Agri Business

Surge in illegal HTBt cotton acreage worries seed industry

KV Kurmanath Hyderabad | Updated on June 18, 2021

Consequences could be disastrous, caution NSAI, FSII

With the acreage under unauthorised hybrid tolerant Bt cotton (HTBt cotton) increasing and threatening to cut into the revenues of seed firms, besides affecting farmers’ yield, seed industry associations have urged the Union Government to take measures to curb its illegal cultivation.

The National Seed Association of India (NSAI) and the Federation of Seed Industry of India (FSII), in a joint communication, alleged that the sale of HTBt cotton seeds has suddenly increased this year, posing threat to the environment, farmers, legitimate seed companies and government revenue. It cautioned that consequences of allowing the illegal technology could be disastrous.

The two associations have written a letter to the Union Ministry of Agriculture, the government of India and the GEAC (Genetic Engineering Approval Committee) to initiate steps to curb the sale of the illegal seeds and take action against the offenders.

Besides causing harm to the environment and losses to the industry, the HTBt seeds could contaminate production of legitimate seeds. The sale and cultivation of HTBt cotton is illegal in the country as the GEAC has not given permission for its commercial cultivation  yet.

What is HT Bt cottton?

The HTBt cotton, the third generation biotechnology in cotton, gives the plant an ability to survive herbicides sprayed to kill seeds on the cotton farm. It works on the premise that when the herbicide is sprayed on the varietymodified to resist it, the plant survives but all weeds get killed.  Though farmers in some States have been growing HTBt cotton for the last couple of years, the extent has been limited to some pockets.

 

Sharp increase in acreage

The industry associations alleged that there has been a sudden surge in the acreage. Quoting a Department of Biotechnology (DBT) survey, they said about 15 per cent of the cotton acreage in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Gujarat was under HTBt cotton.

“The area under cultivation of illegal HT cotton has been increasing over the years. However, this year there is a big jump in such illegal cultivation especially in the major cotton States,” said M Ramasami, Chairman of FSII.

From an estimated 35 lakh packets last year, the area is likely to go up to about 70 lakh packets this year, Ramasami, also the Chairman of the Rasi Seeds, said. The fact that the total size of the cottonseed packets is 50 million packets (of 450 gm each) shows how alarming the situation is. He said that the illegal seed packets indicated the presence of several technologies in the seeds. This could pose a very serious challenges to the environment. “If it is not controlled immediately by the government, it will spell disaster for the industry and farmers,” he said.

NSAI President Prabhakar Rao cautioned that the proliferation of illegal seeds could decimate small cotton seed companies, while posing a major threat to the entire legal cotton seed market in the country.

“To make matters worse, the illegal seeds are sold using the brand name of prominent companies. While the illegal seeds are polluting the environment, the industry is losing legitimate seed sale. There is a dent in tax collections too,” Prabhakara Rao, also the Managing Director of Nuziveedu Seeds Limited, said.

He regretted that the regulators were focusing only on licensed dealers and seed companies, while unscrupulous players continued to sell the HTBt seeds without any hindrance. “The focus must be shifted to catching them and taking exemplary and strong punitive action,” he said.

Published on June 18, 2021

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