With increasing scarcity of labour in rural India, cotton farmers are eager to find alternative ways to reduce the cost of labour, and stay competitive in the global market.
Even as a laboratory report has confirmed that farmers in Maharashtra’s Akola district had sown the banned Herbicide Tolerant Bt (HT Bt) cotton by way of protest last month, activists of the Shetkari Sanghatana, the farmer body that led the protest, do not seem to be unduly worried.
Anil Ghanwat, president, Shetkari Sanghatana, confirmed that the laboratory report was positive and Maharashtra agriculture minister Anil Bonde has given an assurance that no arrests would be made and no action would be taken. Bonde said that an open house session would be convened to discuss this issue and he would soon talk to the Centre in this regard.
Sadabhau Khot, minister of state for agriculture, told FE that no action would be taken against farmers. “The government shall seek reports from all the departments and an investigation will be conducted on the entry of these banned variety of seeds in the market and action would be initiated against dealers.
The government shall work on educating the farmers and inform them to go in for varieties that have not been banned,” he said.
Akola district collector Jitendra Paphalkar said that the laboratory report is positive and the police have been informed about it. An FIR has already been filed, he added.
Ghanwat revealed that a divide has emerged within the government over the issue and while the younger lot of leaders were in favour of GM technology the older lot were opposing it. He pointed out that nearly 25% of the cotton crop being sown by farmers in Maharashtra this season is from the banned Herbicide Tolerant Bt (HT Bt) variety. Initially, farmers had sown this as a form of protest and soon several farmers have planted the HT Bt variety of seeds which are easily available in the market. This season, at least 25-30% of the acreage under cotton would be of the HT Bt variety.
Members of the Sanghatana met Union minister for environment Prakash Javadekar and Union agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar on this issue seeking freedom of technology. Lalit Bahale, the farmer from Akola who had planted the first lot of HT Bt cotton seeds in his field was part of this delegation.
A five point agenda was submitted to the minister which includes lifting of the ban on Bt varieties and approve Bt Brinjal immediately, since all the regulatory processes had been completed. Both the technical committees, RCGM and GEAC, satisfactorily concluded in 2009, that Bt Brinjal is safe for human and animal consumption, and for release into the environment.
Lifting of the ban will help curb fly-by-night operators who cheat farmers, the delegation pointed out. Ghanwat said that farmers must be compensated in full, for any loss of investment, assets and income, if their crops are to be seized and destroyed by the government for any reason. The farmers must be duly informed of the reasons prior to any action, so that they may seek legal remedies, if necessary. It must be recognised that farmers are the victims of the unproductive regulatory environment, rather than perpetrators of any crime, he said.
Ghanwat said that the ministers had given them an assurance that they would look into the issue and meanwhile the Sanghatana would continue their protest in a peaceful manner. The farmer body has been spearheading the Kisan Satyagraha that began in Akola district of Maharashtra, in June 2019.
The principal aim of the Satyagraha was to highlight the desperate need for new technologies in agriculture, Ghanwat had said. “Farmer organisations from other parts of India have also declared their intention to sow HT Bt cotton and Bt brinjal where possible,” he said.
“Low input — high output agriculture is the need of the hour to transform Indian agriculture. This is possible only when our scientists are allowed the freedom to explore new vistas. And when our farmers enjoy the freedom to try out the new advances in modern science and technology. With increasing scarcity of labour in rural India, cotton farmers are eager to find alternative ways to reduce the cost of labour, and stay competitive in the global market. De-weeding traditionally is an extremely labour intensive activity. And labour cost accounts for well over 40% of the cost of growing cotton. It is in this context, that herbicide tolerant (HT) new generation Bt cotton has attracted the attention of many farmers,” he explained.