Agri Business

Now, desi cotton with Bt gene

M. R. Subramani Chennai | Updated on November 18, 2011 Published on November 18, 2011

Dr C. D. Mayee, President, Indian Society for Cotton Improvement - Photo: M.R. Subramani   -  Business Line

The advent of Bt cotton in the country has seen the native, tree-type arboreum varieties losing their relevance. The reasons for the native or desi varieties losing out to Bt and other hybrid cottons are many, including higher production costs and lower realisation.

But thanks to concerns expressed by the scientific community, a fresh lease of life is around the corner with the development of a genetically modified desi cotton variety.

“We have got ready a desi variety cotton with Bt gene. We are waiting for the approval of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee,” said Dr C. D. Mayee, President, Indian Society for Cotton Improvement.

Falling production

The desi varieties, especially Bengal Desi, were grown in over 90 per cent of the area under cotton in the 1940s. “Now it is grown hardly in one per cent of the total area under cotton that has increased manifold in the last six decades,” said Dr Mayee.

Desi varieties are important in providing short-staple cotton used in manufacture of canvass and denim cloth, besides for medical purposes such as bandage cloth.

“At one point of time, short-staple cotton made up 33 per cent of the total production,” he told Business Line during the Fifth World Cotton Research Conference.

Now, of the total cotton production, long staple makes up 63 per cent and medium staple 23 per cent, while extra-long staple and short staple comprise one per cent each.

According to the Cotton Corporation of India, short-staple cotton production in the 2010-11 season that ended in October was four lakh bales (of 170 kg each) against nine lakh bales in 2002-03, when commercial use of Bt cotton began in the country. Mills consumption of short staple cotton has also dropped during the period — from around six lakh bales in 2002-03, to 4.69 in the 2008-09 season.

Prices for the Bengal Desi variety increased to Rs 50,742 for a candy of 356 kg in March this year from Rs 10,305 in October 2000.

Many positives

“The desi variety is now grown in a small area in Gujarat. It is grown there because no other crop can be grown there as it is a desert region,” said Dr Mayee.

The desi cotton is sturdy, drought tolerant and fights some of the pest on its own. “The Bt desi variety will help tackle more pests and encourage farmers to take it up on a large scale,” said Dr Mayee.

“We would like to see desi varieties being grown in at least 20 per cent of the total area under cotton,” he said.

“If we don't do that, we may have to import short-staple cotton too, like the extra-long staple,” said Dr Mayee.

Published on November 18, 2011
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