Mains Paper 3: Agriculture | Food Security
From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:
Prelims level: Mariculture, various edible seaweeds, Photorespiration, Project RIPE
Mains level: In light of declining land crop productivity, the newscard emphasizes the feasibility of Seaweeds as an alternative food
Food Security at stake
- About 37% of the area of the entire world is agricultural land, a third of which (about 11%) is used for crops.
- And as the population of the world rises to 9.7 billion people in 30 years, the land available for crops will reduce.
- Thus, there is an immediate need to try and improve the efficiency of food production.
- Experts predict that agricultural yield must increase by 50% between now and 2050.
- How to do this is the question facing agricultural scientists across the world.
What can be done to increase Productivity?
I. Engineered Photosynthesis under Project RIPE
- One way of increasing productivity one such attempt is through the project RIPE (Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency).
- It has shown in the model plant tobacco where the scientists could “engineer photosynthesis” by increasing the expression of three genes involved in processing light.
- This increases the tobacco yield by 20%. The team is trying to do the same genetic engineering method in other plants.
- One such plant is cassava (also called sago or sabudana) whose roots are carbohydrate-rich is eaten as staple food in parts of Andhra, Kerala and the hilly areas of Assam.
II. Reducing Photorespiration
- Another way that scientists are trying is to reduce what is called photorespiration in plants.
- Here the energy and oxygen produced in the ‘light reaction’ of photosynthesis is drained by the plant to make “wasteful” products in the ‘dark reaction’.
- It consumes carbohydrates and other food material, particularly when the plant’s leaves close in order to reduce water loss by evaporation.
- If we can find ways to reduce this photorespiration, edible food yields can go up.
- Many of these research attempts involve the introduction of external genes and gene products into food crops.
- These are opposed by group of people who do not want genetic engineering and genetically modified plants.
- This is a curious situation where science finds ways to deal with genes so as to improve yields while sociology opposes it based on worries about safety.
- A viable solution needs to be found, failing which food production may not increase all to feed the ever growing population of the world.
Mariculture: A Feasible Option
- The most efficient use of photosynthesis is actually not by land plants but by micro and macro algae, such as seaweeds.
- These are the champions, contributing to about 50% of all photosynthesis in the world.
- Many of them, notably those with dark green, red and brown colour, are edible.
- They are low-calorie and nutrient-dense food items and eaten by people in most parts of South East Asia.
Include seaweeds in our diet
- Seaweeds are rich sources of vitamins A and C, and minerals such as Ca, Mg, Zn, Se and Fe.
- They also have a high level of vegetable proteins and omega 3 and 6 fatty acids.
- Best of all, they are vegetarian, indeed vegan, and do not have any fishy smell, thus good and acceptable.
Seaweeds in India
- About 844 seaweed species are reported from India, a country with a coast line of 7,500 km.
- While we have 63% of our land area for crop agriculture, we should not forget this vast coastal area, much of which breeds seaweeds.
- The Central Salt and Marine Chemicals Research Institute (CSMCRI) at Bhavnagar, Gujarat has done pioneering work in the area.
- The seaweeds found in plenty, Ulva, Pyropia, Porphyra and Kappaphycus are edible and that it will be good to cultivate them in large scale, as is done in countries like Japan.
- Of the 306 seaweeds in the Gulf of Mannar, 252 are edible.
- India should embark on Mariculture as vigorously as Agriculture, given its 7,500 km-long coastal line.
- Further, it does not require pesticides, fertilizers and water for irrigation, which is an added advantage.
- We may “break in” through the use of seaweeds as pizza seasoning, in spice sachets, so that people get used to them.