Genetically modified (GM) cotton may achieve what months of diplomacy between India and Pakistan could not: cooperation between the two countries.
India’s Bt Cotton seeds that helped the country double its cotton production in seven years will soon be available to farmers in Pakistan. Bt or Bacillus Thuringiensis is a bacterium that produces crystals proteins that are toxic to many species of insects and pests.
India’s regulatory body for GM crops, Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), under the environment and forest ministry, gave permission to top GM seed companies like Monsanto, Hyderabad-based Bayer Hybrid Seeds and Aurangabad-based Nath Biogene in September to export GM hybrid seeds to Pakistan for trials.
“It provides us a good opportunity to test highly successful GM cotton seeds in a similar geographical terrain in Pakistan,” said Jagresh Rana, director, Mahyco-Monsanto Biotech. “Bt Cotton is grown on the Indian side of border in Abhor in Punjab and normal cotton is grown on a similar soil in Pakistan. One can see the difference. We have no reason to believe that India’s cotton success story cannot be replicated in Pakistan.”
With the approval, the Indian government has put to rest claims in the Pakistan media that India was unwilling to share its cotton success story with Pakistan. “Our bonhomie with our neighbours (Pakistan) on environment issues from climate change to GM is good,” said Indian environment minister Jairam Ramesh.
To improve Pakistan’s standing in the international cotton market, where it is the fourth largest producer after China, India and the United States, Indian companies were the first to get an import permit for testing of Bt Cotton hybrid seeds from the Pakistan government earlier this year.
In Pakistan’s Punjab and Sindh provinces, some untested varieties of Bt Cotton from China are reportedly being grown since 2005 without permission of the federal government. But, its results have not done farmers any good.
“It is a beginning of a new agriculture era in Pakistan,” said Rana Shafiq, general secretary of Past Indian Farmers Forum, a body of farmers from the Punjabs on both sides of the border, welcoming India-Pakistan cooperation on agriculture issues. He, however, added that like in India many civil right groups opposed introduction of GM crops in Pakistan.