GMOs are microorganisms, plants and animals that have had their genes altered to produce a desired effect that is meant to benefit people in some way. Usually they are modified either to further scientific research or to alter the food supply. Common genetic modifications include; cloning of both animals and plants, injecting growth hormones in animals, adding antibacterial genes to plants, introducing genes that make organisms bigger or harder, and making new foods by mixing genes from existing ones. GM crop is a plant into which one or more genes have been artificially inserted instead of the plant acquiring them natural conditions of cross-breeding or natural recombination. The inserted gene sequence, known as the transgene, may be from same species, a different species within the same kingdom or even from a different kingdom (e.g. Bt Corn, which produces the natural insecticide, contain a gene from a bacterium).The global area in which GM crops are grown is increasing. Its area has increased more than 30-fold, from 1.7 million hectares in 1996 to 52.6 million hectares in 2001 and reached 134 million hectares in 2009 (www.gmo). The main GM crops are soybean (63%), maize (19%), cotton (13%) and canola (5%). GM crops are topics of ongoing debate worldwide. Some countries have adopted them and the rest are skeptical about the adverse effects. Herbicide tolerance (e.g., Roundup Ready in soybean-Monsanto) is the dominant trait in GM crops, followed by insect resistance.
However, in Nepal, formally, no GM crops/seeds are registered, introduced and grown so far. Recently the issue has been raised by civil society, media and farmers’ rights based organizations regarding GMOs and terminator seeds. Terminator technology is not allowed in Nepal as per provision of national policy/legislation. Whereas, Nepal is in its infant stage in GM crop testing, quality control and development of legislation. Research can be done with the permission from authorized agencies but the government can ban import and research on any GMOs with potential risk to alter diversity and negative impact on health and environment.
The use of hybrids is common in vegetable crops, maize and rice in Nepal. It is due to the commercialization, eases avail of hybrid seeds in agro-vets however costlier, developed by multinational seed companies. Unavailability and poor quality source seeds of national open pollinated varieties (OPVs) also forcing farmers to use hybrid seeds in particular vegetable crops.
Still there is a huge gap between the demand and supply of vegetable seed in Nepal. The requirement of vegetable seed for the year 2010/11 has been estimated at 1977 mt, of which around 1158 mt (58%) is supplied by domestic production and the rest 829 mt (42%) is met either by import or by seed saved through farmer-to-farmer exchange. Nearly eighty-five percent of the total vegetable seeds import is by hybrid (VDD 2066/67).
The main reasons are that commercialization of fresh vegetables in urban and periurban areas is increasing at a faster rate, less varietal options and poor quality of national seeds. Also, the price of imported seed is still nearly six times higher than the price of locally produced seed (SDC 2009). Attraction to hybrids is mainly due to well packed, branding and higher profit margins for agro-vets. On the other hand, locally produced seeds are facing problems of timely inspection, labeling, packaging, branding and marketing at full strength.
Hybrid maize is mostly grown in terai and plains during winter season and partly in mid hills during normal season. Similarly, hybrid rice is also grown mainly in terai regions and partly in foot hills and mid hills during the normal season.
In recent days, an issue of hybrid seeds and GMO has obtained a huge discussion in Nepalese media. Some of the issues in the context of Nepalese seed sector are as follows
•Many farmers are using hybrid seeds that are not produced in Nepal commercially. Hence seed import is encouraged.
•Hybrid seeds are very expensive for small and subsistence farmers. Hybrid seed production system has not established in Nepal
•Confusion arises between GM seeds and hybrid seeds. Lack of perfect knowledge and awareness about the genesis of these.
•Large number of agro-vet (2200 registered in NSB) owners are from non agriculture background and are not technically capable enough for handling and providing appropriate information to farmers on hybrid seeds.
•Lack of awareness programs on potential risks and benefits GMOs and products thereof and the biosafety measures to be adopted.
•Lack of strong policies, mechanism, physical facilities and skilled human resources for GMO control and regulation.
SOME FUTURE ACTIONS TO REDUCE INFLOW OF HYBRIDS AND REGULATION OF GMOs.
2. Remove the present subsidies provided in imported hybrid seeds and increase the subsidies in national seeds.
3. Control and regulation of GMOs based on bio-safety reports and ban/don’t allow import and use of terminator technology.
4 .Enhance technical and physical capacity of GMOs laboratory under SQCC for proper detection, identification and quantification of GMOs.
5 .Strengthening the partnership between public and private sector for producing hybrid seed is essential.
6 .Seed production zones should be identified, declared and provide priority on support to transportation, agriculture soft loans as stipulated in ABPP, 2063. Similarly identify the zone where seed for import substitution and export can be produced and prioritize for facility provisions.
7. The official linkage mechanism should be developed between Nepali and foreign seed dealers to facilitate import and export of seed.
8 .Priority should be given for hybrid research and development on maize, rice and vegetables (cauliflower, cabbage, tomato, cucurbits and many crops)
9 .Effective quality monitoring policy supported with strengthened SPS measures required.
10 .Select a very useful hybrid variety, which fits to the national interest and is suitable to our environment.
National legislative, administrative and technical competency on research and testing of seed, plants, food, feed and animals with GMOs should be strengthened along with public participation for making decisions whether to allow or restrict the import of the tested GMOs. Public participation is necessary in the decision making process of production, import, handling and use of GMOs and hybrids. As GMOs affect human health and the biological diversity, people at all levels should be aware of both the positive and negative aspects of GMOs. As a part of the public awareness program, it is required to disseminate available information on GMOs and products thereof through appropriate media, languages and publications. There is an urgent need for research and development of national hybrids with strengthening its human, financial, technical and physical resources, so as to slowly reduce the dependency of imported hybrids. In addition, the national seed system should be strengthened through increased public, private and cooperatives involvement in seed multiplication, quality control; processing, storage and marketing of farmers’ preferred crop varieties for sustainable seed supply with the technical support from research, development and academia.