Indian government has announced new Bt cotton prices, through a gazette order, dated 8th March, 2016. As per this order, BG-I would be Rs.635, with zero trait fees, and Rs.800 for BG-II, including Rs.49 for trait fees.
This would apply for the first time for entire India. Also, this is the first time, in the last 15 years, government had stepped in bt cotton seed price regulation. Eventhough this is what we have been asking for, it comes a little late and does not include other concurrent steps.
Indian seed regulation system needs to be beefed by a Indian Seed Act, which has the objective of protecting farmers, farming and ecology. After several texts, and modifications, government draft seed bill falls far short of such expectations, and is essentially linked to promotion of private ownership of public and natural resources. We and many others have provided and developed a text of the seed bill, that encompasses a system that responds to the needs of the small and marginal farmers.
I reiterate my question, with failure of both BG-I and BG-II, how does this help cotton farmers? A decrease of Rs.130 for Telangana, and probably for farmers from other States may be of some solace, but does not assure farmers who have lost substantially in the last five years. the menace of pink bollworm and anticipate expenditure on pesticides to kill ‘adapted and virulent’ pests, still looms large. Unfortunately, Indian agricultural research establishment and agricultural scientists have so far neither spoke, nor are offering any solutions. When they do not respond in need, can we consider them in policy parleys in future to save Indian agriculture and farmers? Definitely not.
No visible, transparent, consultative and expansive rescue programme is being planned by central and State Governments for the next kharif. Even our efforts to kick-start a process in this direction has not yielded any response, indicating a thick-skin and an obsession with corporates-centric seed policy measures.
Next kharif is likely to be tougher for discerning cotton farmers, whose experience with numerous Bt cotton hybrids, based on BG-II, has been disastrous, in terms of yield and pest incidence. Bt cotton technology was ushered in, with continuous support from bureaucrats, agricultural scientists and politicians, with these very objectives. Failure of BG-II was admitted by the Union government in its affidavit before the Supreme Court. National Seed Association of India also allured to this in its letter to Monsanto-Mahyco, asking it to take responsibility.
With farmers experience, and endorsement from the regulatory system and seed companies, what is stopping government from announcing the withdrawal of Bt cotton seeds (both BG-I and BG-II) and initiating efforts to bring in straight, non-bt cotton seed varieties? Failure of technology, of injecting Bt genes into hybrid cotton seeds, is obvious. Continuation of such technology would only mean, even if it is to bring BG-III, would mean another experiment on Indian farmers.