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DBT impacting People’s Lives through Science

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Hon’ble Minister for Science and Technology and Earth Sciences, Dr. Harsh Vardhan today exchanged details of two programmes of the Department of Biotechnology, which are intended to have major impact on rural livelihood activities through biotech innovation.

The theme of the Press Conference at the CSIR Science Centre, New Delhi was ‘Impacting People’s Lives through Science’.

Highlights of two new programmes of the Department of Biotechnology, Biotech-KISAN and the Genomics of indigenous livestock were presented at the press conference.

Explaining the Biotech Kisan or the Biotech Krishi Innovation Science Application Programme, Dr Harsh Vardhan said that the programme focused on small farmers and the programme will be a catalyst for making the existing systems more effective in accomplishing latest validated technologies especially to farmers.

He also added that these days farmers are adept with the latest communication technologies like ‘WhatsApp’ and we need to use them to reach scientific innovations to them.
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Professor VijayRaghavan, Secretary, DBT stressed both top down as well as bottom up approaches taken in this programme would be able to meet the modern farmer’s desire for scientific approaches.

Professor VijayRaghavan also highlighted the growing need for SNP genotyping and livestock improvement in India which could help protection and conservation of indigenous breeds of cattle, identification and mapping of temperature resistance, disease resistance, milk yield and QTLs for other economically important traits and also for genetic improvement of cattle.

Several other senior DBT officials were present at the event.

Biotech KISAN [Biotech-KISAN (Biotech-Krishi Innovation Science Application Network)]

  • The DBT has pioneered in promoting “Biotechnology based Programme for Societal Development” through support to bioscience research, education and entrepreneurship programs towards development of rural population and marginalized sections of the society (SC/ST population and women).
  • While India has seen impressive economic growth in recent years and is an important global agricultural player, the small and marginal farmer is keen to reap the fruits of Science and Technology to survive, prosper and contribute to the country.
  • Realizing the need for social sector innovation through networking for impacting livelihood activities, the DBT has launched Biotech-KISAN.
  • Soil, Water, Seed and Market are the key points that concern small and marginal farmers. Biotech-KISAN aims to link farmers, scientists and science institutions across the country in a network that identifies and help solve their problems in a cooperative manner.
  • Agricultural productivity in the country is impeded by water shortages and recurrent drought, plant diseases, salinity etc. In recent years, there is increasing use of biotechnology for genetic mapping and marker-assisted selection to aid more precise and rapid development of new strains of improved crops and livestock. Other biotechnology applications, such as, tissue culture and micro-propagation are being used for the rapid multiplication of disease-free planting materials.
  • New diagnostics and vaccines are being widely adopted for the diagnosis, prevention and control of animal and fish diseases. Biotechnology has given us a new tool to improve food security and reduce poverty. This development is encouraging since the Green Revolution technologies, which have doubled food production and reduced poverty during the past three decades.
  • Biotech-KISAN started with several brainstorming sessions. Our goal at the end of this brainstorming was to develop a scheme to enhance the interaction between farmers and scientists. We must, however, remember that the farmer scientist connection is already very deep in our country. We have the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), The State Agricultural Universities (SAU), the Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVK) and the agricultural extension services.
  • Why then do we need another scheme? There are two very important reasons for this. First, today each aspect of farmer-scientist interaction, even at the places where it functions well, is in silos. Farmers need to interact with many people in many different types of laboratories and organizations.
  • The second reason is the extremely rapid changes in the farm-sector that are a consequence of climate change. The new programme will aim to improve the connection and function of existing pipelines, bring the best and most applicable of science to problem solving and connect networks of farmer scientist interactions nationally and, where needed, internationally.
  • The proposed name of the programme is Krishi Innovation Science Application Network through Biotech (KISAN-Biotech) scheme.
  • The essence of the programme is to connect farmers with science in the 15 agro-climatic zones of the country in a manner which constantly links problems with available solutions.
  • In each of these 15 regions we will have one KISAN-Biotech hub. The hub will have a KISAN-Biotech tinkering laboratory, which will act as education demonstration units to encourage grass root innovation in the young as well as women farmers. There would be a communication set-up to make radio and TV programmes for local stations, as well as, daily connectivity through the social media.
  • The KISAN-Biotech hub will have a small and nimble team that will be led by a facilitator. The facilitator will connect with the farmers through visits by the team, meetings by phone and by using WhatsApp and other methods.
  • The facilitator and team will also connect with scientists and scientific institutions so that solutions for specific problems can be speedily implemented through these connections.
  • In a manner similar to Para-medics and Para-vets a KISAN-Biotech Para-AgriScientist scheme will be put in place. These Para-AgriScientists will be trained in applying S&T to problems of Water, Soil, Seed and Market. They will be connected to farmers by phone and by a farm-ambulance, which will have basic facilities for analysis of problems and communication with other centres. It is expected that many of the Para-AgriScientists will be women. The training programmes will include visits to linked science laboratories in the agro-climatic region.
  • There will be a strong network among all the centres in each agro-climatic zone, which will also be linked to national and internal groups of farmers and scientists so that lessons learnt in one location can be applied elsewhere.
  • Indeed the most important feature of this new programme, will be the Mahila KISAN-Biotech Fellowship. The Team Fellowships will be awarded to women to develop capacity in local problem solving in farmer centric approaches, which reduce drudgery and improve the delivery pipeline from seed to product to market. Individual Fellowships will also be awarded to those who can develop into leaders or grassroot scientists in an area of the programme and help facilitate the scaling and reach of the programme.
  • In today’s world small farmers share the same challenges globally. The KISAN-Biotech programme will have global links. Farmers and scientists from other countries in similar agro-climatic zones will visit India and our farmers, particularly women will visit other countries with women scientists.
  • KISAN-Biotech comes with a commitment towards enhanced science-farmer interactions, for scientists to emerge from our wells and start a new level of interaction, while respectfully use existing deep capabilities of all our national organizations, such as, the ICAR and state agricultural system.

Genetics and Genomics of Indigenous Livestock

  • Livestock contributes significantly to the livelihood of rural poor in our country and has enormous potential to reduce poverty. There is a predicted increase in demand for animal food products in India by 2020.
  • Better livestock production efficiency can be obtained through improving animals genetically, which ultimately leads to enhancement of productivity of the production system in a sustainable manner.
  • Genetic improvement of livestock through traditional selection for increasing livestock productivity has some major limitations. To overcome these limitations, genomic selection has played a crucial role in livestock industry globally.
  • Our aim is to develop these tools for our native livestock.
  • Genomic selection uses information on variation in DNA sequences among animals to predict the breeding value of animals more accurately. To begin with, DBT will now initiate genome sequencing of indigenous cattle breeds and development of high density chips from all registered cattle breeds of India by involving various stakeholders. This will reduce the cost and time interval of breeding programme in future and productivity of indigenous cattle will be enhanced.