Thursday, Nov 14, 2002
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By Our Science Correspondent
Mahyco received permission from the Government earlier this year to market its Bt. Cotton, which carries an artificially introduced bacterial gene producing a toxin that helps the plant ward off insect pests. The Bt. cotton is the first GM crop in India to be approved for commercial cultivation. Monsanto, which provided its "Bollgard'' Bt. technology, has a 26 per cent stake in Mahyco.
According to figures provided by Monsanto India, 55,000 farmers in the country have planted 104,269 acres with Mahyco Bt. cotton varieties this kharif season. Maharashtra leads with 41,229 acres, followed by Karnataka with 16,950 acres, Gujarat 16,140 acres, Tamil Nadu 12,560 acres, Madhya Pradesh 8,990 acres and Andhra Pradesh 8,400 acres.
Reports of the Bt. cotton having "failed'' have appeared in the press. Mahyco Monsanto Biotech (India) has responded with a statement that the phenomenon noticed this year was a physiological disorder which occurred when cotton hybrids were exposed to prolonged dry spells followed by heavy showers or high temperature during the formation of the cotton bolls. But since Bt. cotton had more bolls, the environmental stress on them was more and the wilt more evident.
There was no failure of the Bollgard technology, says Ranjana Smetacek, Monsanto India's director for Government and Public Affairs. Rather, farmers, dealers, scientists and agriculture officers in the States where the Bt. cotton had been planted were praising its performance.
Parawilt had affected hybrid cotton varieties in Maharashtra, including the non-GM ones, according to C. D. Mayee, Director, Central Institute for Cotton Research at Nagpur. Till the yield figures became available, it was not possible to say that GM cotton had failed, he told The Hindu. The institute itself had bought GM cotton seeds and distributed them to some farmers in two nearby villages to assess their performance. The first picking had just been completed and the preliminary results looked promising.
New Wilt had affected many cotton hybrid varieties in Madhya Pradesh, according to P. P. Sastry of the Cotton Research Station at Khandwa in Madhya Pradesh. The research station was currently carrying out a detailed sample survey of Bt. cotton being grown in the State, he added.
Bt. cotton being grown in the Mahbubnagar district of Andhra Pradesh showed impressive agronomic performance, says E. A. Siddiq, now a distinguished professor at the Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics, Hyderabad. Its boll retention was much better than that of the refugia planted with the same cotton hybrid minus the Bt. gene and left without pesticide sprays. Prof. Siddiq was a member of the Government's Monitoring-cum-Evaluation Committee which studied the Bt. cotton's performance during field trials prior to its commercial release.
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