THE Centre has rejected the Maharashtra government’s plea to de-notify Bt cotton in the wake of “large-scale” infestation of pink bollworm pest, and has instead advised the state to work with all stakeholders to put in place effective management strategies to check the menace. This has come out in the minutes of the “Review meeting for de-notification of Bt cotton hybrids for commercial cultivation in view of alleged breakdown of residence to pink bollworm” held under the chairmanship of Deputy Director General of Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) A K Singh in New Delhi on October 25. The minutes accessed by The Indian Express clearly states, “It was decided to continue the use of Bt cotton BGII as per existing guidelines.”
The decision was arrived at following elaborate discussions with representatives of all major cotton producing states, of which only Maharashtra had sought de-notification. Summerising the discussions, Singh said, “Proactive steps already taken by Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR), Nagpur, for management of pink bollworm need to be implemented by all cotton growing states.” He advocated proper education, training of farmers and ginners about the Bt cotton technology. “He assured that ICAR would join hands with State government for providing technical assistance for the management of pink bollworm. There is need for collaborative efforts of all stakeholders to strengthen the transfer of technology to grassroots level,” read the minutes.
Singh’s assertion was based on experiences shared by other cotton growing states like Gujarat, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab and Karnataka. At the centre of discussion was the Gujarat model of pink bollworm control as enunciated by Director of Research, Anand Agriculture University, Gujarat, K B Kathiriya who said: “Gujarat faced severe damage by pink bollworm during 2015-16. However, the state undertook mass campaigning with the help of state agricultural universities, private companies and undertook farmers’ field days and organised trainings for the ginners. As a result, this year, economic threshold level (ETL) has been crossed in very few locations.”
In integrated pest management, the economic threshold is the density of a pest at which a control treatment will provide an economic return. Kathiriya opined that there was no option to Bt cotton. I S Kategiri from Dharwad in Karnataka pitched for continuing Bt technology saying “it is effective against other bollworms (American and spotted)”. He, however, said farmers could be compensated by lowering the seed costs since “it is not effective against pink bollworm”.
Balu Naik, an official from Andhra Pradesh, said the state had laid out pink bollworm management strategies in association with the CICR. “AP has made village-level and mandal-wise plans for management. Pheromone trap (to check insect invasion) were given 100 pc subsidy,” he said.
Director of Research, Jawaharlal Nehru Krishi Vishwa Vidyalaya, Madhya Pradesh, said, “There was no issue of pink bollworm in Madhya Pradesh. Campaigning was done with the result that majority of the cotton area was below ETL.”
Telangana official T Pradeep noted that there was increased pink bollworm infestation this year but said he wa” “optimistic on managing it by cultivation of short duration hybrids, crop rotation and adoption of integrated pest management measures (IPM)”.
Himachal Pradesh official S P Singh attributed the infestation to lack of refugia (the mandatory crop to be grown around Bt cotton to thwart pest attack) cultivation.
Maharashtra’s Agriculture Commissioner S P Singh, however, said, “More than 700 villages have been affected pink bollworm this year in the state. Cotton crop termination by December as recommended by CICR was not feasible as farmers were not willing to do so. Refugia seeds supplied by seed industry also didn’t conform to standards.” He called for “immediate action and technical guidance” for management of pink bollworm.
The Maharashtra government has twice written to the Centre seeking to de-notify Bt cotton due to the pink bollworm issue. Even Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had flagged the decreasing efficacy of Bt technology in his speech at the Agrovsion expo at Nagpur last month.
‘De-notification issue misunderstood’
Maharashtra Principal Secretary (Agriculture) Vijay Kumar said, “The denotification point made by the state has been largely misunderstood. We are not demanding discontinuation of Bt cotton. We only mean that as the technology has ceased to provide protection against pink bollworm, it should be priced at a lower level to pass on the advantage to farmers. We also agree that Bt cotton will have to continue in the years to come.”
Kumar dismissed the contention that pink bollworm infestation was due to lack of refugia plantation. Kumar said, “The companies pass on the blame to farmers but we have tested many refugia samples and found them to be substandard. Now the companies have got permission from the Centre to allow them to mix refugia seeds in the same packet as Bt seeds so that the farmers would have to use them anyway.
Kumar added, “We will initiate a process under the Maharashtra Cotton Seeds (Regulation of Supply, Distribution, Sale and. Fixation of Sale Price) Act, 2009, to set up a committee to hear both farmers and the seed companies to decide about compensation to farmers by the companies, which they are liable to pay under the act.”