Biodiversity Board seeks intervention of State government
Genetic contamination of local cotton feared
Use seeds certified by agricultural officers
KOCHI: The Kerala State Biodiversity Board has asked the government to take steps to stop the cultivation of genetically-modified (GM) bt.cotton in the Attappadi region of Palakkad on the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border which is the only place in Kerala where cotton is cultivated.
In view of the LDF government’s stated policy of making Kerala GM-free and its saying ‘no’ to GM crop trials in the State, the board wants the government to check the spread of bt.cotton. Board chairman V.S. Vijayan had earlier this week visited Attappadi following reports that bt.cotton was being cultivated in Puthoor, Sholayur and Agali panchayat areas.
Dr. Vijayan told The Hindu that he was convinced that bt.cotton was being cultivated in Attappadi and that the government should step in to check the spread immediately. Otherwise, he said, it would pollute the soil and lead to the genetic contamination of the local cotton varieties through cross-pollination. “Genetic contamination, which will cause shrinking of biodiversity, is irreversible,” he said. “In Mexico, 80 per cent of the local cotton varieties have been found contaminated by bt.cotton.”
He pointed out that in Andhra Pradesh, some 12,000 cattle had died after eating the leaves of bt.cotton plants. (Bt.cotton, a transgenic plant, produces an insect-controlling protein, the gene for which has been derived from the bacterium called bacillus thuringiensis, bt. for short.) The fertility of cattle fed on bt.cotton seeds had been hit. The roots of bt.cotton plants produced a toxin that killed certain microbes in the soil and thus damaged the soil. If carried over to water bodies, it would badly impact on the aquaculture ecosystems, Dr. Vijayan warned.
He said that as the first step, the government could insist that only those cotton seeds certified by the local agricultural officers should be allowed to be used in Attappadi.
Alternatively, the Agriculture Department could supply the required quantity of non-GM cotton seeds to the farmers and ban the use of other seeds.
He said he suspected the cultivation of bt.brinjal too in Attappady as he had noticed brinjal being raised close to the cotton fields. “I will not be surprised if it is found that bt.brinjal is widely cultivated in Attappady,” he said.
A nationwide campaign is currently on to stop the government move to allow cultivation of bt.brinjal in India. Environmentalists and scientists are up in arms against multinational seed companies’ hard-selling bt.brinjal in the country.
S. Usha, director of the Thiruvananthapuram-based ‘Thanal’ environmental action group, said that bt.cotton had been cultivated in Attappady at least for two years without the government’s knowing. In fact, the farmers themselves were unaware of it. The seed, known locally as ‘Raasi seed,’ came from across the State border. The local seed dealer had said that he must have sold seeds sufficient to be cultivated in around 500 acres.
The multinational company supplying the seeds had taken him on a field trip to northern India to convince him of the benefits of bt.cotton.
Attappadi’s cotton farmers had earlier been using a hybrid seed locally called ‘Varalakshmi.’ The bt.cotton seed, sold at Rs.850 for a 450 gram packet (enough for an acre), costs almost double the price of Varalakshmi. Farmers had reported that the yield from bt.cotton was higher at around seven quintal an acre while the hybrid variety’s yield was around six quintals. But, from the second year on, the yield came down; and, the quality (length and thickness of cotton wool) was low, thus fetching lower price in the market. Bt.cotton crop, however, required lesser quantity of pesticide, the farmers, some of them Adivasis, had reported. Ms. Usha wanted the government to take immediate action to stop bt.cotton in its tracks.