A Bt-cotton variety targeted mainly at poor farmers because it is public-sector developed and, hence, cheap has failed in some parts, embarrassing government scientists and causing losses to growers.
The government variety was flaunted as a boon for poor farmers because they could save the seeds and re-use them, unlike expensive Bt hybrids sold by MNCs, such as Monsanto’s, which need to be bought afresh each season.
The Nagpur-based Central Institute of Cotton Research (CISR), the leading state-owned cotton agency promoting the genetically modified “Bikaneri Narma Bt cotton”, however, said the variety only needed some fine-tuning and there was no question it being recalled.
Farmers in some pockets of Maharashtra have reportedly suffered losses, as the variety did not produce the promised yield and quality last year. Its seeds are being temporarily discontinued in some parts this year.
“There are some concerns about contamination and impurity. The seed-breeding institutions are trying to address the issues. It is incorrect to say we are pulling the variety out of the markets,” CISR’s director K.R. Kranthi told Hindustan Times.
In 2002, India took to Bt cotton in 9 states in about 80 lakh hectares, which helped push yields by 31 per cent and made it the largest cotton exporter in Asia after China, according to farm ministry figures.
The CSIR had sourced Bikaneri, a non-hybrid Bt cotton, from University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad, and the Delhi-based National Research Centre on Plant Biotechnology — its original breeders.
The incident has attracted fresh criticism from those opposed to GM crops.
“This is an unacceptable wastage of taxpayer’s funds,” said Kavitha Kuruganti of the Kheti Virasat Mission.
Issues with Bikaneri variety have raised questions over how level the biotech playing field is. Government-developed non-hybrids have failed to take off due to stiff competition from expensive hybrids from private players, accounting for 90 per cent of India’s Bt cotton areas.