GM Bt cotton is no longer resistant to pink bollworm – a major pest in Mahahrashtra – prompting the state government to write to the Union government to seek its intervention
EXCERPT: "There are only two benefits of Bt cotton. One, it controls bollworm, due to which the yield is protected. Two, it reduces use of insecticides meant for bollworm control. Currently, cotton growers do not get either benefit," Dr Kranthi told TOI via email.
Bt cotton falling to pest, Maharashtra tensed
Times of India, Jul 5, 2017
Genetically modified, or Bt cotton, is no longer resistant to pink bollworm - a major pest in Mahahrashtra, prompting the state government to write to the Union government to seek its intervention.
A research report by Dr K R Kranthi, former director of Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR), shows that pink bollworm has developed resistance to Bollgard-II Bt cotton not only in Maharashtra but other cotton-growing states as well. Bollgard-II is the Bt hybrid variety that was introduced in 2010.
"There are only two benefits of Bt cotton. One, it controls bollworm, due to which the yield is protected. Two, it reduces use of insecticides meant for bollworm control. Currently, cotton growers do not get either benefit," Dr Kranthi told TOI via email.
Bijay Kumar, principal secretary, agriculture department, said, "There are nearly 85 private Bt cotton seed-producing companies in the state and we have been getting several complaints of crop failure from farmers. In most cases, we cannot do much to help affected farmers. We want the Central government to come up with a clear set of guildelines for us in this situation."
The issue assumes significance given that Maharashtra is the largest cotton-growing state in the country. Nearly 40 lakh hectares or 35% of the cultivatable area is under cotton production. Nearly 96% cotton-growing farmers in the state use BG-II Bt cotton seeds for cultivation.
Last year, nearly 90% of cotton farms in Jalna were affected and farmers had approached the state government seeking compensation for the losses they had incurred. It could not do much, though. The state government has found itself in a tight spot and asked the Union government to denotify Bt cotton seed varieties prone to pink bollworm.
The government also wants the Centre to undertake an awareness campaign across the state on failed resistance of the Bt variety to pests so that farmers can make an informed choice. Half of the crop in the state comes from Vidarbha and the rest from Khandesh and Marathwada. Pink bollworm is a small, thin, gray moth with fringed wings - the most damaging of all pests that attack cotton crop in the country. The female moth lays eggs on cotton balls and larvae emerge only to destroy entire fields by chewing through the cotton lint to feed on seeds.
Vijay Jawandhia, a farmer leader and a cotton farmer from Vidarbha, said, "The pest attacks the crop at the fag end of the season, around 90 days after it is planted. The first picking cycle begins after 110 days, so the farmer has only 20 days to spot the pest and take preventive steps." He added that it leaves the farmer with very little time to react and any delay can ruin the entire crop.
After introducing Bollgard in 2002, a stronger version-Bollgard II - was introduced in 2010. It was instrumental in pushing up cotton production as pest attacks could be contained, which was one of the main reasons why genetically modified cotton or Bt cotton was introduced throughout the country. The cost of insecticides and pesticides, which would constitute to nearly 40-45% of the total cost of production, was also projected to be reduced by use of Bt seeds. For these benefits, companies manufacturing these seeds charged farmers a higher sum. A 425gm packet of BGII Bt seed cost between Rs 925 and Rs 1,050, which is nearly three times the cost of regular seed packets. At least three packets are required for one acre of land.
"Since the past few years these benefits have been slowly fading away, but the cost of the seeds are still the same," said Jawandhia. Some of the seed company officials say that farmers do not follow precautions like sowing non-BT seeds along the periphery of fields and also not to keep the crop for more than 160 days, which makes it more prone to pests.