Another silver bullet bites the dust. With the Nagpur-based Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR) detecting bollworm resistance to the second-generation genetically modified cotton, popularly called Bt Cotton, it is the farmers who are left to bear the ultimate cost. What was earlier projected as a ‘silver bullet’ for small farmers cultivating cotton is now turning into an unending pain.
“There is resistance to Bollgard-II. We have collected some insects. They are eating up the bolls,” Dr Keshav Raj Kranti, CICR director, told the Hindu Business Line (Oct 28). Bollgard-II is the second-generation Bt cotton variety containing two alien Bt genes to combat the bollworm species of pests on cotton. The earlier version of Bt cotton, called Bollgard-I (containing one Bt gene), had developed resistance way back in 2009. Since then the Bollgard-II varieties have replaced the earlier Bt cotton variety.
How serious is the break-down of resistance among the dreaded bollworm species on cotton can be gauged from the immediate reaction of the well-know agricultural scientist, Dr M S Swaminathan, who tweeted yesterday saying: “Until arrangements for adequate insurance cover for poor farmers are made, high risk technologies should not be recommended to farmers.”
Coming after the devastation caused by the sucking pest – whitefly – on the standing crop in Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan, resulting in a prolonged farmers agitation demanding adequate crop compensation; the failure of Bollgard-II cotton varieties in Gujarat and Maharashtra to withstand the attack of bollworm pests will certainly be double whammy for beleaguered cotton growers. CICR predicts that the bollworm attack on cotton will intensify in the next three to four weeks and also in the next crop season.
At least 24 farmers in Punjab and another 15 in Haryana have committed suicide unable to see the extent of damage caused by whitefly insects. Thousands of acres of cotton has been either burnt or ploughed back by irate farmers. An estimated two-third of the cultivated area has been affected by whitefly attack in Punjab and Haryana.
Although the genetically modified Bollgard-II is not a whitely resistant variety but because of the proliferation of private sector Bt cotton varieties, the insect attack has become more pronounced. Earlier, in an interview with Indian Express (Oct 22) , Dr Kranti had said that prior to 2002 when the Bt cotton varieties were first commercialized, the hybrid cotton varieties were subjected to a strict regulatory mechanism ensuring that only those hybrid varieties resistant to whitefly and leaf curl virus are released for cultivation. “There are over 250 Bt cotton hybrids on the shelf in North India. More than 90 per cent of these are susceptible to, and have even become hotspots for whitefly and leaf curl virus.”
In other words, if the Bollgard-II varieties being marketed by the private sector had underdone rigorous testing prior to be being sold, cotton farmers in Punjab and Haryana would have probably escaped the devastation caused in September-October from the whitely attack.
Although Punjab has announced a relief package of Rs 644-crore, which has been rejected by protesting farmers who continue with the agitation, I fail to understand why the seed companies are not being made to pay for the crop losses. After all, these varieties were marketed with a promise that these varieties are resistant to certain insects. Considering that seed companies have sold 53 million cotton seed packets in 2014, the companies have laughed all the way to the banks. But when these varieties become susceptible to the same insects for which they were earlier claimed to be resistant, seed companies simply wash their hands off saying they are not responsible.
Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar had some years back questioned this approach. Former deputy chief minister of Karnataka, M P Prakash, too had once directed a seed company to pay for the crop losses. To simply pass off the crop losses to the state exchequer is rather unfair as it recently happened in Punjab. There has to a suitable amendment in the seed laws to ensure that seed companies are made to compensate when the varieties being sold fail to stand up to the promise made. After all, if Volkswagen can be made to recall 8.5 diesel cars across European Union and another 100,000 are expected to be recalled in India; Ford motors recalled 131,000 vehicles for several defects, and when pharma company Sanofi-Aventis can be made to recall its Allerject auto-injectors to deal with allergic reactions in Canada and USA, and so on, why can’t seed companies be made to recall and pay for its defective seed products? #
Seed companies should be made to for crop losses. ABPLive.in Oct 30, 2015