Agri Business

Illegal distribution of HTBT cotton seeds poses long term risk, opine experts

Rahul Wadke Mumbai | Updated on December 31, 2019 Published on December 31, 2019

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The planned illegal distribution of Herbicide Tolerant BT (HTBT) cotton seeds by a farmers union in Maharashtra is seen as a long term risk to the Indian cotton sector by the agriculture experts.

The farmers union Shetkari Sanghatana (SS) on January 5, will meet near Yavatmal city in Vidarbha region and freely distribute the illegally harvested second-generation HTBT cotton seeds. In June 2019, they had freely distributed the first generation seeds in the same region, which is the cotton bowl of Maharashtra. Nationally the region is also known for high suicide rate among cotton farmers.

SS has been insisting that they want HTBT cotton seeds because the cotton plants from such seeds are tolerant to herbicides and herbicide sprays are essential for controlling weeds in fields. Manual removal of weeds is getting costlier by the day due to the scarce availability of farm labour.

Risk of illegal HTBT seed use

Director General of Federation of Seed Industry of India, Ram Kaundinya said that since the process is illegal, HTBT seeds are being used without following any scientific guidelines. The biotechnology behind the HTBT seeds could lose its efficacy. With such illegal usage, the weeds may also develop resistance. If the seeds do not have the purity of genes then the crop may get burnt due to the use of herbicides, he said.

Kaundinya pointed that in the season gone by the all India HTBT acreage was about 15 to 20 per cent but if the acreage increases to 40 per cent then the Indian seed companies will lose business and it would be a loss of revenue for the government. In the short run, the farmers could get cheated in terms of quality and suffer loss, he said.

Field inspection

When the Centre discovered that a large area was getting cultivated secretly with illegal HTBT seeds, a Field Inspection and Scientific Evaluation Committee (FISEC) was set up under the direction of the PMO.

Former Scientific Adviser to the Department of Biotechnology, S R Rao, who had worked with FISEC told BusinessLine that if illegal HTBT planting happens year after year, then the overall cotton quality will come down and farm incomes will get affected. The textile industry will also suffer. The farmers require a newer variety of seeds but for which they need to engage with the State and Centre in dialogue and stakeholder consultation. But they can't break the law by illegally planting HTBT, he said.

By planting HTBT seeds the farmers are taking unknown risks. In such seeds, the quality, genetics, herbicide tolerance and even parentage of the seed is a suspect. It is also not known whether the seeds are high yielding ones or prone to diseases, he added.

Head (Technology Cell) of SS, Ajit Narde, defending the stand of the farmers union, said that the farmers have been demanding legal supply of HTBT seeds for many years. But as the government is not yielding to the demand, the farmers have decided to again plant the seeds in the next cotton season.

Narde also said that out of the total seeds given to the farmers about 10 per cent are unproductive. But at the same time, the farmers need better quality seeds and therefore the process of approving HTBT seeds should be expedited.

Published on December 31, 2019
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