World
US uses 'Intel Inside' model to push GM crops
The 'Intel Inside' model has become the template for deploying agricultural biotechnology from American publicly-funded research institutions and private corporations to farmers in developing countries.
 
Just as the combination of Microsoft's Windows software and Intel's assurance of ever-increasing computing power drove the growth of the personal computer industry, genetically-modified disease, insect and stress tolerant traits developed for philanthropy or profit in the United States are being tailored for regional requirements by national partners for cultivation by farmers, says Vijay K. Vijayaraghavan, chairman of the Hyderabad-based Sathguru Management Consultants.
 
Sathguru is the South Asia coordinator for Agricultural Biotechnology Support Programme - II, a US government-funded initiative led by Cornell University to popularise GM crops. (ABSP II delicately calls itself an effort to enable farmers and consumers worldwide to make informed choices about bio-engineered products!).
 
In the case of insect-resistant Bt brinjal, whose release in India for commercial cultivation was stalled five years ago by then environment minister Jairam Ramesh, the gene, toxic to the fruit and shoot borer, was licensed by Monsanto, the US crop science company (2014 sales $15.85 billion) to Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company (Mahyco).
 
What was not heard in the din created by those opposed to the technology was that Mahyco had allowed Tamil Nadu Agriculture University, Varanasi's Indian Vegetable Research Institute and the University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad, to incorporate the gene in open pollinating varieties of brinjal, whose seed farmers could save and use for free. Mahyco reserved the right to sell hybrid seeds.
 
While India spurned the offer, the Bangladesh Agriculture Research institute (BARI), went ahead and released the Bt varieties in October 2013 under the same arrangement with Mahyco as in India.
 
Those opposing Bt cotton, the only GM crop approved in India, cite as a reason the high cost of hybrids which cannot be re-used (without loss of vigour). The seed is under price control; a packet of 450 grams cannot be sold for more than Rs 930 ($15). Farmers do not seem to mind as 95 percent of India's cotton acreage is now planted with the insect-resistant hybrids. They are possibly compensated by savings from reduction in pesticide sprays and crop damage.
 
Bt brinjal is being grown by 108 farmers in Bangladesh and the crop is now being harvested. Farmers have reported good gains from savings in pesticide sprays and higher prices as the fruits are unlikely to be damaged from inside.
 
Bharat Char, who leads biotechnology research at Mahyco, says savings can be as high as Rs.16,000 an acre.
 
Similarly, for late blight resistance in potatoes, the gene has been provided by the University of Wisconsin and Venganza, a private company. The potato incorporates modified bits of the late blight's own gene, through a technique called gene silencing, which enters the disease-causing microorganisms when they attack potatoes, causing them to self-destruct.
 
Venganza is Spanish for revenge. Local varieties incorporating the gene are being developed by the Central Potato Research Institute, Shimla, BARI and Icabiograd, Indonesia's institute for research in agricultural biotechnology.
 
Navigating the thicket of patents can be tricky. Vijayaraghavan explains in an article in the Journal of Intellectual Property Rights that scientists at Cornell University had found a naturally-occurring sugar called trehalose which helps plants cope with and recover from extreme stress. The university had patented a method to put the trait into rice varieties, but could not transfer it outside the US, as an MNC had secured protection for a similar technology.
 
A way out of the tangle was found by getting Greengene Biotech, a co-developer and co-patent applicant with Cornell, in South Korea (where the MNC did not have the patent) to make the technology available to India, with Sathguru securing the MNC's consent. The technology was transferred to Bangladesh by fulfilling the material transfer agreement guidelines and licensing obligations.
 
Evaluation of the transgenic seeds was done by the Directorate of Rice Research, Hyderabad, and Delhi's ICGEB, a non-profit research organization set up by Unido, a UN agency. The testing was undertaken by the Central Soil Salinity Research Institute, Karnal.
 
The Intel Inside model has been emulated by the Indo-Swiss Collaboration in Biotechnology to craft transgenic chickpea which is resistant to the pod borer and cowpea aphids. An agreement has been reached between Assam Agricultural University, Kolkata's Bose Institute and Swiss research organizations for the development of technologies, adherence to milestones, acquisition of relevant new skills and the regulation of intellectual property rights.
 
Based on the highest bid, the technology was transferred to Mahyco on a non-exclusive basis for development of pest resistant hybrids and conduct of biosafety trials.
 
Eight traits in 17 crops are being evaluated for safety by 32 institutions in the country. Field trials are allowed in only four states. The centre is coy about allowing commercial cultivation of GM crops. Intel Inside seems unable to overcome the opposition outside.

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President confers Bharat Ratna on Malviya
President Pranab Mukherjee on Monday conferred the Bharat Ratna posthumously on Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya and the Padma Vibhushan on veteran BJP leader L.K. Advani.
 
The president gave the awards at a ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan here.
 
Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal was also honoured with Padma Vibhushan.
 
Earlier, the president presented the Bharat Ratna to former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee at his residence on March 27.

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Floods ravage Kashmir Valley
 Floods ravaged Kashmir Valley on Monday following incessant rainfall over the past four days. Anxious people began to leave for safer places as authorities kept a watch on swollen mountain streams and the Jhelum river which was in spate.
 
Authorities on Monday declared floods in the Kashmir Valley.
 
People feared a repeat of 2014 when floods had left a trail of destruction and death in the state.
 
"Flood level was 22.8 feet at Sangam (Anantnag), 19 feet at Ram Munshi Bagh (Srinagar) and 11.55 feet at Ashim (Bandipora) today (Monday) morning. All officials have been ordered to report for duty and remain available at their places of posting," a top divisional administration official told IANS here.
 
The official added that people living along the banks of Jhelum are advised to exercise extreme caution. "Moving to safer places from vulnerable areas is advised."
 
People living in flood-prone areas of Srinagar city, especially those in Rajbagh, Jawahar Nagar, Gogjibagh, Wazir Bagh and some other places have already started migrating to safer places since Sunday evening.
 
Many shopkeepers in the Residency Road and Lal Chowk commercial hub of the city were seen shifting merchandise to safer places.
 
These areas had been the worst hit during the unprecedented floods last September.
 
Over 80 public and private properties suffered partial or total damage because of incessant rains during the last two days in the Valley.
 
The strategic Jammu-Srinagar highway has also been closed since Saturday. Authorities in Jammu said the highway would remain closed on Monday as well.
 
An avalanche warning was also sounded in the higher reaches of the state and all examinations scheduled have been postponed up to April 3.
 
Inter-district connectivity has also been badly affected in the Valley.
 
Srinagar-Gulmarg, Srinagar-Kupwara and Srinagar-Bandipora roads have been blocked due to flash floods and washing away of some bridges and culverts on these roads.
 
The weather office has forecast improvement in weather from Monday.
 
"There would be decrease in precipitation from today (Monday). Another western disturbance is likely to hit the state on April 2, but the intensity of that western disturbance is going to be much less than the one that had been active here during the last four days," Sonam Lotus, director of the local Met Office told IANS here.
 

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