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21.01.2018 |

BT Cotton: These two issues could put the brakes on the Bt cotton story

Open any boll here and you'll see it's destroyed, says Ganesh Shere, a farmer at a village called Jamb in Yavatmal district, about 160 km from Nagpur, in northeast Maharashtra.

He walks along the length of his bone-dry, four-acre cotton field and splits two dozen cotton bolls, with a stone or his fingers, to reveal the damage done by pink bollworms, which have become resistant to the genetically modified (GM) cotton variety he uses.

His yield this year has only been 200 kg, less than 5% of what he produced last year. Shere, a 61-year-old former police sub-inspector, pegs his losses at Rs 2 lakh.

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Besides the problem of pink bollworms, cotton is also plagued by use of illegal herbicide-tolerant Bt cotton seeds. New Delhibased South Asia Biotechnology Centre estimated that in 2017-18 the sale of herbicidetolerant seeds almost trebled to 35 lakh packets from the previous year, with Telangana, Maharashtra and Andhra being the top consumers. The governments in these states are looking into the issue. After the Centre capped the prices of Bt cotton seeds in 2016, Monsanto withdrew its application for sale of a herbicide-tolerant Bt cotton seed.

Farmers used to Bt cotton may not really think of an alternative immediately and may consider the pink bollworm problem this season an anomaly. But given that Bt cotton is certainly not cheap — each acre requires two packets of BG-II, costing Rs 1,600, and another Rs 12,000-13,000 on fertilisers and pesticides -those affected may not take the viability of Bt cotton for granted anymore.

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