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Bt Cotton Need of the Hour
Mansoor Ahmad28-April-2008
via Checkbiotech Green

LAHORE, Pakistan - Cotton cultivation would play a crucial role in determining the economic growth of the country and the management of this crop in Punjab would be crucial as it is the major cotton producer in the country.

The cotton sowing season would start immediately after the harvesting of wheat. Punjab on the average cultivates cotton on 5.5 to 5.7 million acres every year. Farmers in Punjab face multiple problems in management of this crop. The provincial government would have to keep its Agricultural Extension Department alert right from the sowing until the harvesting of cotton. Pest attacks would have to be controlled without waiting for the pest population to reach injury level.

The main role of the Punjab government in the meantime would be to ensure that Pakistan embraces the cotton cultivation technologies in which Pakistan lags far behind all other cotton producing countries of the world. The province should be the driver of agriculture reforms and should press the federal government to remove all hurdles that impede sowing of BT cotton.

Pakistan as fourth largest producer and third largest consumer of cotton has not adopted BT cotton that since its introduction in 1996 emerged as one of the lead genetically engineered crop technologies adopted ever.

There is no denying the fact that insecticides are harmful to beneficial insects, pollute the environment, create resistance and most of the time are so expensive that poor farmers cannot afford them.

Farmers world over have reason to shift to this new technology as it has saved them from a number of pests that often used to destroy mature crop despite costly pesticide sprays. In neighboring India, GM cotton production trounced conventional cotton, providing a 34 per cent increase in yield and increased a farmerÕs revenue by 69 per cent. By using BT Cotton, farmer benefits accrue through reductions in pesticide use, equal or higher yields, no impact on fiber quality and increased income, while clear environmental benefits are delivered through reduced pesticide input.

Farmers in Punjab resort to minimum of five pesticide sprays in rare seasons when there is no pest attack. Normally, the number of pesticide spays on crop ranges between 15 to 17 during the cultivation cycle of cotton crop. One spray costs on average Rs 750 (using cheapest pesticides) per acre. The total amount spent on pesticide spray on one acre amounts to Rs11,250 to 12,500. If BT cotton is introduced in the province, the frequency of spray would drop to three to five and the cost of on one acre would come down to Rs 22,50 to Rs 3,750 - saving Rs 8,750 to Rs 9,000 per acre. This amounts to a saving of Rs49.87 billion-51.3 billion on 5.7 million acres of land in Punjab on which cotton is sown.

Besides benefits in cost of production that would go in the pocket of farmers, the less use of pesticide spray would be an environment-friendly measure. The use of pesticides in Punjab has increased from 11,800 tonnes in 1990 to over 42,000 tonnes in 2008. It has decreased in all other cotton growing countries substantially ever since they started sowing BT cotton. This higher use is enriching pesticide companies but making the farmers poor.

Biotech cotton varieties should not be perceived as Òmagic bulletsÓ for pest control in cotton, but be recognised as a valuable component of integrated pest management (IPM) systems which can reduce the impact of key pests and address significant environmental concerns.

The agricultural planners in Punjab should realise insect resistance and herbicide tolerance were not the only traits currently available in biotech cottons, a broad range of other traits that have been developed have impacted agronomic performance, stress tolerance, fiber quality and yield potential directly.

Intellectual property rights are essential for the protection of innovation in biotechnology. The Pakistan government should ensure that legislation is introduced to protect both the germ-plasm and the technology. Pakistan is yet to provide comfort in this regard to the global biotech concerns. The federal government should be requested by the provincial government to resolve this issue urgently.

The well-established specificity of BT proteins is that these greatly reduce risks of direct effects on non-target species. Likewise there is no evidence for indirect effects on beneficial species through consumption of BT intoxicated prey.

More than 85 per cent of the farmers using biotech crops in last year were resource-poor farmers planting BT cotton, mainly in China (Mainland), India and the Makhathin flats region of South Africa. There is a need to include Pakistani farmers in this process as well

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The latest issue of Plant Physiology (July 2008; Volume 147, Issue 3) has a special section on next generation of biotech crops especially on nutritional improvement.  These papers can
be downloaded free!

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Effect of Transgenes Conferring Enhanced Pathogen Resistance on the Interaction with Symbiotic        Fungi in Rice

Impact on the Soil Ecosystem through Natural and Genetically Engineered Organisms:
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The Decomposition of Bt-Corn on the Fields and its Impact on Earthworms and on other        Macroorganisms in the Soil

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