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Spurious BT seeds, weather take toll on cotton yield in India

BS Reporter  |  Mumbai/ Ahmedabad 

Yield has been declining since 2007-08

Notwithstanding a rise in acreage, cotton yield in India has been declining for the past three years mainly on account of erratic weather conditions and increased usage of spurious Bacillus Thuringiensis (BT) seeds for the cotton cultivation in some parts of the country. According to data available with the Cotton Advisory Board (CAB), the cotton yield in India has dropped from 554 kg per hectare in 2007-08 to 524 kg, 498 kg, 475 kg in 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2010-11 respectively.

On the contrary, the area under cotton cultivation in the county has risen 9.41 million hectare in 2007-08 to 11 million hectares 2010-11. The cotton acreage stood at 9.40 million and 10.31 million hectare in 2008-09 and 2009-10 respectively. Meanwhile, the cotton production in the country has been rising at a sluggish pace. The production dipped slightly from 30.7 million bales (a bale = 170 kg) in 2007-08 to 29 million bales in 2008-09.

However, for past two years, the production has been rising at a steady pace. In 2009-10 the cotton production in India rose to 29.5 million bales and 31.2 million bales in 2010-11. Experts and industry players attribute erratic weather conditions and usage of spurious seeds to the constant dip in cotton yield. "The certified BT cottonseed requires a minimum level of genetic purity of 90 per cent, which is much lower in the illegal seeds.

Even a percentage drop from the required level of genetic purity would reduce the cotton output by at least a quintal. Also, the uniformity of the quality of cotton would not be maintained in the case of the illegal seeds. This way, not only the yield is affected but the quality of cotton also gets poorer, which reduces the returns for farmers," said Vidyasagar Parchuri, managing director, Vibha Seeds.

Of the total annual requirement of BT cottonseed of 40 million packets (a packet of 450 gms), about 10-12 per cent is considered to be illegal or non-registered BT seeds. According to the industry insiders, the use of such illegal seeds not only reduces the yield but also hampers the quality of cotton crop. The use of illegal BT cottonseeds is believed to be prevalent in all the major cotton growing regions in India, but the use has been more rampant in the states of Gujarat, Haryana and Punjab.

"The illegal or duplicate BT seeds are extremely hazardous for the cotton growers as it also hurts the financial viability of cotton cultivation. In Gujarat alone such spurious seeds are consumed in the range of 1.1 million to 1.6 million packets every year. There is no assurance of good productivity from such duplicate seeds. It would reduce the yield. Ideally, with the introduction of improved Bollgard II variety of seeds, the yield per hectare should have risen to 900 kg, while it has been reversed to 659 kg per hectare in 2010-11," said N M Sharma, managing director, Gujarat State Cooperative Cotton Federation (Gujcot).

Cotton yield in Gujarat was recorded at 772 kg per hectare in 2007-08. The state grows cotton on 2.6 million hectares, of which 0.8 million hectares is cultivated under traditional cottonseeds, while the remaining is covered under BT cottonseeds. However, industry body maintains a different view about the reducing cotton yield in the country. The National Seeds Association of India (NSAI) holds weather conditions responsible for a drop in the cotton yield rather than the use of illegal cottonseeds. "Drop in the yield is primarily because of the uncertain weather conditions in past couple of years and not because of the use of illegal seeds," said Harish Reddy, secretary, NSAI.

Adding further he said, "A large area of cotton cultivation falls under the rain-fed regions like Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, which holds about 60 per cent of the total cotton acreage in the country. Climatic extremities in this region would lead to a fall in the yield. Hence, the drop in the yield is mainly because of the uncertain weather conditions than the use of the illegal seeds."

Over the years, BT cotton has yielded heavy returns for the cotton growing farmers in India. Lured by the attractive prices of cotton, more and more farmers turned to Bt cotton cultivation, which helped cotton acreage to rise from 9.41 million hectares to over 11 million hectares in 2010-11. According to government statistics, of the total cotton acreage, nearly 88 per cent is under Bt cotton cultivation, which has risen by 10 per cent over last year.

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First Published: Fri, May 27 2011. 00:55 IST