Genetically modified crops do not increase production, so there is no need, period. Au contraire. A 2013 study comparing yields between North America, which adopted the same GM technology in Indian mustard and Western Europe, which in fact, did not adopt Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) found that the non-GM yields from Western Europe were in fact, higher. [1]

Even as one finds ample evidence to highlight that GMOs do not outperform their conventional counterparts, there is also another fundamental question of alternatives that needs to be addressed should we look primariliy through the production lense. In order to answer this, specifically for GM Mustard, which the Indian Government is furiously batting for, Greenpeace India put together a briefing.

For one, there have also been major advances in conventional plant breeding, including the production of non-GM hybrids of Indian mustard, B. Juncea and also that of related species B. napus and B. rapa. and the development of non-GM hybrids of Indian mustard is gathering pace. Four non-GM hybrids of GM Mustard - NRCHB-506, DMH-1, CORAL-432 (PAC-432) and CORAL-437 (PAC 437)), which were released between 2008-2011 have also proven to be promising.

Marker Assisted Selection or MAS is another high-tech, conventional breeding method, which enables breeders to develop plants with desired traits through non-GM, conventional breeding. This has been succcessfully used in rice increasing yields by up to 36% and can applied to Indian mustard as well.

The System of Crop Intensification or SCI is a new new ecological method of growing mustard, which again like in MAS has been fairly successful in rice. Research indicates that SCI is effective in other crops, including Indian mustard and reported to have given yields claimed by the GM mustard. In another type of mustard tested in Gaya, yields trippled while costs halved.

Managing yields using ecological practicies such as weeding or weeding with mulching can increase yields by up to 25%. Weed-seed predation or the use of weed-free, clean-crop seeds are among other techniques that can tackle weeds in an ecological way. Yields are also a function of farming techniques, which need to be considered. In the case of mustard, the use of green manures prior to sowing mustard as organic fertiliser, inter-cropping of mustard with potato, wheat or barley, followed by only mustard, the use of mulching and hoeing practices to reduce weeds, thinning and de-topping at the budding stage of mustard and sowing of mustard after rice are all easy to implement and follow ecological principles of farming.

India has a long history of agriculture. Over centuries, farmers in this country devised practices to keep our farms sustainable. Practices like mixed cropping, crop rotation, using organic manure and pest management kept our agriculture sustainable. And we must look to that rather than false solutions such as GMOs, which pose a serious threat to food security.

In one of the most comprehensive pieces of analysis, the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), an initiative of the United Nations and World Bank, which brought together 400 scientists from across world, in its review concluded that small-scale farmers and agro-ecological methods are the way forward if the current food crisis is to be solved. The IAASTD said that to meet the needs of local communities, indigenous and local knowledge need to be declared as important as formal science. This is a significant departure from the destructive chemical-dependent, one-size- fits-all model of industrial agriculture. The report also acknowledges that genetically engineered crops are highly controversial and will not play a substantial role in addressing the key problems of climate change, biodiversity loss, hunger and poverty.

Shivani Shah is a Campaigner with Greenpeace India.

1) Heinemann, J.A., Massaro, M., Coray, D.S., Agapito-Tenfen, S.Z. & Wen, J.D. 2013. Sustainability and innovation in staple crop production in the US Midwest. International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability 12: 71-88.