Wilting Bt cotton - Big problems in Andhra Pradesh (2/9/2006)

Here's a translation, sent to us by Kavitha Kuruganti, of an important news report that recently appeared in the Khammam edition of Eenaadu - the largest-circulation telugu daily in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

See also the interesting comments (below the article) by Dr. G. V. Ramanjaneyulu, the Executive Director of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, which is based in Andhra Pradesh.

Eenaadu, Khammam, August 28th 2006

As Bt Cotton plants in many parts of the district are wilting, farmers are crying for help. In Khammam district, farmers have sown cotton in around 90,000 hectares. Around 80% of this is under Bt Cotton.

There is a new disease being witnessed on Bt Cotton called "kanchu rangu endu tegulu" [bronze-colored wilt disease or cotton bronze wilt]. Farmers have already invested up to six thousand rupees per acre on this cotton crop so far. Just the cost of seeds per acre has been upto Rs. 1500/acre. At a time that the plants were to yield flowers and bolls, the farmers are going to incur great losses due to the dying of the plants with this disease. There is no treatment for this disease. Scientists have informed that this disease is prevalent more in Canada, America and other such countries. [page 1 of district edition with a photo of a wilted plant]

The affected Bt Cotton plants are drying up completely. In 3-4 days' time, the plants are drying and dying in clusters once a field is affected. With this latest development, farmers are crying out for help. This wilt is more evident in the Bt Cotton fields only. In many places in the district, farmers have already approached the agriculture department officials and complained about the phenomenon. No one is able to explain precisely why the wilt is intense in Bt Cotton plots this year.

The normal acreage of cotton in the district is 93542 hectares. This year, farmers had sown cotton on 90,000 hectares. Out of this, Bt Cotton seed has been sown on nearly 80% of cotton fields. At present, the plants are around 50-60 days' old and the crop is bearing flowers and bolls.

The wilt disease has affected Bt Cotton fields in Palvancha, Kothagudem, Julurpad, Yenkuru, Mulkalapalli, Chandrugonda, Bayyaram, Garla, Penuballi, Vaira, Konijerla, Kusumanchi and Tirumalayapalem blocks of the district.

Farmers have spent upto Rs. 6000/- per acre so far and just the seed had cost them nearly fifteen hundred rupees per acre. At a time that the plants were to yield flowers and bolls, the incidence of wilt is going to result in farmers incurring great losses. In addition, the incidence of thrips on cotton fields is high this year.

The symptoms of wilt: After the recent bout of heavy rains in the district, root rot disease (Rhizoctonia) has affected the Bt Cotton plants. The plants first start wilting, then drying up and then die in 3-4 days' time. The disease can affect the crop at any stage of growth. It is mostly seen during flowering stage. Root injury is seen and the disease spreads further through a fungus in the soil.

In addition, the bronze-wilt disease is a new phenomenon on Bt Cotton (in the district). The edges of the leaves are turning brass-colored and yellow and are drying. The plant does not rot but only dries up and dies. For now, there is no cure for bronze wilt. [Page 7 box item report].

Note on this from Dr. G. V. Ramanjaneyulu, the Executive Director of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture:

A November 2000 report of the USDA on Bronze Wilt points out that there is an association between a new strain of the bacterium Agrobacterium tumefaciens and the bronze wilt and that the bronze wilt is present in the seed of all U.S. cotton varieties. Bronze wilt is supposed to have caused damage to American cotton in 1995 and 1996 and more so in 1998.

Many Roundup Ready GM cotton varieties in the US had to be removed due to their susceptibility to bronze wilt, as per an August 2005 Delta Farm Press report.

The question to ask now is - has the initial use of American cotton varieties for the Bt Cotton backcrossing programme in India brought in this disease into the country and made it into a significant menace for the farmers here? It has to be noted here that the bronze wilt outbreak periods in the US correspond with the period in which the Bt Cotton experimentation began in India.

What is the connection between this new disease-causing strain of Agrobacterium and the one used in the making of Bt Cotton, is another important question to asked.

A similar phenomenon was reported last year from several parts of Maharashtra and northern Andhra Pradesh with the Maharashtra government calling it "lalya disease" [reddening disease]. Has the government investigated the causes for the many different kinds of wilt being witnessed on Bt Cotton right from the first year, including lalya and the bronze wilt?

The latest outbreak of disease reported from Khammam once again shows that the biosafety testing regime in the country is inadequate and unscientific in capturing during the trials the potential incidence of all these new diseases in cotton after the advent of Bt Cotton, reported from different states year after year, even in official records. It is not clear if any comprehensive investigations are being made into these phenomena that farmers are experiencing at an expensive cost to themselves and despite repeated reporting by the media and civil society groups.

Centre for Sustainable Agriculture demands that:

the state government of Andhra Pradesh, the Central Institute for Cotton Research and the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee form a collective team to investigate into the bronze wilt being reported from Khammam district and estimate the extent of incidence and extent of possible losses to farmers immediately the GEAC and CICR also look into possible connections between the lalya disease in other states and the bronze wilt witnessed here the GEAC and CICR present a comprehensive report on the phenomenon of wilt (including 'para-wilt', 'new wilt' and 'bronze wilt' as reported in official documents as well as media reports) being witnessed right from the first year of Bt Cotton in the country due to pathological as well as abiotic stress reasons. Why are such conditions higher on Bt Cotton than on non-Bt Cotton, as farmers have observed and reported repeatedly?

Alois et. al. (1998), Bronze wilt of cotton, The Texas A&M University System

The Cause of Bronze Wilt of Cotton www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/nov00/wilt1100.htm


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