Golden Rice

  • Bangladesh is soon to announce the approval of golden rice for sale and use, making it first country in the world to embrace Golden Rice.
  • Bangladesh completed the confined field testing of golden rice at the Bangladesh Rice Research Institute (BRRI) in early 2017.
  • In Bangladesh, the rice is being developed by the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute.
  • Researchers bred the beta-carotene genes into a rice variety named dhan 29, which is grown widely during the dry season in Bangladesh and contributes about 14% of the national harvest.

Opposition in Bangladesh

  • Bangladesh farmers and environment groups are angry over the government’s decision to allow commercial cultivation of Golden Rice.
  • Activists fear that commercial cultivation would lead to the loss of Bangladesh’s rich bio-diversity. This could further push for public acceptance of genetically-modified crops, eroding the food diversity, traditional seeds, as well as increase corporate control on local agriculture system.
  • They claim that in comparison to golden rice, sweet potato has more than 50 times more beta-carotene level. Further, sweet potatoes can be grown on even non-arable land in Bangladesh.

What is Golden Rice?

  • Golden Rice is conventional rice that has been genetically engineered to have high levels of beta-carotene, the precursor to vitamin A.
  • To create golden rice, scientists modified rice plants with beta-carotene genes from maize. By doing this, rice plants started to produce the rich orange-coloured pigment.

Timeline of Development

  • The search for a golden rice started off as a Rockefeller Foundation initiative in 1982.
  • The breakthrough was achieved in the year 1999, when two biologists Ingo Potrykus of the Institute of Plant Sciences in Switzerland and Prof Peter Beyer at Freiburg University in Germany, successfully developed the golden rice.
  • The first field trials of golden rice cultivars were conducted by Louisiana State University Agricultural Center in 2004.
  • Later, additional trials have been conducted in the Philippines and Taiwan, and in Bangladesh.

Varieties

  • The two versions of Golden Rice developed so far- Golden Rice 1 and 2, both Japonica (sticky, dryland) rices.

Need

  • According to the World Health Organization(WHO) estimate, about 250 million preschool children are affected by VAD and about 2.7 million children die because of the deficiency. In the given scenario, adoption of Golden Rice could prove to very beneficial to the populations in the developing countries.

Benefits

  • Conventional rice is naturally low in the pigment beta-carotene, which the body uses to make Vitamin A. Golden rice contains this, which is the reason for its golden colour.
  • Research has indicated that one cup of Golden Rice can provide up to 50 percent of the daily requirement of an adult for vitamin A.
  • The rice has the potential to reduce or eliminate much of the death and disease caused by Vitamin A deficiency(VAD), which is the leading cause of blindness among children and can also lead to death due to infectious diseases such as measles.
  • There are various economic benefits to be gained by countries that adopt Golden Rice. As Golden Rice tackles the issue of malnourishment, better public health allows for poor people to feel healthier and live longer, and therefore spend less on medical care; it can also increase unskilled labor productivity

Issues

Storage Issue

  • There has been storage issue with the Golden Rice as the beta-carotene in rice is unstable in the presence of oxygen. Thus, under normal storage conditions, the beta-carotene in Golden Rice grains will rapidly degrade.
  • Under tropical farming, storage, and household conditions, degradation may be faster stillthat may prove even more troublesome for the proposed nutritional benefits of Golden Rice than its initial low levels.
  • The Golden Rice should not be stored for more than three months after which it may lose its nutrients, making its consumption insignificant.

Quality and Quantitative Issue

  • In 2017, a study by Indian Council of Agricultural Science discovered abnormalities in golden rice traits, and lower productivity in its traits, both qualitatively (lower Vitamin-A content) and quantitively (yield wise).
  • Further, it has been noted that Golden Rice does not provide enough Vitamin A, 1.6 ug of vitamin A per gram of rice, as being claimed. One has to consume over 3300 grams of rice to achieve daily intake of Vitamin A. This amount would be too much for anyone living in areas that need the rice.
  • Furthermore Vitamin A is fat soluble, so one will need fat in his diet to be able to intake the vitamin A. Unfortunately, adequate protein and fat are not readily available in developing nations where the grain is targeted at. Therefore it brings the debate as to whether this grain will have the health benefits it sets out to achieve.

Ethical Issue

  • There have been raising concerns regarding the ethical implications of introducing Golden Rice.Is it fair to use developing nations as guinea pigs in this experiment?
  • So far no research or tests have been done to indicate the human health effects on consumption of this genetically modified crop. It could be deemed inhumane to mass produce a crop without knowing its full implications, possibly putting millions of people’s lives at risk.
  • Furthermore, forcing this crop onto indigenous farmers changing their livelihoods and current methods of farming that they have been practicing for their entire lives also raises the ethical questions on the mass acceptance of this crop.

Golden Rice in India

  • In 2016, the then President of India, Pranab Mukherjee said that IARI has developed a genetically-modified golden rice enriched with pro-vitamin A along with other such crops.
  • In Bihar, a project called Development of Golden Rice is pushing golden rice for various agro-ecological zones. The Rajendra Agricultural University was given financial support o under the national agriculture development programme (Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana).
  • Two ICAR research bodies, Indian Agricultural Research and National Plant Genomics Centre, were commissioned the research to develop a hybrid before the rice trait could be introduced in India - by cross breeding it with a local rice variety ‘Swarna’.
  • The resulting plants were dwarf with pale green leaves and drastically reduced panicle size, grain number and yield as compared to the recurrent parent, Swarna.

International Rice Research Institute(IRRI)

  • IRRI is an independent, nonprofit, research and educational institute, founded in 1960 by the Ford and Rockefeller foundations with support from the Philippine government. The institute, headquartered in Los Banos, Philippines.
  • It is the world’s premier research organization dedicated to reducing poverty and hunger through rice science; improving the health and welfare of rice farmers and consumers; and protecting the rice-growing environment for future generations.
  • IRRI is well known for its contribution to the "Green Revolution" movement in Asia during the late 1960s and 1970s.

Way Forward

  • Rice feeds half the world daily. In many countries, rice provides more than 60%, perhaps 80%, of calories daily. Vitamin A deficiency is widespread, and is particularly severe in those countries where rice is the staple food.
  • For these reasons, the leadership of the project to encourage and facilitate local adoption of Golden Rice has to pass from global to local. And local must include national level, and local government and village level organisation, and family organisation.

Source : Civil Services Chronicle Online, November, 2019