|Bt cotton seeds fail to germinate / Bt cotton not increasing yield (15/11/2005)|
1.Bt cotton seeds fail to germinate
EXCERPTS: "Bt cotton is primarily not the reason for the increase in yield"
"Bt cotton makes up just 13 per cent of the total area under cotton cultivation" (item 2)
Up to 75 per cent of the Bt cotton seeds in 35 per cent of the area sown in parts of Salem and Namakkal districts of Tamil Nadu is said to have failed to germinate this season (item 1)
In less than two years, the GM version of the ubiquitous brinjal, or aubergine or eggplant, call it what you will, may enter Indian kitchens... The project, Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project II (ABSPII), is funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) (item 3)
1.Tamil Nadu Bt cotton seeds fail to germinate
NEW DELHI: Up to 75 per cent of the Bt cotton seeds in 35 per cent of the area sown in parts of Salem and Namakkal districts of Tamil Nadu is said to have failed to germinate this season, according to the Monitoring and Evaluation Committee comprising 20 civil society groups led by the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture and Greenpeace India.
The MEC, which is monitoring Bt cotton in five States, (to make up for lack of monitoring by the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee) found that the situation on the ground seemed to be a repetition of the failure of the Bt cotton hybrids of Naziveedu seeds in Andhra Pradesh where the story began with germination failure. However, while in Andhra Pradesh, farmers agitated for compensation and obtained it in some places, the story of germination failure in Tamil Nadu has not been highlighted much except for some local media reports, the MEC said.
Kavitha Kuruganti of Centre for Sustainable Agriculture and Sekhar and Sakthivel of Pasumai Tayagam visited the visit to Attur division of Salem district. The findings, based on interviews with seed dealers, officials and farmers confirmed that there had been a germination failure. "While this failure of germination is being attributed to excessive rainfall, deeper discussions with farmers and field visits revealed a different picture," they said in their report.
In this area, Bt Cotton hybrids of Rasi Seeds like RCH2 Bt, RCH 20 Bt etc., are being grown on around 6000 hectares (in addition to Mahyco varieties like MECH 184 Bt etc.), out of a total area of 9000 hectares of cotton, as per the district administration's office in Attur. The regular cotton includes popular varieties like Suvin, LRA 5166.
The various findings of the MEC report showed that while the Rasi hybrids exhibited the highest degree of problem in terms of germination failure, there were a few cases of germination failure with Mahyco hybrids too. Several farmers had to sow up to three times, to address the problem. Farmers had ended up purchasing two containers of Bt Cotton per acre to address the problem involving an expense of nearly Rs. 3500 rupees on the seed cost alone. Even after re-sowing, there had not always been full germination.
Visits to the fields and discussions with farmers, especially the ones who had sown Bt Cotton and non-Bt Cotton clearly showed that with the same soil conditions [adjacent plots] and rainfall conditions, Bt Cotton seed had failed to germinate, while non-Bt Cotton varieties had shown 100 per cent germination. Incidentally, the non-Bt cotton varieties in question like the LRA varieties were available at Rs. 70 per kg, with the seed rate being around two kg per acre, whereas Bt Cotton seed were available for Rs. 1725.00 per 450 gms, on an average.
The MEC have rued the lack of scientific mechanisms that would assess the correct reasons for germination failure on the ground. Comparable data between Bt Cotton farmers and non-Bt Cotton farmers in terms of sowing date, soil quality, germination percentage etc., should be drawn officially. Particular batches/lots of seed should be further analysed, they said.
'Bonus for companies'
Companies seemed to have made a lot of sales and money due to the germination problem. Where a farmer would have bought one container of seeds, two had to be bought. "Instead of the liability being fixed, the problem is actually a bonus for the companies, where it is being conveniently blamed on excessive rains."
They have demanded that the GEAC and the State Government should investigate whether the seed production permissions given to the companies and the actual supply of seed made available by them meet the market demand to rule out the possibility of Bt Cotton seeds being adulterated.
2.Cotton output rises on better farm practices
Last season (October 2004-September 2005) cotton production was 243 lakh bales and this season, it is projected at a record 255 lakh bales.
The yield too has increased correspondingly to 500 kg a hectare. The progress has been made despite the area under cotton remaining stagnant around 86 lakh hectares.
What has happened these five years that the country is now the second-largest cotton producer in the world and is threatening to overtake the US as the No. 1?
"Cotton production in the country has increased as a result of lot of events," says Mr D.K. Nair, Secretary-General, Confederation of Indian Textile Industries (CITI).
While the US Department of Agriculture points out at the rising cultivation of Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) cotton as a reason, industry players say it is just one of them.
"Bt cotton is primarily not the reason for the increase in yield. Yes, the area under Bt cotton has gone up significantly but it is being cultivated to tackle bollworms in cotton and thereby, cut farmers' input costs," says Mr Nair.
"Bt cotton makes up just 13 per cent of the total area under cotton cultivation," say industry sources.
"Cotton production is up mainly because of extension activities of the Government and industry. Also, steps taken through the Technology Mission on Cotton (TCM) have helped," Mr Nair says.
The Cotton Development Research Associations of organisations such as CITI and South Indian Textile Mills' Association have played a key role in the rapid production rise.
"Besides, individual mills such as Century, Varadaman, Super Spinning and Appachi Cotton Company have undertaken efforts to improve production," Mr Nair says.
For example, the Coimbatore-based Super Spinning and Pollachi-based Appachi have entered into contract farming of cotton, assuring remunerative prices for the growers. But more importantly, they have also given farmers key inputs such as seeds.
"What has happened is that textile bodies and private mills have gone to the farmers, advised them on what seeds to sow under which agro-climatic condition, what fertiliser and pesticide to use. The organisations also educated the growers when to apply the fertiliser or a particular pesticide," he says.
A particular pest can be tackled only by a specific pesticide but usually, farmers have the habit of spraying the wrong one. "This is where extension activities came handy. Also, under TCM, every market yard came up with posters and displays that educated the farmers on what to do for specific problems," Mr Nair says, adding that all these have resulted in a substantial 60 per cent rise in yield.
TCM, in particular, came up with four mini-missions aimed to increase yield and quality of cotton produced in the country. "The quality of cotton now available in the country is very good," say industry sources.
"We are still below the world average yield of 650 kg a hectare but now our yield is better than countries such as Pakistan and China," he says.
The record crop this year could prove beneficial this year to the growers, according to industry sources. "Prices are not showing any signs of declining despite the record crop," they said.
"There are no restrictions on imports or exports. Therefore, our growers can get prices on par with global rates. With global production seen down five per cent and consumption rising three per cent, prices are likely to rule firm," they said.
"Prospects for exports are good. Last year, exports totalled 10 lakh bales. This year is very ideal for exports," says Mr Nair.
The industry expects exports to touch 25 lakh bales. "Farmers will realise the benefit of higher yield even if prices don't rise," say industry sources.
3.GM brinjals in Indian kitchens soon
"Once we have cleared the required trials and safety parameters, we are looking at 2006-07 for commercial release of the new genetically modified eggplant," said Raju Barwale, managing director of Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company (Mahyaco).
"The large-scale trials can be completed by next yearend before going to the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) for commercial release. The economic advantage data will also be generated within the next six to eight months," Barwale said at an interaction in this Tamil Nadu town for media from all countries participating in the ongoing field trials.
Grown year round, a significantly large percentage of the brinjal crop is damaged due to high infestation of fruit and shoot borer.
Even the undamaged crop that reaches dining rooms is contaminated by repeated use of toxic pesticides, say leading agriculture scientists engaged in the development of the transgenic crop.
Partnering the effort are universities and research bodies in India, Philippines, Bangladesh and the US based Monsanto, which is a seed partner in Mahyco.
The public-private partnership is the mode adopted to develop and commercialise bio-engineered crops to complement traditional and organic agriculture approaches.
The project, Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project II (ABSPII), is funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and led by Cornell University. The consortium is managed in South Asia by Sathguru Management Consultants and in Southeast Asia by the University of Philippines.
The nine transgenic varieties of eggplant currently under second year of field trials in different regions of the country have all been developed using biogenetic material from Monsanto, which has licensed it to the consortium partners.
"Mahyco is currently carrying out field trials in several regions in India. Comprehensive food and feed safety studies on animals like cows, goats, chicken and fish are being carried out in accordance with the national regulatory guidelines," said K. Vijayaraghavan, director of Sathguru.
"The national regulators have asked for additional testing of alkaloids," he said.
Besides eggplant, the ABSPII consortium comprising 30 partners from Asia, Africa and America is also exploring the transgenic route for development of drought and salt tolerant rice, late blight resistant potato, ringspot virus resistant papaya, multiple virus resistant tomato, black sigatoka and nematode resistant banana among others.
Work is also on in India for developing tobacco streak virus resistant sunflower and groundnut, both of which are sources of edible oil.
"Differing from commercial technology transfer, the collaborative knowledge sharing is the essence of the partnership in which every partner owns responsibility for the product it will deliver to farmers for commercial cultivation," said Vijayaraghavan.
In the case of the eggplant, the biogenetic material being used is cry1Ac protein, which has already been established to control bollworm in the transgenic or Bt cotton, the only genetically modified crop being cultivated in India for the last couple of years.
In a departure from the past when not much was made public about the field trials of Bt cotton, the new effort is seeing partners like Tamil Nadu Agriculture University (TNAU) taking all stakeholders on board in an effort to address fears and share knowledge.
"The farmers will find more acceptability with the involvement of the universities and the public sector," said C. Ramasamy, professor of TNAU.
"We can expect significantly good acceptance from farmers who would be spared the cost of repeated spraying of pesticides to protect the brinjal crops. The yield loss due to fruit and shoot borers in India alone is estimated to be about $221 million," he said.
The scientists said the disbursement of certified seeds would be done through the university partners and authorised channels in India.