Pakistan will not allow the commercial cultivation of Monsanto's Bt cotton (11/8/2004)


Researchers employ genetic engineering: Cotton varieties
By Muhammad Ilyas
Dawn, 08 August 2004

ISLAMABAD, Aug 7: Pakistan will not allow the commercial cultivation of Bt. cotton, a genetically modified variety, which has been developed in the United States for its resistance against the American bollworm disease of cotton crop.

Instead, a source in the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock (Minfal) told Dawn, it had been decided to encourage the development of Bt cotton in the research institutions within Pakistan.

The National Institute of Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering (NIBGE), Faisalabad, CCRI of Multan and CEMB of Lahore are already enegaged in developing cotton varieties through genetic engineering with a view to combating various diseases. NIBGE, in particular, is said to have made considerable progress in that direction.

The production of Bt cotton is expanding in a number of countries, particularly in the US, Australia and China, as its proponents claim that the farmers would get higher return per acre by applying fewer inputs, that is pesticides.

This claim has not, however, been vindicated by research such as that by the researchers of University of Arkansas. They recently found that net income from a unit of land planted with Bt cotton was less than that from the unit of land planted with conventional cotton.

The United Kingdom's Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food went a step further and issued last year the strongly worded advice against any approval of a multinational's GM cotton.

The gene "aad", which provides resistance to the antibiotics streptomycin and spectinomycin, is present in both insect-protected and herbicide tolerant GM cottons, they stated.

Similarly, the Nanjing Institute of Environmental Sciences, China, released a study in June, 2003, which showed that GM cotton was "hazardous" to the environment and the ecology.

In Pakistan as well, the recently emerged Burewala strain of the cotton leaf curl virus (CLCV) is attributed to the un- authorized cultivation of imported Bt cotton by some growers, the source observed.

All Bt cotton varieties developed in foreign countries like US, China, Australia, etc., it has been revealed by scientific analyses, are severely susceptible to CLCV in Pakistan's ecology. Any introduction of these varieties or even testing of the same in the farmers' fields might result in increase of inoculum of CLCV that will be a great threat to cotton in Pakistan, it is apprehended by scientists.

In view of the newly emerging characteristics of CLCV, these scientists had short-listed in Punjab last year the varieties just to minimise the problem.

In spite of this, some farmers did not follow the instructions of the Agriculture Department and sowed the prohibited variety, leading to a severe attack of what is now called the "Burewala strain" of CLCV. This strain had not been known existing in Pakistan before.

The decision against import of Bt cotton variety developed in foreign countries had been taken in view of the apprehension that once any type of this variety's seed entered into Pakistan, it would not be possible to prevent growers from planting it on their fields, thus further aggravating the problem, the source said.

Another problem with the pesticide use in Pakistan is its randomness: It is not available when and where really needed and of the quality specific to the nature of pest attack.

The Minfal has, in this connection, directed the Federal Plant Protection Department to ensure adequate and in time availability of all the insect pest-specific pesticides throughout the period of growth and development of cotton crop.

Another criticism by the experts relates to the absence of any system of monitoring of the pests in different ecological regions of Pakistan. The attitude among the extension workers is to completely ignore the farmers, particularly those with small holdings.

The lack of proper orientation and motivation among the extension workers is also manifested by the fact that pesticides are usually used as a ritual rather than as a requirement dictated by specific situations, these experts remark.

Meanwhile, the Minfal has devised a scheme to combat the menace of adulteration of pesticides. These cause huge losses to the farmers by compelling them to apply these in quantities larger than the prescribed limit and lead to immunity among pests due to the dilution of active ingredients.

In this connection, the source said, it had been decided to encourage the pesticides companies to develop their own network of outlets.

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