Agri-biotechnologyBt cotton

Is There Life After Insect-Resistant Bt Cotton? A Podcast With M. Ramasami of Rasi Seeds

M Ramasami, Chairman of Rasi Seeds and of the Federation of Seed Industry of India. Photo by Vivian Fernandes.

Raw cotton or kapas prices have doubled since last year. At the Rajkot regulated mandi, the minimum price per quintal was Rs 10,500 on 6 June, 53 percent more than the price on the same day a year ago. The minimum support price for long staple fibre cotton is Rs 6,025 a quintal. The output of 2021 kharif cotton was officially estimated at 340 lakh bales of 170 kg each in February. In May, the Cotton Association of India (CAI) said the output would decline to 323 lakh bales. If its estimate is right, there would be a decline of 30 lakh bales from last year

The textile industry wants exports to be banned. The government has reduced the import duty on cotton from 11 percent to zero. But export prices are high and domestic cotton rates are reaching export parity levels. Per CAI’s website a variety of long staple fibre cotton lint was selling for Rs 29,526 a quintal on 6 June, more than double the price a year ago.

What are the reasons for lower production this year? According to M. Ramasami, Chairman, Rasi Seeds and also Chairman of the Federation of Seed Industry of India (FSII), untimely rains caused bacterial rot in bolls. This, more the other scourge – pink bollworm – caused a lot of damage. He said though cotton sowing has started this year in the North Zone, where his company has a sizeable market share, the area planted is not much more than last year despite high cotton prices.

India’s cotton production peaked in 2013-14 at 398 lakh bales. This was mainly because of genetically-modified Bt cotton which was approved for cultivation in 2002. At its peak, India’s cotton production was 2.5 times the pre-2002 output. Since then it has declined. Ramasami says only two Bt cotton technologies, Bollgard-I and Bollgard-II have been approved. Bollgard-II got the nod in 2006. Thereafter no new versions has been permitted. While Bt technology is still effective against the American bollworm, the pink bollworm which emerges later in the crop cycle has developed resistance. Ramasami says Bollgard III is being used in Australia and the United States but in India it is in the trial stage. Also, while cotton farmers are clamouring for herbicide-tolerant and insect resistant HTBt cotton, and though Bayer has re-applied to the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) for approval, states are not giving no objection certificates for trials.

In view of the regulatory difficulties for genetic modification (GM) technologies, Ramasami says India may have to go in for high density planting of cotton with high lint content. In high density planting, an acre is populated with about 25,000 plants compared with 7,000 normally. These plants will have to be sprayed with growth regulators. The planting will have to be done mechanically. Before mechanical harvesting, defoliants will have to be sprayed. It will require a radical change in cotton farming practices and will need industry and government support for a shift over at scale.

If you are interested in knowing more you are invited to listen to this podcast which was published on thefederal.com

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