A simple intervention by a Central government research institute could end the woes of cotton farmers in Vidarbha and Telangana who are under severe financial stress.

The solution The Nagpur-based Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR) has inserted Bt 1 (Cry1AC Mon531) into a desi variety to solve the two important problems that the farmers face – reduce the duration of the crop and avoid hybrids that guzzle scarce moisture in rain-fed areas. As they cut short the duration, the lanky plants also let farmers go for high-density planting. As hybrids spread horizontally, Indian farmers are able to plant only 10,000 plants a hectare against 1.10 lakh plants a hectare.

India is among the few countries that use the input-intensive hybrid cotton, while majority of the countries use varieties as they embraced genetically modified crop.

Lanky desi variety While hybrids work well in the resource rich areas, it can cause havoc in areas that are poor in water and nutrients. CICR has done an experiment with about 500 farmers to address the challenges – reduce the crop duration and increase the plant density, using a lanky desi cotton variety in place of the bulky hybrid plants, to outwit pests and insects. This will help the plant save all the scanty moisture in rain-fed areas for flowering and boll formation stages.

The hybrid crop sucks life out of the soil by August-September, leaving hardly any for the crucial flowering stage.

There, however, is a trade off. The number of bolls per plant would come down to about 10 from 100 in the hybrid crops.

“But then, you are going to be compensated by the increased density of plants. By using a desi variety, we can reduce the crop duration and significantly increase the number of plants per hectare,” CICR Director Keshav Raj Kranthi told Business Line . The CICR has developed a Bt variety that brings down crop duration to 150 days from the 200 days that is in vogue at present. The present practice of spacious planting is way below the global average.

Sustainable model “The high density, short-duration crop model is a sustainable model for India. The present day practices are not sustainable. Farmers need not go for insecticide sprays. About 16 legumes have been identified that can be used in the fields to help the soil fix nitrogen. This will help avoid use of urea,” he said.

Moreover, desi cotton gives more returns to farmers. “As this is used in surgical products, they get about ₹700 more than the ₹4,300 a quintal they are getting now,” he said.

The CICR has kept 21 varieties ready with Bt1 (Cry1Ac Mon531) for States to use from next kharif season. “We can give the varieties to Maharashtra and Telangana governments from the next kharif season itself. They can try them in half acre or so to zero in on the best variety to suit their requirements,” Kranti said.