During the last cotton season, there were reports of pink bollworm (PBW) being uncontrollable in 700 villages of Maharashtra where the infestation of this insect pest created havoc on the cotton crop. A review meeting by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) in October 2017 paints a different picture, the participating scientists conclusions were there was no case for “de-notifying” Bt cotton.
The PBW disaster, it was noted, was confined to certain areas, even while the technology continued to be effective against other bollworm insects. Further, there were prescribed agronomic methods for managing PBW, as was successfully demonstrated in Gujarat during the recent season. Following this, the Union Minister of State for Environment Mahesh Sharma said, in a written reply to a Parliament question, that Bt cotton had helped double India’s production and minimise the damage caused by bollworms since its introduction in 2002-03.
A status paper published in January 2017 by the directorate of cotton development at Nagpur, also noted the benefits from Bt cotton cultivation. Despite this, there were news reports of a few seed companies approaching the Agriculture Minister to demand removal of the Rs 49-per-packet trait fee currently payable to the Bt technology provider.
The Bt cotton trait was approved to control the American bollworm while effectiveness against spotted bollworm, armyworm and PBW were added features of the technology. Further, can seed firms that have incorporated Bt technology into their hybrids shy away from the responsibility for resistance developed by pests?
The ICAR meeting’s minutes reported that around 30 per cent of seed samples used to plant refugia non-Bt cotton around the main Bt crop to be of low quality. That could have been a major cause of vulnerability to PBW. During the last 20 years, Indian farmers took advantage of the shifting of cotton acreages out of the US. With Bt technology also coming at the right time, India was able to emerge as the world’s biggest cotton producer.
With changing international dynamics and acreages slowly moving back to the US India is in danger of losing an advantageous position.