Opinion

Take cotton success story forward

Ram Kaundinya | Updated on March 09, 2018 Published on July 01, 2011

Seed biotechnology enhances output and promotes resourceconservation.

Mr Ram Kaundinya

Chinthi Reddy, a farmer in Warangal, Andhra Pradesh, who cultivates cotton with Bt seeds on his five-acre land, says: “Life has never been so good.” Reddy has installed drip irrigation in his field at an investment of Rs 70,000 and sent his son to the UK for MS studies in 2008. What's more, earning Rs 20,000 per acre in his cotton fields and saving Rs 7,500 per acre on account of less pesticide use has given him the added financial muscle to purchase more land for farming.

Reddy's story resonates with that of 60 lakh farmers who plant cotton with insect-protection technologies across India. This is a story of the transformation of cotton farming in India since 2002.

COTTON REVOLUTION

Across the large cotton-growing States, Bt cotton technology seeds are improving the lives of Indian farmers by providing them with savings on insecticide , higher yields, higher income, and helping them live with dignity.

Cotton production in Andhra Pradesh increased two-and-three-quarter times since the first planting of Bt cotton seeds, and farmers earn Rs 4,500 crore incremental income per annum by using hybrid Bt cotton seeds, as opposed to non-Bt varieties.

Imagine the improved status of our farmers if we can leverage the potential of these technologies with the right regulatory and market policies across crops. The power of plant technologies cannot be denied — they lifted India to the position of world's second largest producer and exporter of cotton, from being a large importer until 2002.

Today, the cotton farmer has more choices than ever before with 300 Bt cotton hybrids approved by the Government for cultivation.

The Indian farmer has rapidly adopted higher-yielding hybrid seeds with Bt cotton technologies, twice as fast as US farmers, and a third faster than Chinese farmers — a clear sign of the robust value derived from these technologies. Why stop them or deny them access to the latest technologies?

Benefits of technology

Today, India has the world's fourth largest area cultivated under biotech crops. Technologies have provided farmers with cumulative benefits surpassing Rs 31,500 crore from 2002 to 2009 (ISAAA). Studies further reveal that 87 per cent of India's Bt cotton farmers enjoy better lifestyles, 72 per cent invested in their children's education, and a significant 67 per cent repaid their long-pending debts (IMRB).

Seed biotechnology enhances food, feed, and fibre crop production; promotes resource conservation and energy efficiency; reduces the environmental footprint of agriculture by using lesser water, land and energy; improves economic viability for farmers and communities; and advances agriculture product safety.

India needs farmer-friendly regulation comparable to Brazil, the Philippines, and the US, and encouragement of R&D. Plant science and politics must not mix.

With population increasing and arable land decreasing, increasing yield and productivity is the only way to solve the food insufficiency problems.

Biotech seeds can help provide these benefits in a sustainable way, so that increasing populations can be fed without additional pressure on natural habitats, and simultaneously give a much needed fillip to rural incomes and quality of life.

The first fallacy is that farmers need to purchase hybrid seeds every year. GM technology is independent of the farmer's choice to buy seeds every year or save seeds from his crop. More importantly, it is recommended that hybrid seeds are bought every year as the virility or vigour of the seeds weaken every time the saved seeds are re-sown. The fact is Bt technology can be inserted either in hybrids or OP varieties. The seed is the hardware, the Bt technology is the software.

Second, it is believed that GM technology leads to loss of biodiversity. The variety of biological and genetic diversity is progressively reduced in the commercial arena because of the process of selection and breeding.

Genetic diversity is maintained in the gene banks of various governments and institutes. Current biotech crops have equal or less impact on biodiversity compared with conventional crops. Biotech crops have contributed to the development of conservation farming, which can significantly reduce erosion and restore soil quality, and conserve topsoil and moisture content, which in turn helps preserve biodiversity. Another commonly cited argument is that GM technology increases the cost of seeds. Farmers are intelligent and choose the seeds that provide them with the highest yield, income and ease of cultivation. The farmer's cost of Bt cotton hybrid seeds account for around 5 per cent of the total cost of cultivation, while labour and fertiliser costs account for over 30 per cent of his input costs. Plus, hybrid Bt cotton seeds help him double his production, creating significant insecticide savings.



Wide choice

It is said that Indian farmers will become dependent on foreign companies as seeds are imported. First, Indian cotton farmers have the widest choice as India is the world's most competitive market for cotton seed. Bt cotton technology is available from five different sources, including Indian and global technologies, with one source being the the Government's of India's CICR. Second, more than 350 Bt cotton hybrids are approved for use by the Government of India, providing the farmers with a wide choice. In India, it is compulsory to test and register all seeds at local State Agriculture Universities within the ICAR system. This ensures that only good quality locally relevant seeds are available. Farmers always only buy seeds developed to suit their agronomic and environmental conditions and based on their experience. In any case, the actual seed is produced by the Indian companies. Even in Bt cotton that is the only GM crop approved and is being used in India, 90 per cent of the seed used by the farmer is produced by Indian companies. No Bt cotton seed is imported and sold to the farmers.

SAFETY CERTIFIED

As for the belief that GM foods are not safe for human beings, the safety of GM crops is established through various rigorous regulatory data generation work done in different parts of the world, including India.

Scientists and international health organisations including WHO, FAO, among others, have concluded that biotech crops, foods, and feeds are as safe as conventionally bred crops, foods, and feeds. Over 3,200 renowned scientists worldwide have signed a declaration in support of agricultural biotechnology and its safety to humans, animals, and the environment. Biotech crops are among the most extensively tested foods in the history of food safety.

The view that Europe does not grow GM crops and hence we should also not grow them is also commonly voiced. GM crops are being cultivated in six European countries and another 27 European countries have approved the consumption of GM foods by their population. They import and consume GM food in these countries.

(The author is CEO, Advanta India and Chairman of the Association of Biotech-Led Enterprises - Agriculture Group. The first part of the article appeared on June 30.)

(Concluded)

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Published on July 01, 2011
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