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.