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|BT seeds to gain half of India's cotton area - trade body|
Tue May 22, 2007 5:02 PM IST
By Rajendra Jadhav
MUMBAI (Reuters) - The total area under cotton in India, the world's third largest producer, may see little change in 2007/08, but genetically modified varieties would account for half of it, a trade body official said on Tuesday.
Kishorilal Jhunjhunwala, president of the East India Cotton Association, told Reuters the crop had covered 9.1 million hectares in 2006/07, with good yield and prices. Thus, farmers would have little incentive to shift to any other crop now.
"Any kind of change in area will not be more than 5 percent down," he told Reuters over the telephone.
The last year was marked by a sharp rise in productivity, with cotton yield rising to 500 kg per hectare, largely aided by adoption of BT cotton, Jhunjhunwala said. Bio-engineered cotton covered 35 percent of total area.
Based on technology from seed giant Monsanto Co., BT cotton helps fight boll worms, a major worry for Indian farmers. However, it has faced stiff opposition from environmental groups who claim such products deplete bio-diversity.
"Whether people like or dislike, the BT system is accepted by Indian farmers," Jhunjhunwala said predicting BT cotton could cover as much as 80 percent of area within two years.
Jhunjhunwala said, "farmers are very happy with cotton prices and productivity. But I don't think farmers will shift towards cotton from other crops or towards other crops from cotton."
An official with the government in Maharashtra, which accounts for the nation's largest area under the crop, concurred with that view.
"Farmers are aggressively buying BT cotton seeds, certainly there will be increase in area under BT," the official, who declined to be named, said.
But a farmer activist in Maharashtra, where 1,448 impoverished farmers killed themselves in 2006 to escape the burden of debt, said the growth in BT cotton area resulted from intense marketing and shortage of normal hybrid seeds.
"When seed distributors say they don't have hybrid seeds, farmers have no option but to buy BT cotton," Kishore Tiwari, president of farmer group Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti, said.
Indian trade officials estimate the country's cotton production will go up to 27 million bales in year to September 2007, up 11 percent from year ago.
Jhunjhunwala said cotton farmers would not be distracted by the high prices for oilseeds and pulses. "I don't think farmers will shift towards cotton from other crops or towards other crops from cotton."
Jhunjhunwala said India's total cotton export in the cotton year ending September would cross 4 million bales but would be below earlier expectations, due to the rupee's strength against the U.S. dollar.
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