What the Green Revolution Teaches Us

The issue concerning GM crops is not that Bt brinjal was consigned to cold storage but the process that led to its approval being held in abeyance.

The priority our environment and forest ministry gave public consultation over scientific evidence in reaching a negative verdict on Bt Brinjal calls for a look back at the process leading to the adoption of high-yielding varieties (HYV) that ushered the Green Revolution. The courage and tact then minister of agriculture C Subramaniam exhibited in navigating the process eventually earned him India's highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna. And late Dr Norman E Borlaug, the inventor of the new technology with HYV seeds at its centre, won the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize.

In the mid-1960 s when Subramaniam became the minister of agriculture, India suffered from such serious food shortages that then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri called upon all Indians to miss one meal each week. Around this time, assisted by the Rockefeller Foundation and Ford Foundation, Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) had been experimenting with the seeds and cultivation method of Dr Borlaug. The IARI had observed in its experiments yields twice those obtained in traditional agriculture. Ralph Cummings of the Rockefeller Foundation brought the studies based on IARI experiments to the attention of Subramaniam . The latter had the studies reviewed by a panel of scientists he himself appointed. The panel overwhelmingly, though not unanimously, recommended in favour of the new technology.