'New pest problem with Bt cotton'

Written by Commodities Bureau | Hyderabad, Jul 30 | Updated: Jul 31 2007, 05:19am hrs
While there are claims that Bt cotton farmers have earned 50% more in the yield, a few farmers in Andhra Pradesh are still clueless about the prevalence of root rot disease which is spreading like a wild fire in the state. In 2002-03, the year when Bt cotton was introduced, this disease made its maiden appearance and was reported in just 2-3% of the cultivated area. However, in 2006-07, it is learnt that it has spread across and about 40% of the area is affected by root rot disease.

According to PV Satheesh, convenor, AP Coalition in Defence of Diversity (APCIDD), an NGO, the disease has spread and in about 500 acres the farmers have uprooted the crop. The fungus infects the soil and is retained in it for four to five years waiting for a suitable host. In the process, Bt cotton was found to be a good host and hence standing crop was pulled out and replaced with coriander and maize in Nalgonda district, he said.

``This disease was not prevalent among cotton as no instance was reported with non-Bt hybrids,'' he said. While the state government is aware of this problem, it has not initiated any measure to stop new pest problems which are associated with the introduction of GM crops, he added.

Besides, there is also a new turn to the Bt cotton scenario in the country. It is learnt that farmers are being forced to buy only Bt seeds as seed companies have stopped producing non-Bt seeds, claims Satheesh. ``We have made a request to the government to immediately promulgate a law that all cotton seed companies produce and distribute non-Bt seeds constituting at least 50% of their trade volume,'' he said. Further, the NGO has asked the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) to start a thorough investigation of the toxicity impact of Bt cotton leaves and stalks on animals. This comes in the wake of the recent mysterious cattle deaths in the state.

Meanwhile, the NGO negating the tall claims made by certain industry bodies on Bt cotton, said that farmers earned only 9% more than non-Bt farmers. Also, few farmers who adopted non-pesticide management practices (NPM), spent 23% more on fertilizers than Bt farmers. In this scenario, the NGO requested that the government must caution small farmers that Bt cotton does not help them.