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Climate change challenge offers opportunities: Renu Swarup, Biotechnologist

Feb 19, 2013

Renu Swarup, Advisor, Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science and Technology, India, talks to Ashok Kumar of OneWorld South Asia on the sidelines of a global conference held in New Delhi recently.

Renu Swarup

OneWorld South Asia: How can biotechnology help India to fight the negative impact of climate change on agriculture?

Renu Swarup: Biotechnology can contribute to both sectors of energy and agriculture immensely with the new tools it has to offer. The new tools could be genetic engineering, the improved varieties of crops.

Biotechnology as a tool is not restricted to one sector and it actually cuts across all sectors. Biotechnology is  a combination of new technologies in biology and life sciences, and biotechnology contributes to anything which has a combination of these sciences.

OWSA: You have been instrumental in getting the DBT Scheme on Biotechnology Career Advancement for women scientists – BioCARe – implemented. How crucial is it to encourage women to pursue a career in the field of science and technology?

Swarup: Women contribute to every aspect of society and science and technology is one of the crucial factors that contribute to the development of society. Women account for half our population. So, I would say, their contribution to scientific field is of paramount importance.

This is where BioCARe figures in. BioCARe is a scheme that caters to those women scientists who have not gone into the main network for research funding. So, it is primarily for those who have taken a career break or are unemployed. It will help bring them back to the mainstream. It also helps some of those women who have not got the research grant. It is not easy to motivate such women to get into the mainstream.  The grant is given through an investigator but they have a mentor or co-guide who works along with them.

OWSA: Do you look at climate change as an immediate threat?

Swarup: It is not a question of immediate threat. The threat could be 10 or 20 years down the line. But what we need is immediate action. So, it is an immediate action priority.

OWSA: How could we turn the challenges from climate change into an opportunity in a country like India which is blessed by a rich natural resource?

Swarup: The opportunity is for the scientists. There is enough opportunity for us to look at new tools and technologies and how we contribute to it. India has the largest diversity and because of that we have the maximum options available to be able to able to test our models into actual life solutions.

We are trying to see how the vast natural base of the country responds to various aspects of climate change.  The challenges will make us identify varieties that are naturally resistant or those varieties that are adapting themselves naturally, so there is a natural variation that exists, which can be taken on to bring in crop improvement.

OWSA: How does biotic stress add to the threat from the climate change?

Swarup: Biotic stress, which exerts itself in the form of diseases and pests, adversely affects crop yields which are already grappling with the adverse factors brought in by climate change extremes. If you have crops not yielding to the levels of productivity, or there is any change in the natural cycle of biodiversity, be it flora or fauna, it contributes to climate change impact.

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