Wednesday, 7 January 2015

How Plant Scientists Can Meet the Urge of the Prime Minister, Mentioned at the 102nd Indian Science Congress

Rabish Chandra
@rabishchandra on twitter. (Views are personal)

The five days long sojourn of 102nd Indian Science Congress today on 7th January 2015 came to an end. The congress started on 3rd of January and was inaugurated by the prime minister Shri Narendra Modi. During his inaugural address the prime minister called for efforts to ensure that science, technology and innovation reach the poorest, the remotest and the most vulnerable person. He made remarks relevant to plant sciences and agriculture also. Plant scientists need to focus and develop a full proof strategy to meet the urge of the prime minister. Urge of the prime minister and the strategies of the plant scientist accordingly, indeed will take the science to the poorest and remotest person of the nation. Let us see few relevant remarks made by the prime minister and author's suggestions for plant scientists to meet the urge of the prime minister.

Pic Courtesy : PIB INDIA
PM asked scientists to 'make our agriculture more resilient and yield more'.

As per the demographic studies conducted by the French Institutes of Demographic Studies, world population is likely to be around 9.7 billion by 2050 and if the prediction comes true population of India will be around 1.6 billion. Feeding 1.6 billion people of India will be a biggest challenge for policy makers as well as for plant and agriculture scientists. Though Indian Government has introduced the 'Food Security Act' which guarantees cheap food grain to nearly 70% population, the real solution lies with plant scientists. They are capable to make agriculture more resilient and yield more as urged by the prime minister of India. Some of the major strategies which can be (are) followed by plant scientists are: First, reducing the yield gap. Second, increasing production limits by using modern genetic techniques and better understanding of molecular pathways. Third, reducing waste by using improving pre-harvest and post harvest management with proper storage facilities. Fourth, diversifying crops by adopting less known cereals such as millet and sorghum.

'To do more from every drop of water' was another urge of the prime minister which can be relevant to plant scientists.

It is estimated that there will be 30% increase in the demand of fresh water by 2030. Following are some of the research strategy by which plant scientists can help to meet the demand of fresh water in future.First, discovery and exploitation of drought avoidance, escape strategies, and reduced water tolerance ability adopted by plant species. Second, understanding the mechanisms capable of detecting and responding to highly localized sources of water by certain plant species.Third, understanding the strategies how stomata balance the potentially conflicting demands to open and permit carbon dioxide uptake while concomitantly restricting water loss.Fourth, introduction of a new trait such as the ‘short root’ into crop species or the manipulation of water usage through modifying stomatal development or function.

Prime minister also urged to 'preserve our biodiversity and keep our environment clean'.

Environmentalists along with plant scientists can help the government in preserving our biodiversity and keeping environment clean by way of framing, re-framing, defining and redefining the legislation. Secondly, by making inventory and updates of people biodiversity register (PBR) as recommended by some study group and accepted by government. Third, identifying the status of plant species as threatened, endagered, extinct etc. as per guidelines of IUCN. Fourth, adopting and develop ex-situ conservation techniques. Fifth, develop community participation in insitu conservation. Last but not the least to maintain the environment clean at individual capacity.

Mentioning the importance of traditional knowledge the prime minister said, 'If we incorporate traditional and local knowledge, systems and technologies, we may develop more appropriate, effective, affordable and sustainable solutions that contribute immensely to human development and progress'. 

A section of plant scientists interviews knowledgeable persons, elders of aboriginal communities in different rural areas to document traditional uses, names and perceptions of plants and are specifically known as ethnobotanists. Further these data are analysed and compared for further scientific research including ethno-pharmacology. The scientifically validated ethnobotanical information using ethno-pharmacology as a tool may lead to discover a new drug. In these steps ethnobotanist can be the watchdog in protecting the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) and ethics of the knowledgeable traditional practitioners. They protect the natural resources and / or to contribute to the well-being of local communities. Ethnobotany plays an important role in community and human development. It returns the results of research to the community. It encourages the use of plant in healthcare thereby promoting traditional medicine system. It comes under the purview of a botanist to establish community ethnobotanical gardens that can provide important medicinal and nutrition rich plants as a part of affordable and sustainable solution to the human development.

Many scientists may put forward the scarcity of fund while developing and implementing the above strategies. For them, the prime minister said that when he speaks of ease of doing business in India, he also wants to pay equal attention to the ease of doing research and development in India. He said funding proposals must not take too long to clear, and scientific departments must have flexibility of funding decisions based on the uncertainties inherent in research activities.

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