The eminent personalities on the stage,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am extremely delighted to be present among the great scientists, educationalists, policy-makers working on Agro-biodiversity and my farmer brothers. I welcome the delegates from different countries to this historic town. For the first time such an event on a crucial topic like Agro- biodiversity has been organised at the international level.
The unprecedented developmental activities over the years have caused severe damage to our environment. This exploitation of the environment has accelerated only in the past few decades.
Therefore, the challenges will increase in the future. Research and discussion is crucial for ensuring security in global food, nutrition, health and environment.
India is rich in biodiversity due to its Geo-diversity topography and different types of climatic zones. The west is characterized by desert while the Northeast is one of the wettest regions of the country; the north is flanked by the Himalayas while the south is known for the seas.
More than 47000 plant species and more than 89000 animal species are found in India. India has a coastline of more than 8100 km.
It is interesting to note that despite having only 2.5% of the world’s total land area, India supports 17% of the human population 18% of the animal population and 6.5% of the biodiversity of the world.
For the past thousands of years we have been an agricultural based society. Even today agriculture sector provides employment to more than 50% of the country’s population.
The philosophy of the Indian agriculture has been to be productive while keeping the natural resources intact. Today all the development programmes around the world are centred around this very philosophy.
The conservation of the biodiversity should be driven by our consciousness and not by rules and regulations. For this we have to forget the old ideas and learn new ideas and techniques. The Indian philosophy of environmental consciousness can be found in Isavasya Upanishad. According to this concept man is just a small part in this bio-centric world which means that the importance of flora and fauna is not less than that of the human beings.
The United Nations Millennium Development Goal has accepted the significance of the role of cultures in the course of development. Even the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has acknowledged the fact that a contribution of the different societies and cultures is significant for development.
Therefore the role of culture in balancing development with the environment is significant. We should not forget that in the word ‘agriculture’ the word ‘culture’ is explicit.
Today plethora of species is surviving in India because our ancestors were experts in socio-economic policy. They had associated produce with the society’s rituals. For example, rice grains will be used with Tilak and betel leaves will be used for worshipping. During Navratri buckwheat flour is used for making bread. In this way the society’s rituals helped not only for conservation but also benefitted the farmers.
Friends, we should deeply contemplate the fact that despite the acceptance of the provisions of 1992 biological diversity convention, daily about 50 to 150 species are getting extinct. In the coming days, there is a high probability of 1 out of 8 birds and one fourth of the animal species getting extinct.
Therefore, there is a need to change the thoughts process. We should not only save the existing species but also take steps to strengthen the population of the species. Every country should learn from the examples of the other countries. This will only be possible if research activity in this area is emphasized. Different countries across the world have taken several measures to conserve the Agro biodiversity. You all decide whether these practices can be kept as a record in a database and then scientific research is conducted to check the feasibility of these practices.
There are different societies and communities in different parts of India that have conserved certain species. One such variety of rice is called Konamami which is used world over to increase the productivity. Similarly there is Pokkali variety of rice grown in Kerala which is being developed where there is excess water, or the water is salty.
I want to point out to my foreign delegates that India has more than one lakh of rice landraces and most of which are thousands of years old. Generation after generation, our farmers have developed these.
This is not confined to a specific area. There is a rice variety called Aguni Bora in Assam that can be consumed after soaking it in water for only a short while. This is low on the glycemic index which is good for diabetic people.
Similarly, Bhalia wheat in the Bhal area of Gujarat is rich in protein and Carotene. This is used to make Daliya or porridge or pasta. This variety of wheat has received the Geographical Identification tag.
India has immensely contributed in the area of Agricultural biodiversity to other Nations as well.
Murrah of Haryana and Jafarabadi buffalo of Gujarat are identified as international trans-boundary breeds. Similarly, India’s breeds of cows like Ongole, Gir and Kankrej were made available to the Latin American countries for their reproduction improvement programme. From the Sunderbans of West Bengal, the sheep breed of Garole was sent to Australia.
India is rich in animal biodiversity. But in India, nondescript animal species are inaccessible and so far only 160 species have been registered. We need to turn our research in this direction so that more animal breeds can be characterized and they can be registered as appropriate breeders.
Technology can play a big role to overcome malnutrition, hunger and poverty. But it must also be focused on how technology is affecting us. There are people here, including me, who used to remember 15-20 phone numbers a few years back. But now after the arrival of mobile phones, the condition is such that we do not remember even our own mobile number or phone number. This is the negative impact of technology.
We should carefully observe the transformation brought by technology in agriculture. One such example is that of a honey bee. 3 years back Honey Bee was on the cover page of TIME magazine. It was said that because of the indiscriminate use of pesticides, the honey bees were unable to reach to their hives. We know the significance of honey bees in pollination. As a result of negative impacts of pesticides on the honey bees, productivity started falling.
The use of pesticides in the agricultural ecosystem is a serious cause of concern. These pesticides kill not only the harmful insects but also eliminate the beneficial insects in the process. Therefore, the audit of development of science is also necessary because the lack of it is posing several challenges to the world.
We should consider the country’s biodiversity as its strength. But this is possible only when value addition and research is emphasized. For example, the Bunny Grass of Gujarat is highly nutritious. The consumption of this grass helps the buffaloes to produce more milk. So research can be done as to how value addition to this grass can help in utilising this feature in other areas.
The earth has 70% of oceans. India has 10% of the world’s fish species. We cannot confine our resources to the fisheries. Today the scientists have researched on the potential of Seaweed cultivation. Seaweeds can be used for making bio-fertilizers. Now we need to focus on Blue revolution after the success of green and white revolution.
I want to give another example. Himachal Pradesh has a mushroom variety called Guchi which has immense medicinal value. This variety is sold up to 15000 rupees per kilo. Steps need to be taken to improve the productivity of Guchi. Similarly there is a need for value addition to grains like castor or millets.
But this needs to be done without interfering with the nature.
The mankind has created the problem of climate change by interfering with the normal processes of nature. The normal life-cycle of the plants and the animals has been disturbed because of rise in temperature. According to an estimate by 2050 about 16% of the world’s wild species can go extinct due to climate change. This is a cause of grave concern.
Therefore, India, having acknowledged this concern, had ratified the Paris Treaty on Climate Change on 2nd October, i.e., last month. India has taken the lead for the implementation of the provisions of this treaty across the world. Conservation of the environment is our responsibility.
Conservation and management of Agro- biodiversity is the priority of the entire world. The ever increasing population pressure and unprecedented developmental activities are hampering the ecological balance. One of the reasons for this is that only few crops and animals in the modern agriculture are being protected even though it was necessary for food security, environmental security as well as agricultural development.
One of the important aspects of protection of biodiversity is preparing the surrounding environment for the challenges. For this, we not only need to conserve the specific gene in the gene banks but also need to make it available for the farmers’ use so that the gene develops immunity by growing in the fields under atmospheric pressure.
We need to develop a mechanism so that the farmers can make an assessment of the price for the desirable genes and they get a fair price for their crops.
The international, national and private organisations’ technology and resources should be pooled-in for deriving successful results in biodiversity conservation. In this way we can move in the direction of a shared vision.
We also have to see how we can merge the different laws for biodiversity conservation so that these laws do not come in the way of the farmers and agriculture.
All of you are experts in your own field. You will be discussing the various aspects of Agro biodiversity in the coming days.
Today the world is facing the challenge of poverty, hunger and malnutrition. The role of Science and Technology is crucial in addressing these challenges. While addressing these pertinent questions, sustainable development and biodiversity conservation should also be taken into consideration.
Friends, our agro-biodiversity is the heritage for the future generations, and we only have to protect it. Thus, with the concerted efforts we must ensure that these natural resources are left for our future generations in the same form as our ancestors had bequeathed to us. With this, once again I welcome you all.
Thanks a lot!