The central government’s decision to bring down trait fees on Bollgard (BG) variety of cotton to zero, has evoked criticism from farmers’ groups which claim this will stop the introduction of new technology in the country. Anil Ghanwat, president of Shetkari Sanghtana, a farmer’s union, said the move will have an effect on the fortunes of cotton growers across the country. Trait fee is the amount seed companies have to pay to the technology providers for using their patented technology.
Ghanwat said the move will deter technology providers in investing or introducing newer technologies for farmers in India. “Companies who introduce newer technologies invest in its research and development. In case they see no return on their investments, why would they introduce the same for our farmers?” he asked.
On March 24, the department of agriculture and farmers welfare published an official notification fixing the maximum sale price of cotton seed for the season 2020-21. Price per packet of BG II was fixed at Rs 730 of which seed value was kept at Rs 730 and trait value including taxes was brought down to zero. Similarly the price for an earlier variant BG 1 was capped at Rs 635/- per packet with trait free for this also being brought down to zero.
In June 2019, the Sanghanata had led around a civil disobidenience movement in Akola district of Maharashtra where in around 1,000 farmers had defied the law and sown seeds of the non approved BG III variant of cotton seed. Cotton growers have been demanding introduction of newer variant of cotton which they said would help them reduce their cost of production. “10 months after the movement all the government did was to ensure farmers face more road block in their search of newer technology,” he said.
In case of cotton, agri input giant Bayer holds the patent for GM or Bacillus Thuringiensis (BT) cotton. Introduction of the cry 1 Ac (BGI) and cry 2 Ab (BGII) from this soil bacterium into cotton seed allows the crop to develop resistant against attack of the dreaded pink bollworm pest. Bayer transfers this technology to various seed companies who sell packets of the seed to farmers. The central government had brought down the trait fee from the previous Rs 39 per packet to Rs 20 last year and the same was brought to zero for the upcoming kharif season.
In a statement issued to The Indian Express, Bayer said the decision was ‘disappointing’.
“For 18 years, Bollgard cotton technologies have helped local farmers produce cotton sustainably and boost their livelihoods. While it is disappointing to see the full elimination of trait fees, we will in collaboration with other technology providers continue to highlight the need to maintain a reasonable level of trait fees. This is essential to support stewardship, maintaining longevity and at the same time investing in future technologies; factors that are critical to preserve global competitiveness and livelihoods of millions of smallholder cotton farmers across India,” the statement read.
Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC)- the apex body under the Department of Environment and Forest had approved the commercial release of BT cotton in the country way back in 2002. Since then almost 99.95 per of India’s 120 lakh hectares (lh) cotton area of the country have come under BT cotton.
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