Vol. 4 Num 105 Tue. September 09, 2003  
Front Page

Govt, AL agree on pursuing biotech to up food output

The government has agreed to pursue agricultural biotechnology to raise food production, while the main opposition Awami League (AL) has pledged support for getting a biosafety act passed in parliament.

The government's policy standing and the opposition's commitment came at a dialogue held in the city yesterday on 'Sustainable Agricultural Growth in Bangladesh: Should We Go for Biotechnology for Rice Improvement?'

The Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), an independent thinktank, organised the dialogue at the BRAC Centre Inn auditorium. Agriculture Minister MK Anwar and State Minister for Agriculture Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir attended the dialogue as chief and special guests with the CPD Chairman Prof Rehman Sobhan in the chair.

Head of the social science division of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) Dr Mahabub Hossain, IRRI scientist Dr Swapan K Datta and BRAC University teacher Prof Muazzam Husain jointly presented the key note paper titled 'Rice Biotechno-logy:

Opportunity, Perceived Risks and Potential Benefits to Bangladesh'.

Lawmakers, agricultural scientists, agro-biotechnologists, economists, NGO and civil society activists and government officials took part in the three-hour discussion.

The agriculture minister said the government would encourage agro-biotechnological research but at the same time keep an eye on any negative fallout and the associated risk factors.

He said given the reality of gradual shrinkage of arable land in Bangladesh and increasing size of population, higher risk-taking might be a better option than let people starve.

The state minister for agriculture said the country needs to ensure food security without compromising its farming heritage, ecology and biodiversity. "We've to pursue frontier researches through proper risk management," he said.

Opposition lawmaker and Agriculture Secretary of the Awami League Dr Abdur Razzak said the AL would support passage of biosafety act in parliament. He deplored the fact that Bangladesh was lagging behind in tapping the benefits of crop biotechnology.

In his presidential deliberation, the CPD chairman emphasised exploiting all the opportunities without having any damaging effects on the country's agriculture.

Earlier, one of the keynote presenters Dr Swapan K Datta of IRRI explained the science of rice biotechnology and narrated how vitamin A-enriched genetically modified rice could address the problems of anaemia and vitamin deficiencies among the malnourished children in Bangladesh as elsewhere in the developing world.

Datta, who has successfully transferred vitamin A producing gene into Bangladesh's most productive rice variety, BRRIDhan-29, emphasised that risk factors should not send the science to the backseat.

The keynote stressed that the government must take a stand on biotechnology research and import of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and have a proper policy in place.

Director General of Bangla-desh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) Dr Nurul Islam Bhuiyan said his institute had applied through the agriculture ministry to the science and technology ministry for permission to pursue adaptive research on vitamin A-enriched BRRI Dhan-29.