There has been a remarkable increase in grain production over the past fi ve decades, but only a marginal increase was realized after the 1990s (Myers, 1999). Much of the increase in grain production resulted from an increase in the area under cultivation, irrigation, better agronomic practices, and improved cultivars. Yields of several crops have already reached a plateau in developed countries and, therefore, most of the productivity gains in the future will have to be achieved in developing countries through better management of natural resources and crop improvement. Productivity gains are essential for long-term economic growth, but in the short term, these are even more important for maintaining adequate food supplies for the growing population. It is in this context that biotechnology will play an important role in increasing food production in the near future. There is a need to take a critical, but practical look at the prospects of biotechnological applications for increasing crop production and improving nutritional quality. Genetic engineering offers plant breeders access to an infi nitely wide array of novel genes and traits, which can be inserted into high-yielding and locally adapted cultivars (Sharma, 2004). This approach offers rapid introgression of novel genes and traits into elite agronomic backgrounds. Biotechnological tool can be used to:
Develop new hybrid crops based on genetic male-sterility;• Exploit apomixis to fi x hybrid vigor in crops;• Increase resistance to insect pests, diseases, herbicides, and abiotic stress factors;• Improve effectiveness of natural enemies and entomopathogenic bacteria, viruses, • and fungi; Enhance nutritional value of crops through enrichment with vitamin A and essen-• tial amino acids;
Improve shelf life and postharvest quality of produce;• Increase effi ciency of phosphorus uptake and nitrogen fi xation;• Improve adaptation to soil salinity and aluminum toxicity;• Understand the nature of gene action and metabolic pathways;• Increase photosynthetic activity, sugar, starch production, and crop yield; and• Produce antibodies, pharmaceuticals, and vaccines.•
New crop cultivars with resistance to insect pests and diseases combined with biocontrol agents should lead to a reduced reliance on pesticides, and thereby reduce farmers’ crop protection costs, while benefi ting both the environment and public health. Similarly, genetic modifi cation for herbicide resistance to achieve effi cient and cost-effective weed control can increase farm incomes, while reducing the labor demand for weeding and herbicide application. Labor released from agriculture can then be used for other profi table endeavours. By increasing crop productivity, agricultural biotechnology can substitute for the need to cultivate new land and thereby conserve biodiversity in areas that are marginal for crop production. The potential of these technologies has been tested extensively in model crop species of temperate and subtropical agriculture. However, there is an urgent need for an increased focus on crops relevant to the small farm holders and poor consumers in the developing countries of the humid and semiarid tropics. The promise of biotechnology can be realized by utilizing the information and products generated through research on genomics and genetic engineering to increase the productivity of crops through enhanced resistance to biotic and abiotic stress factors and improved nutritional quality (Sharma et al., 2002).