While pink bollworm has devastated Bt cotton, Maharashtra’s agriculture commissioner has fought for justice for farmers. Now he has been removed from his post
The pink bollworm pest is infesting Bt cotton in India's suicide belt of Vidarbha, in the state of Maharashtra. The bollworm has been found in all Vidarbha’s cotton growing districts, including the farmer suicide hotspot of Yavatmal.
Substantial yield losses are expected, according to officials, even though Bt cotton seeds cost famers significantly more because of their supposed bollworm resistance.
These events bear out the warnings issued by Maharashtra’s state agriculture commissioner, Sunil Kendrekar. But just at this critical juncture, he has been shunted out of his job.
Kendrekar had been proactive in supporting farmers’ interests. He warned India’s government and regulators about the failure of Bt cotton and sought a review of the approval given to Bt seeds.
He sought stringent action against the misleading claims of Bt seed sellers and was instrumental in imposing a ban in Maharashtra on one prominent brand.
He also indicated that if Bt cotton failed again he would file police cases for fraud. This may be why he was transferred out of his job in such a hurry, according to Kishore Tiwari, who heads Maharashtra’s task force on farm distress.
Farmers in Vidarbha have already suffered severely as a result of the failure of Bt cotton. In 2016, nearly 90% of cotton farms in the district of Jalna in Maharashtra were affected by the pink bollworm. Farmers had approached the state government seeking compensation for the losses they had incurred. However, it “could not do much”, according to a report in the Times of India.
Clearly Kendrekar was determined to help distressed farmers whose livelihoods have been damaged or destroyed by the empty promises of the GMO industry and he was in the perfect position to do so. But he has now been moved to a less significant posting in the sports and youth welfare ministry.
It is a sad indictment of those in power in India that an official who made clear he would stand up to seed companies indulging in malpractice was deemed too dangerous to be left in post.
Meanwhile Monsanto is exiting its branded cotton seed business in India, reportedly in order to help the company acquire regulatory approval for Bayer’s takeover. The Hyderabad-based Tierra Agrotech will take over that part of Monsanto’s business.