Monsanto’s veiled threat of leaving India over royalty issue might have shocked some people who wondered what could happen to Bt cotton in the country. But for others it’s of no consequence.
They claim that it is not the end of the road for cotton farmers and that there are good alternatives available for them both in Bt and non-Bt segments.
While a section of industry is unfazed saying it could look for alternatives in no time; those who are opposing the Bt technology say it is high time we looked at non-Bt options keeping in view the requirements of rain-fed areas.
The National Seed Association of India (NSAI) said Monsanto’s threat, in fact, came as a big relief. “All these years, the company has restrained us from using technologies other than the one developed by it. It forced the seed firms to sign the licence agreements that barred them from using other technologies,” NSAI President M Prabhakara Rao told BusinessLine .
Nuziveedu Seeds, promoted by Prabhakara Rao, teamed up with a few Hyderabad-based firms to form Swarna Bharat Biotechnics to deploy biotechnology in cottonseeds.
It tied up with the Lucknow-based public sector research institute National Botanical Research Institute (NBRI) to use a gene (Cry1EC) developed by it for the experiment.
“We had to shelve the project after we signed the restrictive agreement with Mahyco Monsanto (the joint venture that sub-licences the Bollgard technology to Indian seed firms). We will revive it and can develop a commercially usable seed in two years,” he said.
Varietals, no hybrids The public sector CICR (Central Institute for Cotton Research) has been working on alternative technologies for cotton. Working on the premise that the technology would be more effective if used in varieties (as against hybrids in Bollgard), the Nagpur-based institute used Bt 1 (Cry1AC Mon531) into a local variety. This genetically-modified seed is expected to hit the fields in a season or two.
“Besides reducing the pressure on moisture, the technology shortens the duration of the crop,” CICR Director Keshav Kranti said.
He said being a long duration crop, hybrid cotton enhances the scope for attacks. The shorter duration varietals reduce the scope, saving time and money to farmers.
Telangana, Maharashtra As the local variety is a lanky one, it allows the farmers to go for high density sowing, giving them better yields. The institute has done field experiments on a pilot basis last kharif and offered to give the new seed to Maharashtra and Telangana (the two dominant cotton-growing States) governments for next kharif itself.
Non-Bt alternatives “But the point is it is time for us to realise the futility of the technology that is giving up within no time. We need to rely on resilient methods to take on the bollworm. About 70 per cent of all the cotton area in the country is under rain-fed areas that are not suited for the crop. We must use non-Bt cotton to help farmers face hostile conditions,” GV Ramanjaneyulu, Chief Executive Officer of Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA), said.
The CSA teamed up with farmers’ cooperatives to grow non-Bt cotton in Warangal, Adiblabad (Telangana), Yavatmal and Wardha (Maharashtra) on 3,000 acres.
“We have used both varieties and hybrids and recorded an average of 6-8 quintals an acre. We have used no chemical fertilisers and pesticides,” he said.
He felt that non-Bt alternatives would solve the problem of the farmers as they were less dependent on inputs.