Tuesday, July 03, 2007

BT double speak

As the monsoon arrives and the sowing season gets underway Jaideep Hardikar reports from Vidarbha.
Inputs dealers in Vidarbha say that there is hardly any non-Bt hybrid variety available in the market this year.

While cotton prices are crashing every year, a total shift to the genetic modified cotton will hike up production costs, leading a steep risk of heavier losses.

When hybrid seeds were introduced, they wiped out desi cotton. Now Bt cotton would wipe out hybrids and farmers would be left with no choice but to buy expensive Bt seeds.

After Bollguard-I (first generation Bt), Monsanto has introduced in the market Bollguard-II in more or less the same genotypes (varieties). The price of a 450-gm packet of seed is Rs.1350, several times the cost of non-Bt seeds. A package of Bollguard-I comes at Rs.750. A packet of same quantity of non-Bt will come at Rs.400-450, while the desi cottonseed, grown in very few areas, costs Rs.50 a kg.

Maharashtra Agriculture Minister, Balasaheb Thorat, recently admitted that Bt had failed in Vidarbha and cautioned farmers not to sow it.

Farm activists point out the government-run Mahabeej seeds corporation is itself marketing Bt cottonseeds to inputs dealers, while the minister advises caution.

Yet, what's concerning activists is the permission granted to nearly 53 new genotypes of Bt cotton by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC). As many 35 of those varieties would be introduced in the central India.

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