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Control of Bt Cotton Seed Price by The Government Of Andhra Pradesh, India
Prof. C Kameswara Rao
Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education,
Bangalore, India
krao@vsnl.com, www.fbae.org, www.fbaeblog.org

The Government of the State of Andhra Pradesh (AP) is issuing an Ordinance restricting the maximum sale price of 400 g of Bt cotton seed required for an acre to Rs. 750.   The package also includes 50 g of non-Bt cotton seed to plant the refugium.  This Ordinance is being bought in to ostensibly protect the farmer, after the Central Government removed cotton from the protected list of essential commodities.  

The Ordinance applies to the whole State, but the focus is on the Warangal District, the fountain head of all anti-GE activism.  In the climate of appeasement politics, the State Government gains some brownie points from the Ordinance, but in effect this does not help the farmer much.   The AP Government should be doing several other things for the benefit of the farmers.

Last year, AP Government fixed the price of Bt cotton seed per acre at Rs. 750.  But due to short supply, some favourite varieties were on the black market and the same thing happens this year too, making Governmental price control a mockery.  The sale receipts show only the official price and not the higher price paid by the farmer.  The farmers pay higher price if they think that a particular variety is worth it, as for example, Bollgard II (BGII), the two Bt-genes stacked cotton.  Last year, though BGII was not approved in AP, some farmers in the Warangal District bought BGII seed in Maharashtra at a high cost and cultivated.  The Government should ensure that only the authentic seed of approved varieties of Bt cotton is sold through registered outlets, and ruthlessly weed out black marketing, to save the farmers from racketeers.

Last year there were several different varieties of Bt cotton on the market in the AP.   The farmers were not sure of which to choose, and so planted different varieties on one- or two-acre plots each.   Though the farmers might now be wiser from last year’s experience, the confusion continues as there are several more new varieties available this year.   The Government should first advise the farmers on the choice of the varieties suitable to different regions in the State.

There is a flourishing market for illegal Bt cotton seed which may be cheaper than the legal varieties.  There are also the problems of spurious Bt seed, often in authentic looking packages and Bt seed of poor quality, in terms of germination percentage, viability and plant establishment.   The AP Government should ensure that the farmers get quality seed certified by its own Seed Testing Agency.

As the availability of water is critical at certain stages of the cotton crop, the farmer should be advised on the time, frequency and quantum of irrigation.   Excessive pesticide application on Bt cotton, under panic or over enthusiasm, is wasteful, affects the health of the farm labour, harms non-target organisms and contaminates soil and water.   Excessive fertilizer application, particularly under drier conditions, results in an accumulation of nitrates that are toxic to animals that feed on the crop stubble.  Planting of a refugium is a scientific precaution against development of resistance by the American bollworm to Bt proteins, and a statutory requirement, which is largely ignored by the farmers.   The AP Government should ensure that a refugium is planted by all the farmers and also represent to the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee to permit non-cotton refugium (preferred by the farmers), which will be as effective as the non-Bt cotton refugium, since the American bollworm feeds on several other common crops.      

Farmers should be advised to practice inter-cultivation so that one crop would at least partially compensate, if there were any losses from the other.   They should be advised to adopt crop rotation to prevent perpetuation of pest and pathogen load and depletion of the same set of soil nutrients, which ensue if the same crop is cultivated years on.

That AP has not constituted the State Level and District Level Committees to oversee and monitor the cultivation of genetically engineered crops has been a serious complaint.   Under the country’s Statutes in force, it is irregular to cultivate GE crops without forming these Committees.  

The private seed dealers have a responsibility to the farmer in providing adequate and timely guidance, which was largely unfulfilled.  By and large, there was no authentic information on cultivation practices.  The Government should ensure that the dealers take their post-sale responsibilities seriously.  The State Government should carry out its own fundamental responsibility of ensuring that the farmers receive guidance through the scientific and extension personnel of the Department of Agriculture and public sector institutions, more particularly on what the farmers should not do. 

The Government should ensure that the farmer gets a fair price, eliminating middlemen.

A couple of years ago, the AP Government directed the Officers of the Department of Agriculture to discourage cultivation of cotton on red soils and under rain fed conditions, especially where the annual rainfall is less than 60 cm, and not distributed over the crop season.   That cotton should not be grown as a rain fed crop is now realized also in the Vidharbha region of Maharashtra State, which is the other ‘Bt cotton disaster’ story area.   The widows of some farmers who have committed suicide in this area have recently represented to the President of India that ‘there must be a blanket ban on Bt cotton seeds in the dry land farming areas’.  The AP Government should now take its own advice seriously and ensure that this is implemented urgently, no matter what the friends of the farmers say.  

Seed quality control and crop husbandry are more important in enhancing farmers’ welfare than ineffective and ill-advised price control orders.

June 22, 2007