Analysis: Golden Rice in India: Is It Necessary? What Are Impediments to Adoption?

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

There is a saying in Chinese used to wish others well that means, “may you never live in interesting times.” In a complex world full of conflict, disease, and death, the idea of living in a simpler world without the plagues of the present must seem comforting to most. Sadly, this is not the world we live in, no matter how much one may wish it into reality. For those living in rural India, life can be a constant struggle.

According to data collected at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, the leading cause of life-altering disability in India are health risks linked to poor diets. Nutritional deficiencies are especially common in Indian children. This is both unacceptable and preventable. For much of the population in India, rice is the primary dietary staple as it is cheap and marginally nutritious. It is, however, without a sufficient level of β-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A. With a lack of variety in many Indian diets, deficiencies often occur. Large consumptions of rice without supplemental nutritional diversity can ostensibly lead to vitamin A deficiency.

Vitamin A deficiency, or VAD, can cause respiratory, GI, and urinary infections, as well as blindness and a significantly impaired immune system that can lead to a number of other corresponding ailments. Symptoms of vitamin A deficiency are most severe in children. Recent studies, such as those published by WHO, have pinpointed a number of causes for VAD ranging from substandard education, poor sanitary practices, the absence of strict laws pertaining to food production, and a lack of effective monitoring and surveillance systems. In many instances, people continue to suffer due to the structural instability of the governments in developing nations, as India. However, the root of this issue still remains with the lack of dietary variety.

Continual developments in plant genetics have yielded a strong candidate for a solution to these incessant, yet preventable woes. Golden rice is a type of transgenic Asian rice created for humanitarian purposes. Its creation has received praise by a preponderance of the scientific community, as this species of rice contains sufficient levels of β-carotene within its edible portion. Dispersing golden rice seeds to Indian farmers has the potential to curb the increasing rate of VAD within a generation. Rice consumed in India would no longer be susceptible to the same failure as Vitamin A supplements, which did not succeed for a number of reasons including poor government oversight and the increasingly likely connections between vitamin A supplementation and certain cancers.

If golden rice, or vitamin-A fortified rice, were grown throughout India, there would be no need to implement or administer an additional program as agricultural systems are already firmly in place. Lifelong disability caused by the inability to diversify diets would begin to make progress in the other direction, as vitamin A intake in this manner would not lead to the same potentially detrimental conclusions as direct vitamin A supplementation.

India is home to over 1 billion people, second only in population to China with a dizzying number of ethnic groups, each with their own traditions, languages, and dialects. The primary languages spoken are Hindi and English and the vast majority of Indians tend to practice Hindu or Buddhism, although there are a plethora of variants practiced. With more than 50 cities with populations over a million, India is urbanizing and fast. However, the vast majority of citizens are still located in rural areas, with little to no government assistance. Within its borders, India contains the largest number of rural poor and those without homes in rural areas in the world.

The rural poor in India are, in some ways, dually marginalized by not only their low financial status, but additionally by their low social rung in the caste system that, though not officially, still dictates social life in India. Though there are certainly many impoverished citizens in urban areas, the rural poor are often too far spread out for adequate government assistance and observation. The continued existence of the caste system only seems to solidify their station.

Source: Genetic Literacy Project (link opens in a new window)

Agriculture, Health Care