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Bt cotton, made in India, soon

Scientists say the homegrown variety will be cheaper and conducive to climatic variations and soil patterns in the region.

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Bt cotton, made in India, soon
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NAGPUR: The Central Institute for Cotton Research, Nagpur, will release Bt cottonseed in straight-line desi (Arboreum) and American (Hirsutum) varieties in two years. The apex research institution says its homegrown variety will be a boon for cotton farmers.

The seeds would be phenomenally cheaper and conducive to climatic variations and soil patters in the region's cotton area. Scientists say the cotton of long staple, fine, pest-resistant and drought-resistant variety and give better yields. The year 2008-9 is the deadline. Currently, the multinational giant Monsanto is selling Bt-cotton in hybrid varieties through its India partners. The company keeps back royalty on it, even though Bt-cotton has been a failure not just in India but across the world.

The CICR has been trying to integrate the technology with the locally-grown seed that is more suited to the conditions. Enthused by encouraging laboratory and field trial results, the CICR scientists are now trying to multiply the seed pool.

Already, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), India's bio-safety regulation authority, has asked the CICR to release the seeds for bio-safety tests. The results for the field trials at 12 centres spread over north, central and south zones are expected in a month's time.

CICR director, Dr Khadi, told DNA that the institute has impregnated the Bt genes into 22 genotypes of straight-line varieties that will enable the farmers to use the seeds from the yield for sowing for at least five to six years on the trot like they did in their traditional practices.

The research body obtained three genes for drought-tolerance from CGEB's Dr M K Reddy, a scientist who developed those genes. They resist the moisture and are best suited for rain-fed conditions. The CICR is now ready with a protocol for transformation technology, developed in house, to make both, the American and desi varieties drought-tolerant with these genes.

In recent years, there has been new and promising research on the desi varieties. Scientists have found that these varieties outperform the hirsutum varieties by a margin of 25-30 per cent and are particularly suited to water-scarce conditions. The institute is toying with an idea of giving the task of seed multiplication and distribution to farmers. Besides cheaper seeds, farmers will get back their seed freedom and self-reliance. A packet of Bt seed of Monsanto-Mahyco costs Rs 750 for a 450-gm packet today, down from Rs 1800 last year. The CICR promises a kg of desi bt seed will be available for not more than Rs 50 a kilogram.

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