After Bt cotton was introduced in India in 2003, it took no time for it to take the lion’s share in India’s cotton area, but 2016-17 saw the first steep decline in its attraction to the domestic growers of the fibre, reports Sandip Das in New Delhi. Primarily because cotton farmers in Punjab and Haryana took to native varieties in the current kharif season as they thought these might be less vulnerable to the deadly pest white fly than the genetically modified one, the share of Bt variety in total cotton area sown declined to 83% from 91% in the previous season.
While Bt cotton is highly tolerant to the American bollworm Heliothis armigera infestations, its immunity to other enemies of the cotton plant like white fly and leaf-curl virus is doubtful, necessitating superior Bt varieties. “The decline in sowing (of Bt cotton) is because farmers wanted to guard against white-fly attack that had damaged the crop extensively in Haryana and Punjab last year,” a senior agriculture ministry official said. Besides, there is an overall decline in cotton area due to the delayed onset of monsoon in many areas of Telangana and Gujarat.
Cotton areas in Punjab and Haryana have declined by over 35% to 700,000 hectares in the 2016-17 crop year from 960,000 hectares last year. Farmers here have shifted to other crops like pulses and oilseeds after incurring huge losses due to white-fly attack last year. Overall, the area under cotton sowing has shrunk 12% this season to 10.2 million hectares from 11.5 million hectares sown last year.