Nanda Kasabe & Prabhudatta Mishra
If the cotton crop in Maharashtra and elsewhere became vulnerable to pink bollworm (PBW) attack, the blame should lie with the local seed companies who could not get the farmers to comply with the required protocol to resist it, Monsanto, which out-licensed Bollgard II technology to these firms, has said. In a letter written to Union agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh, Mayhco Monsanto India (MMB), Monsanto’s 50:50 joint venture with Maharashtra-based Mahyco, said the National Seeds Association of India ( NSAI) was attempting to deflect the blame for naturally emerging resistance to MMB without acknowledging the responsibility of its own member seed companies in undertaking technology stewardship practices. “We categorically disagree with with NSAI’s positions, find their threat to stop supply of cotton seeds with BG-II technology as completely irresponsible and against farmer interests,” MMB wrote. According to the firm, BG-II continues to provide effective control of American Bollworm, which is the primary pest of cotton. Depriving farmers of an effective tool to combat this pest having a potential to cause yield losses of more than 50% would be irresponsible on the part of NSAI, MMB said.
The NSAI had earlier alleged “a clear case of failure” of Monsanto BG II technology. The Central Institute of Cotton Research, the association noted, had declared PBW developed resistance two years ago. According to Monsanto, however, there are six Biotechnologies approved for commercial use in India and NSAI’s member seed companies have always had the option of choosing an approved technology and not limiting their portfolios to Bollgard. MMB said it had informed the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee ( GEAC) as early as September 2015, of high level of tolerance Cry2Ab protein being observed in certain populations of PBW. The company said the communication included the likely reasons for higher tolerance and MMB’s efforts to combat it. The sub-licensee seed companies had been provided with specific guidelines in February 2016 as well as in March 2017 to undertake farmer advisories advocated by the central or state agricultural universities as well as carry specific printed information on the packets regarding non-adherence leading to sub-optimal performance, MMB said.
MMB has also written a letter to the NSAI, denying the latter’s allegations on trait-fee sharing with farmers. “We do note that very little benefit of the reduction of trait fee has been passed to the farmers while the seed companies seem to have benefitted substantially,” MMBL’s director Satyender Singh wrote in a letter addressed to NSAI director general Kalyan Goswami. The US biotech major had earlier moved the Delhi High Court challenging the Centre’s proposals to cap royalty for genetically modified seeds and deprive it of the freedom to choose local licensees and negotiate commercial terms with them . The government’s move, it said, was “both bad in law and policy” and amounted to usurping its patent. According to MMB, over the past couple of years, a few of NSAI’s member seed companies have been involved in a bilateral dispute with MMB and had withheld amounts due to MMB, which have been collected from farmers.
In the representation, MMB pointed out that NSAI was an invitee member to the meeting conducted by DDG-ICAR, whichpost deliberations with experts across the country concluded usage of BG-II technology should be continued as per existing guidelines and PBW resistance can be managed through collaborative efforts of all stakeholders for training farmers and ginners. MMB said seed companies should genuinely strive to provide authentic seeds and refugia to farmers. In the representation to Singh, the company maintained that introduction of Bollgard technologies in India have resulted in a three-fold growth in cotton yields and has made India the world’s largest producer and exporter of cotton from being an net importer in 2002.