India: Centre’s panel approves new Bt Cotton seed


GANDHINAGAR: In a major boost to Gujarat’s big farmers, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) of the Government of India has approved commercial distribution of a new variety of Bt Cotton seed, developed jointly by US multinational Monsanto, Gujarat Seed Supply Corporation (GSSC) and Navsari Agricultural University. The new seed is expected to raise cotton productivity by up to 30 per cent as against the current Bt Cotton yield of 11 quintals per acre. The new seed has been developed by injecting Bt genes into two premium local cotton seed varieties called Sankar 6 and Sankar 8.

“Both Sankar 6 and Sankar 8 are old hybrid varieties, which were more prevalent than other seeds because these were environmentally friendly till Bt Cotton seeds made an entry into Gujarat through private players,” a senior official said, adding, “With Monsanto’s Bt genes being injected into Sankar 6 and Sankar 8, farmers will no more have to depend on private players for getting Bt cotton seeds. They will get cheaper and better variety of Bt cotton seeds from the state-owned GSSC, forcing the private players to bring down present high seed prices.”

Two other states have received GEAC approval for commercial distribution of the new variety of seeds – Rajasthan and Maharashtra. But as the seeds will be exclusively “exported” from Gujarat, the state will be the “net gainer and will be in a monopoly position”, insiders said. This year alone, the Gujarat government estimates, it will begin distributing new variety of Bt seeds, starting with one lakh packets, each of 450 grams.

“Next year, plan is to distribute more than 10 lakh packets, making things tough for the private players”, sources said.

In Gujarat, as of today, 40 lakh packets are sold by 35 private players, that too at a high price of Rs 930 per packet. Expectation is, with GSSC’s new variety coming in at a price which may be 25 per cent cheaper, many private players will have to move out. In fact, officials said, Sankar 6 and Sankar 8 are not the end of the seeds journey. “We have entered into an agreement with Monsanto to inject Bt genes into even higher variety of Sankar 10 and Sankar 12 hybrid cotton seeds, taking a technological leap of 15 years,” a senior state official said.

Already, there is ray of happiness among the cotton growers of Gujarat. Raghavendrasinh Jadeja, a progressive farmer from Kotda-Sangani, about 20 km from Gondal, a pioneer of Bt cotton, said, “Injecting Bt gene into Sankar is more environmentally friendly and is suited to our climate. We expect it to be more pest resistant compared to other Bt cotton varieties. It will give a bigger boll-size, and the number of bolls on each cotton plant will also go up.” Sources said, experiments in Sabarkantha suggest that the number of bolls from Bt-injected Sankar seeds were 85-90 compared to 65-70 bolls in other varieties.