Area under Bt cotton rises

Chennai, Nov 28 | Updated: Nov 29 2004, 05:30am hrs
The area under genetically modified cotton, Bt cotton, in the country has grown to 13 lakh acres in Kharif 2004, from 72,000 acres in 2002, when it was released for commercial cultivation, and 2.3 lakh acres in 2003. The planting of Bt cotton is permitted in six states, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. Trials are being conducted in the northern states.

According to information available from Monsanto India, during kharif 2004 13 lakh packet of Bollgard Bt cotton seeds were sold in the six states. One packet is for planting in one acre. Of this, 3.2 lakh packets were sold in Gujarat, 2.07 lakh in Madhya Pradesh, 1.9 lakh in Andhra Pradesh, 52,500, in Maharashtra, 45,000 in Karnataka and 13,000 in Tamil Nadu (see table).

The area under Bt cotton is expected to go up substantially next year mainly because of more rains in the southern belt, introduction of more Bt gene-incorporated popular cotton hybrids by companies like Mahyco, Rasi and Ankur and the increasing awareness among farmers about the effectiveness of Bt cotton in controlling the biggest cotton pest, boll worms, spokesperson of Monsanto India told FE.

The Bt cotton seeds were originally developed by Monsanto in the US and marketed under the brand name of Bollgard.

In India Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company (Mahyco) developed Bollgard from the imported transgenic cotton seeds. They were grown in greenhouses. After various trials, the Bt trait was incorporated into Indian germplasm by traditional breeding methods.

Bollgard is marketed by the joint venture company Mahyco Monsanto Biotech India Ltd. The company has transferred the Bt technology to Indian seed companies like Rasi, Ankur, Emergent Genetics, Ajeet, Krishi Dhan, Vikram Seeds, Tulsi Seeds, etc.

These companies incorporate the Bt gene into their popular cotton seed varieties. Rasi and Mahyco hybrids have already hit the market. Permission is awaited for commercial release of Ankur hybrids in 2005 and some more hybrids of Rasi and Mahyco, sources said.

A survey conducted by AC Nielson ORG-MARG has found that Bollgard has significantly reduced pesticide spraying, increased the cotton yield by protecting the cotton bolls from bollworms and preventing them from falling away. The Bollgard cotton also fetched higher prices thanks to its brightness and quality.

However, Bt cotton is planted only in a fraction of the total cotton acreage of 22.5 million acres in the country.

Bollgard has so far been commercialised in nine countries including India. The other countries are the US, China, Australia, South Africa, Argentina, Mexico, Indonesia and Colombia. About 18 million acres of Bollgard cotton were planted in these countries in 2003.