Farmer suicides in Punjab and Haryana in the aftermath of extensive damage to the cotton crop in 2015-16 due to pest attack has led to a swing in official opinion against genetically modified (Bt) seeds.
A Joint Action Committee was appointed by the two state governments on the causes and to suggest remedies for white fly infestation. Its report says the native variety (arboreum) is immune to cotton leaf curl viral disease and comparatively tolerant to white fly and other sucking insect pests. Hence, its cultivation should be promoted in Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan.
Punjab and Haryana provide 15 per cent of the nation’s cotton output.
Highly placed sources in the Haryana government say an effort is on to assess the availability of traditional variety seeds with the agriculture universities, the Central Institute of Cotton Research and private seed producers. “We expect to replace 15-20 per cent of the area under Bt cotton seed with the traditional one this year (rabi 2016-17) and in the next few years to take it to 50 per cent. Co-existence of Bt and non-Bt crop would curtail the chance of spread of epidemics like white fly, as the two crops are resistant to different kinds of diseases. Monoculture in agriculture is one of the cause of widespread diseases in plants. Presently, 95 per cent of the cotton grown in Punjab and Haryana is the Bt variety and this triggered the quick spread of disease.”
The peak season of cotton picking is over, though it lasts till the end of March. Cotton arrivals in Punjab have fallen 60 per cent this year from the corresponding period in the year before. The dent is lesser in Haryana and is estimated to be about 35 per cent less but some farmers had lost the entire crop. Punjab is yet to take a decision on the remedy. The state had to pay Rs 800 crore in compensation to the affected farmers.
Said a source in Punjab’s agriculture department: “We would like to cultivate desi (native) cotton in at least 10 per cent of the total area and are trying to educate farmers. We don’t have the seed stock to support this much area but will try to organise seed from neighbouring states.”
There is a big problem of spurious seeds and pesticides in Punjab and that is also considered an important reason for outbreak of the disease at an epidemic scale. One result is that only about 60 of Punjab's 400-odd cotton ginning factories are operational. The state government has plans to take charge of the distribution of seeds through own agencies. Growing two rows of sorghum or bajra millet or maize as a barrier crop around cotton fields is also being recommended to help contain the spread of white fly.
The Union ministry of agriculture, in its second estimate for crop year 2015-16, pegged cotton production at 30.9 million bales (a able is 170 kg), scaling it down from 33.51 mn bales in the first advance estimate.
The states of Punjab and Haryana lost a large part of the crop due to pest attack (white fly) and arrivals in Punjab this year have been at least 60% lesser than the last year.
|Area ( in lakh hectares)||
Production (in lakh bales of
170 kg each
(P) Average estimated projections
Source: State Agriculture Departments and Cotton Advisory board