NEW DELHI - India
has emerged as one of the fastest adopters of
biotech crops, occupying the seventh slot among
the 21 nations that have so far planted such crop
varieties since their introduction a decade ago,
said a latest study by a global agency engaged in
technology transfer of biotech crops.
"India experienced the greatest
proportional growth for any biotech crop globally
in 2005, with biotech cotton production soaring by
160%," said the International
Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech
Applications (ISAAA) in its latest report, "Global
Status on Commercial Biotech/Genetically Modified
Two-thirds, or 14 out of 21,
of nations growing biotech crops achieved
so-called "mega-country" status by planting 50,000
hectares or more in 2005. These included the
United States, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China,
Paraguay, India, South Africa, Uruguay, Australia,
Mexico, Romania, the Philippines and Spain.
The growth of biotech crops in developing
countries was four times (23%) as rapid as
industrialized countries (5%). About a million
farmers planted Bt cotton in nine states last
year, which was a threefold rise over 2004, ISAAA
national coordinator Bhagirath Choudhary said. Bt
cotton has had a gene inserted from the bacterium
Bacillus thuringiensis, which produces a
protein toxic to the pink bollworm and other
cotton pests; in effect, the plant manufactures
its own pesticide, so does not need to be sprayed.
India registered a threefold increase in
Bt cotton acreage last year. "One thing by and
large is clear: the biotech crop has come to
stay," said C D Mayee, chairman of the
Agricultural Scientists Recruitment Board of the
Indian Council on Agricultural Research (ICAR).
Mayee, a cotton expert, said the expected record
cotton output of 24 million to 25 million ton
bales this year was mainly due to higher acreage
planted with the Bt variety. "The Bt cotton
variety is likely to account for 20% of cotton
production," he said.
Two cotton farmers,
S Jaipal Reddy from the Warangal district of
Andhra Pradesh and Rabash Singh Jakhar from the
Ferozpur district of Punjab, said they had gained
by switching over to the Bt variety, as the
cultivation cost was reduced by lesser use of
pesticide sprays, along with lowered water usage.
"We are happy with the Bt experience so
far. It helps us reduce cultivation costs and
higher yields through less pest attacks," said
Reddy, a seasoned cotton farmer with experience of
more than 20 years.
However, both the
farmers highlighted the widespread prevalence of
spurious seed varieties, which are selling at a
lower price and violating the prescribed quality
norms for such seed varieties.
served as India's agriculture commissioner, said
research was on to develop indigenous biotech
cotton varieties. "We are at [the] Tier-II
development stage for biotech cotton seeds and
hope to make this a reality by 2007," he said. He
hopes that once Bt seeds are marketed through an
institutional network, a lot of complaints related
to the pricing of the seed variety would
automatically get resolved.
"We want to
continue to grow [at] more than the double-digit
growth recorded for biotech crops during [the]
last decade in [the] next decade too," said Clive
James, chairman and founder of ISAAA.
cotton acreage in India grew by an impressive 160%
last year, with Maharashtra occupying the top
slot, followed by Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat, said
the latest survey by an international agency
engaged in biotechnology transfer in the field of
agriculture. Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and
Gujarat are the top three states in terms of Bt
cotton acreage, the report said.
Bt cotton acreage rose to 1.3 million hectares in
2005 from 500,000 hectares in 2004. Maharashtra
recorded a 195% increase in Bt cotton acreage to
590,000 hectares in 2005 from a mere 200,000
hectares in the previous year.
Andhra Pradesh recorded a 250% increase in
acreage, from 80,000 hectares to 280,000 hectares.
In Gujarat, Bt cotton acreage rose by 20,000
hectares to 150,000 during the review period. "The
impressive acreage increase in Andhra Pradesh
points to [the] higher adoption of Bt cotton
variety in the state," Choudhary said.
Madhya Pradesh, north zone, Karnataka and
Tamil Nadu occupied the slot of four, five, six
and seven respectively. The north zone, which
received approval for Bt cotton in 2005, comprises
Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan. In Madhya Pradesh,
Bt acreage rose to 145,000 hectares from 85,000
hectares, while 60,000 hectares came under Bt
cotton in the north zone. In Karnataka, Bt cotton
acreage rose to 30,000 hectares in 2005 from
18,000 hectares in 2004 while Tamil Nadu
registered 15,000 hectares increase in acreage at
25,000 hectares last year over the pervious year.
In 2005, three companies received
permission for large-scale field trials of biotech
cotton with different genes, Choudhary said,
adding that the approval rate may even increase in
Anticipated adoption of biotech rice
in China could significantly impact adoption rates
in India, he said, adding that Iran started
growing biotech rice last year. More European
Union countries have started planting biotech
crops, and the number reached five last year with
France, the Czech Republic and Portugal joining
the "Bt club" consisting of Germany and Spain,
which accorded approval to biotech crops earlier.
Meanwhile, Andhra Pradesh this year filed
a case with the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade
Practices Commission (MRTPC) against Monsanto,
contending that the seed company is charging
exorbitant prices from farmers in the state for
genetically modified Bt cotton seeds.
four seed companies, under license from Monsanto,
are currently charging a price of Rs1,850 per acre
[US$103.40 per hectare] against a supply of 450
grams of the seed, whereas the farmers who are
producing the seed are paid only Rs250 per acre
for 750 grams," State Agriculture Minister N
Raghuveera Reddy said.
The company is
charging an abnormally high trait value of Rs1,250
($28.32) as a royalty from the farmers for 450g of
seed, he said.
"While the company charges
[a] royalty of Rs108 for 450 grams of seeds in
America, where it enjoys patent rights, it charges
Rs1,250 towards trait value as it does not have
royalty rights in India. The trait value is 300%
of [the] bare seed cost in India," he said.
The minister said Monsanto is supplying Bt
cotton seeds in India through a joint-venture
company, Mahyco Monsanto Biotech Ltd, which
further has given licenses to four seed companies
- Mahyco, Rasi, Proagro, Nuziveedu - against a
license fee of Rs5 million.
against Monsanto has already been filed with the
commission by some farmers' associations, the
minister said, adding that Andhra Pradesh is the
first state in the country to claim an unfair
trade practice against Monsanto in India. Andhra
Pradesh received approval for Bt cotton in 2002,
and of 2.7 million hectares under cotton, nearly
550,000 hectares are of the Bt variety.
The minister has also appealed to other
state governments to join Andhra in opposing the
abnormally high prices for the seed. Reddy,
however, made it clear that the state government's
objection is mainly to the pricing mechanism, not
to the Bt cotton technology itself.