Cotton growers in Maharashtra are once again demanding permission to sow seeds of herbicide tolerant (Ht) genetically modified (GM) cotton. Former minister of state for agriculture Sudabhau Khot, while speaking to The Indian Express, expressed support for this demand.
Last year in June, the district collectorate of Akola had lodged FIRs against farmer organisations who had carried out a civil disobedience movement and taken up sowing of non-approved variants. India, till date, has permitted just one GM crop-BT cotton. This variant was permitted for commercial release in 2002 by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC).
Developed by the US-giant Bayer Monsanto, it involves the insertion of two genes – Cry1Ab and Cry2Bc – from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis into cotton seeds. This variant produces protein toxic to Heliothis bollworm (pink bollworm), thus making it resistant to their attack. International cotton growers have access to another variant, obtained by inserting another gene, Cp4-Epsps, into BT cotton. This gene, also obtained from soil bacterium Bacilius thuringiensis, allows the cotton plant to withstand the spraying of commonly-used broad acting weedicide Gylphosate, which is used to control the rampant growth of weed in fields. Normal GM cotton cannot withstand the spraying of this chemical.
Weeding has become a major issue for cotton growers, both due to the cost as well as the labour involved. In Maharashtra, growers said they end up paying as much as Rs 10,000 per acre for the process. With agriculture labour increasingly becoming spare, farmers have been surreptitiously sowing Ht Bt Cotton, relying on seed smuggled from neighbouring states. Industry estimates say that last year, around 50 lakh packets of such seeds were used by farmers in the country. Annually, India requires 4 – 4.5 crore packets – each weighing 400 grams.
On June 10 last year, the Shetakari Sanghatana had led thousands of farmers in a civil disobedience movement. Khot, while lending support for the movement, said the present state government should take steps to ensure the farmers’ demands are met. Putting the onus on NCP Chief Sharad Pawar, Khot added that the leader should step in and obtain permission for the same.
Rayat Kranti Sanghtana – the organisation formed by Khot – will be supporting the farmers’ cause. It was during Khot’s tenure as Minister of State for Agriculture when the Akola district authorities had lodged FIRs against farmers.
As sowing of Ht Bt cotton remains illegal, the state Agriculture Department had started filing FIRs against farmers who were found in possession of such seeds. Till date, around 10 FIRs have been lodged. Recently, the Shetkari Sanghtana had met the state Home Minister Anil Deshmukh to discuss the matter.
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