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Kamaldeep Singh Brar, Hindustan Times
Bathinda, November 06, 2012
Jury is still out on the benefits of Bt cotton to farmers but the Punjab agriculture director has given his decision in favour of the seed's unfinished next version.
Private cottonseed producer Mahyco Monsanto has earned big support from director of agriculture Mangal Singh Sandhu for the launch of its under-trial technology in Punjab. The company has projected the seed as answer to the weed problem.

The next phase of the introduction of Bt-cotton seed in the state, thus, is about to begin. On January 9, the union ministry of agriculture issued an internal advisory to the cotton-growing states, which suggested that farmers were in economic crisis since shifting to Bt cotton. "The spate of farm-related suicides in the year 2011-12 has been severe among Bt-cotton growers," it added.

Coming up as next generation of the Bt-cotton seed, Roundup Ready Flex is still an experimental technology of Mahyco Monsanto. Only the government of India can allow the introduction of any new genetically modified crop in states.

However, director of agriculture Mangal Singh Sandhu has said he will go ahead and recommend a technology similar to Roundup Ready Flex to the chief minister for the control of cottonweed. He was at a private function of Mahyco Monsanto in a hotel here on Monday.

Mangal Singh is rare to be seen at any of the interaction programmes with farmers and the Kisan Melas of his own department. However, this wasn't his first time as guest of Mahyco Monsanto in the district. He accepted the company's invite even earlier this year.

Bathinda is the cotton belt of Punjab and private companies host their functions here to promote new products in the district. The presence of top agricultural official of the state at such functions helps the company make a good impression on farmers.

The company press release suggests that farmers invited to the event require herbicide-tolerant cotton technology in the upcoming sowing season, and they have made a written requisition to agriculture director Mangal Singh Sandhu.

"Sandhu endorsed the benefits of BT cotton as experienced by the farmers of Punjab, and was in agreement with the farmers' statement about weed challenge and the need of biotechnology that built herbicide tolerance in cotton," the release read.

The department of agriculture supported the introduction of new technology such as Roundup Ready Flex for the benefit it promised to the cotton farmers of Punjab, Sandhu said on the occasion.
He affirmed that he would recommend the experimental technology to the CM as best alternative for diversification to quit the wheat-paddy cycle.

What is Monsanto
A US multinational agricultural biotechnology corporation headquartered in Creve Coeur, Missouri; leading producer of genetically engineered seed and glyphosate herbicide.

Monsanto and India
Monsanto has a controversial history in India, starting with the accusation that it used terminator genes in its seeds (farmers get no seed from the plant and have to keep buying it year after year). It brought demonstrations against the company.

Later, its genetically modified cotton seed was the subject of NGO agitation because of its higher cost. In 2009, high prices of Bt cotton were blamed for forcing farmers of Jhabua district in Madhya Pradesh into severe debt when the crop died because of lack of rain.

In 2009, insects developed resistance to the Bt cotton planted in Gujarat and Monsanto communicated to the Indian government and its customers that it was natural and expected, and they should switch to its second generation of Bt cotton (Bolguard II) that had two resistance genes instead of one. The ministry of environment suspected it could be a business strategy to phase out single-gene seeds and promote double genes that were costlier.

In the early 2000s, farmers in Andhra Pradesh were in economic crisis because of high interest rates and crop failure, leading to social unrest and suicides. Monsanto was the focus of protests with regard to the price of its Bt seed and poor yields.