Biotech #FoodHeroes: Ravichandran Vanchinathan

Farmer, Global Farmer Network India

Ravichandran Vanchinathan

Ravichandran Vanchinathan recalls that many eyebrows were raised when he chose to become a farmer back in 1985.

“It was not considered the most attractive profession among my peers,” he says.

But Vanchinathan wanted a career that would present him with challenges, opportunities for financial success and a way to serve society. He found it in farming, which in India provides direct and indirect employment to 50 percent of the country.

Vanchinathan quickly adopted biotechnology “to not only enhance the yield, but to also enhance the productivity of the land.” His successful experience with insect resistant Bt cotton prompted him to begin working as an agricultural advocate. He joined the Global Farmer Network and uses various platforms to dispel misinformation about biotechnology and ensure that political leaders understand how it can help farmers succeed.

“India is an agrarian country, so it is important that our views on farming systems and technologies are taken into account by policymakers,” he says. “I am particularly proud of the work I have done to raise and amplify the voices of farmers, and to advocate for their right to use modern farming technologies.”

Vanchinathan sees biotechnology as particularly useful in ending hunger and improving nutrition. “If all farmers had access to biotechnology, the world would be a better place to live in,” he says. “Farming would be more profitable, and hunger and malnutrition could become a thing of the past.”

He also believes that expanding the use of technology in agriculture will make farming “an enviable profession” that is attractive to youth. In fact, Vanchinathan is already seeing a trend in that direction.

“It is heartening when young people get in touch today for advice on taking it up as a full-time profession,” he says.

How can science and innovation help support farmers and make food systems more resilient?

The positive impact of science has always been transforming farming ever since farming was domesticated. The significant transformation took place in the mid-1960s during the Green Revolution era. The high-yielding varieties of wheat and rice transformed India from being a land-dependent on food imports for partially feeding less than 50 % of the present population; to a nation with an exportable surplus.

Now we have new challenges. We need to feed the growing population not only with sufficient food but also with nutritious food. We need to address the hidden hunger. We need to drive away malnutrition from the face of the earth. While achieving this task we need to factor in the scarce resources like reduced arable land as compared to the lands available 6 decades back, depleting water resources, scarce manpower, etc.

Had Golden Rice been not vetoed by the anti-science activists we could have helped millions of people turning blind due to Vitamin A deficiency and saved thousands of lives suffering from chronic Vitamin A deficiency. We could have transformed the economic conditions of millions of farmers like me. Science has the potential to breed crop varieties resilient to various biotic and abiotic stress factors. We need pest-resistant, disease-free crops. We need to address the problem of weed which compete with the plant for nutrients, water, and sunlight besides acting as alternate hosts for pest and disease-causing pathogens. We need plants that could withstand abiotic stress factors like flood, drought, salinity.