Eight years after genetically modified Bt cotton was introduced, following which 10,172 farmers killed themselves, state agriculture minister Ramakrishna Vikhe-Patil told dna that it was a mistake.
“In the long run, we want to eradicate it because it is water-intensive and utterly unsuited to our conditions since 82% of the 4.2 million hectares of Bt cotton cultivation is done in drought-prone areas,” he said.
Vikhe-Patil blamed agricultural research institutes and universities for the situation. “They did not do enough to alert the government to the potential dangers of Bt cotton.”
He was responding to a question on the state revoking the order of Director of Inputs and Quality Control (DIQC), the licensing authority in Maharashtra, banning Mahyco cotton seed under the provisions of the 2009 Maharashtra Cotton Act in August 2012. “The company was cheating innocent cotton farmers by supplying substandard seeds and was involved in black marketing by creating artificial shortage of supplies. So, we had banned it,” he said.
He clarified: “This revocation is only for this kharif season. Next season, they will have to come back to seek renewal of the licence afresh.”
Citing Brazil’s example, Vikhe-Patil said: “There the government is aggressively eradicating Bt cotton and cotton farmers are happy. We want to do that here too.”
Spokesperson for Mahyco Monsanto Biotech (MMB), Christopher Samuel, disagreed that most farmers came from drought-hit regions. “Farmers in Maharashtra and Vidarbha have a choice of more than 550 hybrid cotton seed brands,” he said.
He added: “Brazil still has a large area for Bt cotton cultivation.”
Mahyco officials did not respond to calls. Rajesh Krishnan, who heads the sustainable agriculture campaign at Greenpeace, told dna: “Bt cotton has been a total failure and the technology has been lining the company’s pockets at the cost of farmers. If the government is so serious why aren’t we seeing it translate into strict action like a permanent ban?”
The minister wasn’t forthcoming on why they cannot ask DIQC for such a ban.
“Bt cotton is grown in states like Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat too. If we want a complete ban, then we will have to take other states into confidence. This cannot happen without the Centre’s intervention,” Vikhe-Patil said.
Kishore Tiwari of the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti smelt a conspiracy in the state’s U-turn. “We need a CBI inquiry into the revocation of the ban on Mahyco cotton seeds,” he said.
Many agriculturists have blamed royalties for Genetically Modified Organism seeds for the spurt in farmers’ suicides. In 2002, genetically modified Bt cotton seeds arrived. These non-renewable terminator seeds must be bought every year at costs dictated by agro-tech majors. In August 2012, technical experts committee appointed by the Supreme Court recommended the termination of all current trials of transgenic crops.