The government needs to resolve the issue of illegal hybrid cotton seeds being sold in the country. Around 3.5 million packets of these illegal herbicide tolerant (HT) seeds are estimated to have been sold in the country in kharif 2017.
As about 40 million legal Bollgard II seeds are sold by Monsanto, this means illegal seeds are around 8-10 per cent of the total. The number of illegal seeds, according to South Asia Biotechnology Centre (SABC), have increased the problem of resisting weeds and are responsible for the new threat of pink bollworm that devastated the cotton crop.
SABC noted, “Widespread cultivation of substandard and spurious Bt cotton and illegal HT cotton is spoiling the technology as the management of such improved technology needs proper supervision and control …”
Monsanto first complained, about illegal HT seeds coming into the country, to the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) about ten years ago.
The government felt Monsanto’s Bolgard II seeds were too expensive and in December 2015, it came out with a seed price order that reduced the price from Rs 930 per bag to Rs 800 and also reduced Monsanto’s royalty from Rs 170 to Rs 49.
Yet, while the government wanted to keep prices low for Indian farmers, as SABC points out, the illegal HT seeds are selling at between Rs 1,200 and Rs 1,500 per pack, this works out to an average of 1.7 times Monsanto’s Bollgard II seeds.
If farmers were paying so much, it is because they felt the seeds would help increase productivity by reducing the cost of weeding in the same way that Bollgard II did.
It is claimed that because of Bollgard I and then II that India’s cotton production tripled from 13 million bales in 2002-03 to 35 million bales in 2016-17, and that is what, at one point in time, made India the world’s largest exporter of cotton.