the biotech industry.

What is at stake?
From 1950 to 2011, food grain production rose from 50 million tonnes to 241 million tonnes. It needs to be 400 million tonnes by 2040. Average availability of land per capita has dropped from 0.21 hectares to 0.10 hectares in the past 13 years. The government acknowledges GM crops can help ensure food security, reduce pressure on land.
  • GM technology can help ensure bio-fortification (adding nutrients to crops).
  • GM seeds cost 25% more, but less water and pesticides are required.

“While commercialisation of few GM crops is delayed as much as by five years, investment in R&D and infrastructure development is retarded, and many opportunities for FDI could potentially be lost. In order to eliminate the bottleneck, it is imperative that the Biotech Regulator Authority of India gets commissioned sooner”

PM Murali
President, Association of Biotech-Led Enterprises

(This story appears in the 19 April, 2013 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)