While cotton prices are crashing every year, a total shift to genetic cotton will spiral production cost phenomenally, leading to heavy losses, farm activists say An . estimate suggests that over 30 lakh packets of Bt cottonseeds would be sold this season, enough to cover well over ten lakh hectare farms in the region.
That's a rise of more than double in the acreage over the last year. A disaster of unforeseen and unmanageable proportions is on the cards, if there is any fluctuation in the arrival of monsoon, fears Kishor Tiwari of the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti. "The gov ernment is selling a new disaster to the struggling farmers."
Interestingly, the Maharashtra Agri culture Minister, Balasaheb Thorat, recently admitted that Bt had failed in Vidarbha and cautioned farmers not to sow it.
Also, the state government has paid about Rs 400 crore to farmers in the last four years as compensation due to the failure of Bt cotton. Farm activists point out the government-run Mahabeej seeds corporation is marketing Bt cottonseeds to inputs dealers, while the minister advises caution.
Yet, what's concerning the activists is the permission granted to nearly 53 new genotypes of Bt cotton by the Genetic Engineer ing Approval Committee (GEAC). As many 35 of those varieties would be introduced in the central parts of India.
Over 60 Bt varieties are already in the market here and more will arrive soon. And there's hardly any study on the performance of new genotypes in Vidarbha.
"We don't know yet whether these varieties will suit the agro-climatic and soil conditions. Moreover, releasing the second generation Bt (Bollguard II) for a widespread commercial use is surely disastrous," admits a senior scientist.
He also warns that it is only a matter of time before the widespread emergence of resistance in bollworms will cause the Bt cotton technology to collapse.
Peasants' confusion would be compounded by the introduction of new varieties this season. As companies compete for a greater market share, their fierce and relentless promotional tactics will expose the farmers to far greater risks.
Farmers' leader Vijay Jawandhia argues, "Bt cotton has not brought about any increase in productivity. Also, it has not reduced the use of chemicals."
Various state government reports and statistics too suggest that Bt cotton has not brought about any rise in productivity or decline in the pesticide use.
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