The government might have approved only certain types of genetically modified
(GM) cotton but the country's farmers have decided to ignore the rules and plant unapproved GM cotton
seeds, that too bought at prices far higher than those mandated by the government, according to reports.
In the current Kharif sowing season, farmers bought and planted close to 3.5 million packets, which amounts to a Rs 450-crore market for unapproved GM cotton
seeds at an average price of Rs 1,300 per packet, of cotton seeds that incorporate unapproved "herbicide tolerance", or HT, technology, the Indian Express
reported on Thursday. Currently, the report explained, the government has only permitted the growing of GM cotton
that are hybrids or varieties containing the ‘cry1Ac’ and ‘cry2Ab’ genes, which are derived from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), and coding for proteins that are toxic to the bollworm insect pest.
This development comes at a time when BT cotton's efficacy has fallen. As reported earlier
, over the years, Bt cotton's resistance to pink boll worm (PBW) has reduced and during the last season alone the pest has caused 20-25 per cent loss to the crop across states. This year, the loss could go up, which could lead to a major agrarian crisis, experts say.
To overcome this problem, the Union government has recommended a unique RIB (Refugia In Bag) concept, wherein 25 grams of non-Bt cotton seed
is mixed with 450 grams of Bt cotton seeds. This enables the planting of non-BT cotton, which can host PBW wild insects and prevent resistance build-up in PBW.
But, why are these farmers breaking the rules? According to the IE report, the farmers in question paid between Rs 1,200 to Rs 1,500 per packet for these unapproved cotton seeds, a price much higher than the Rs 800 government-fixed maximum sale price for a packet of approved Bt cotton hybrids. Even then, farmers appear to have placed a premium on the unapproved cotton hybrid's ability to resist the ill-effects of herbicides. For normal cotton, the report explained, farmers cannot spray herbicides once the plant has emerged from the soil since the chemical cannot differentiate between weeds and the crop itself.
Test reports from at least two government research institutions, the Nagpur-based Central Institute for Cotton Research and the Telangana government’s DNA Fingerprinting & Transgenic Crops Monitoring Laboratory at Hyderabad, have officially shown that Indian farmers are illegally growing HT cotton, the report added. In fact, the Nagpur-based institute's study showed that illegal HT cotton cultivation
had taken place last year too.
As reported earlier, according to government statistics, cotton is grown on 10.5 million to 12.5 million hectares (or 25-30 million acres) across 11 major growing states of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Punjab, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Odisha, and Tami Nadu. In peak years, the cultivated area can touch 12 mha.
Boll worms are still the most dangerous pests for cotton, as they thrive on boll or fruit of cotton, which contains Kapas or fibre, thereby causing severe economic damage, said S B Patil, professor in the Department of Agricultural Entomology, University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad.