Stakeholders have floated a unique venture to restore seed sovereignty to farmers and arrest the erosion of non-Bt cotton varieties in the country by developing new hybrids for free distribution under a research project.
The seed research and propagation project will be taken up at the University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad. It is being promoted by bioRe India Ltd., Indore; Chetna Organic Farmers' Association, Hyderabad; and organic farmer Vivek Cariappa, with funding from the Smt. D. Ramabai Charitable Foundation, whose managing trustee, Jaganath Shennoi, has committed to donate Rs. 50 lakh.
The project's objective is to develop and propagate non-Bt cotton in the country.
The new variety of cotton seeds to be developed under the project will not be patented. Farmers will have complete rights to retain and use them, which will help reduce the cultivation cost. The breeds will be suitable for cultivation in all the agro-climatic conditions across the country.
Addressing presspersons here on Friday, Mr. Cariappa said the introduction of Bt cotton in 2002 had led to near complete erosion of the traditional varieties. The entire seed market had been monopolised by a few multinational companies. The farmers were under the clutch of such MNCs and, hence, there had been loss of seed sovereignty,, he added.
Rajeev Baruah, Managing Director of bioRe India, said public sector seed companies in the country had washed their hands of cotton seeds following the entry of genetically modified cotton 10 years ago. The entire seed market, estimated to be around Rs. 2,000 crore for cotton alone, was monopolised by a handful of companies.
“This will have serious implications on the sovereignty of farmers and, hence, the project has been conceived”, he said.
He said it is the first such collaboration of members of civil society, farmers and a university, with funding from a non-interested partner who has no stakes in either cotton or the textile industry. “This will not only help arrest the erosion of indigenous and hybrid cotton varieties but also reduce the cultivation cost”, said Mr. Baruah.
S.S. Patil, senior cotton scientist, UAS, Dharwad, said 92 per cent of the cotton growing area in India was under traditional and hybrid varieties till 2002.
“But just in a span of just 10 years after the introduction of GM cotton, the area under traditional and hybrid cotton has declined to 8 per cent, while 92 per cent of cotton growing land has been taken over by the Bt variety”, said Dr. Patil, who pointed out that hybrids like Jayadhar, Varalakshmi, Yamuna, DCH 32, Surabhi had all but vanished.
The new varieties to be developed at UAS, Dharwad, will be tested in fields at H.D. Kote, Mysore, Haveri and at Dharwad. Field trials will also be held in Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, he added.
Jagannath Shennoi handed over a cheque of Rs. 9 lakh as the first instalment towards the project to S.S. Patil.Special Correspondent