As GM Bt cotton falls victim to pink bollworm, native Indian varieties are found to be less susceptible
EXCERPT: He [farmer leader Pasha Patel] rues that 15 years ago, when GM cotton seeds were introduced in the Indian market to fight the bollworms, the seed companies had said that would not have to spray any insecticides and that they would get an yield of 22 quintals an acre. Today, because of the very same GM seeds, usage of insecticide and fertiliser has increased five-fold and eaten into farmers incomes. In a way, the GM technology has been defeated by nature.
For Maharashtra’s cotton growers, it’s like a night without dawn: Veteran farmer leader Pasha Patel
The Hindu Business Line, 4 Dec 2017
Big built Pasha Patel, BJP’s legislator from Latur, has an infectious smile and deep baritone. A veteran farmer leader from central Maharashtra, his deep understanding of agriculture and connect with small farmers helped him become the Chairman of the State Commission for Agriculture and Prices, earlier this year.
But just mention pink bollworm (PBW), and the smile on Patel’s face rapidly gets replaced by a frown and deep furrows appear on his brows, reflecting his anguish over the destruction of vast swathes of cotton crop in Marathwada and Vidarbha regions.
Draining his cup of lemon tea, he says that today cotton farmers of Maharashtra are exercised about the next season (May 2018): whether to plant GM seeds or look for Indian varieties.
In an interview to BusinessLine, Patel said that last year cotton farmers got ₹5,500 per quintal of cotton against the ruling Minimum Support Price (MSP) of ₹4,300. This year, the farmers are so worried about PBW attacks that prices are just not on their radar. They are worried more about salvaging their crop, or what has been left behind by the marauding insects.
Based on his extensive tours of the two cotton-producing regions of Maharashtra, Patel reveals that in farms having fertile black cotton soil with good irrigation facilities, the PBW attack has been devastating and almost 100 per cent. On the other hand, some farmers in Yavatmal districts experimented with Indian non-GM seeds in and their crops escaped the PBW attack.
He rues that 15 years ago, when GM cotton seeds were introduced in the Indian market to fight the bollworms, the seed companies had said that would not have to spray any insecticides and that they would get an yield of 22 quintals an acre. Today, because of the very same GM seeds, usage of insecticide and fertiliser has increased five-fold and eaten into farmers incomes.
In a way, the GM technology has been defeated by nature. Just as a human body develops a resistance to medicines used regularly, PBW has developed an immunity to GM technology, he said.
He says that it has been found that the Indian varieties are much less susceptible to PBW attacks. The stem and leaves of the Indian varieties have a rough exterior, while the shrub of a GM cotton has a smooth texture, which the PBW prefer.
In non-irrigated areas, the PBW attack is much less virulent. In such areas, cotton is plucked only twice from the fields with the planting being less dense and the shrubs exposed to a large amount of sunlight. In irrigated lands, farmers keep on supplying water to the fields and plucking the cotton from the field. In such fields, the plucking takes place multiple times.
Patel laments that Bt cotton seeds have caused myriad problems have been created. This year cotton has been planted on 41 lakh hectares in Maharashtra against 38 lakh hectares last year. Earlier, soyabean covered a larger area, but as it did not fetch good rates in the market, farmers shifted to cotton, But, today, the PBW has ravaged the cotton fields. It is like a night with no dawn.
On the death of farmers due to pesticide poisoning in Yavatmal district, Patel says that due to the PBW attack, farmers have been experimenting with insecticides and combining deadly ones, which has resulted in the deaths.