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  • India looks to nanotechnology to boost agriculture


The Indian government is looking towards nanotechnology as a means of boosting agricultural productivity in the country.

In a report released in April, the Planning Commission of India recommends nanotechnology research and development (R&D) should become one of six areas for investment.

The commission recommends policies to and carries out financial planning for government departments. The report was written by a subgroup of the commission, and will be incorporated into India's eleventh five-year plan, for 2007–2012.

The authors recommend ways to harness nanotechnology, biotechnology and bioinformatics to transform Indian agriculture, including creating a national institute of nanotechnology in agriculture.

The report says nanotechnology such as nano-sensors and nano-based smart delivery systems could help ensure natural resources like water, nutrients and chemicals are used efficiently in agriculture. Nano-barcodes and nano-processing could also help monitor the quality of agricultural produce.

The report proposes a national consortium on nanotechnology R&D, to include the proposed national institute and Indian institutions that are already actively researching nanotechnology.

It also recommends that Indian universities and institutions develop suitable graduate and postgraduate programmes to train young scientists in nanotechnology.

Vandana Dwivedi, coordinator of the subgroup and an advisor in the Planning Commission, says implementing all the report's recommendations will take time, though she hopes to see some of the aspects rolled out in the 2007–2012 five-year plan. No specific initiatives on nanotechnology have yet been announced.

But not everyone is impressed by the government's plans. India should be cautious about rushing for technologies, says M. S. Swaminathan, a former head of the National Commission for Farmers and widely considered the father of India's green revolution. 

"If technology has applications, it has limitations too. Right from the beginning it is advisable to have a national regulatory commission on nanotechnology so that people don't get into litigation later," he told SciDev.Net.

Swaminathan believes transferring existing technologies to farmers should take priority, saying, "We should first disseminate ordinary technology to the farmer. Even the basic know-how has not reached fields yet. The gap between scientific know-how and field level do-how remains as wide as ever."

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