Sunday, May 13, 2012

Is Odisha heading for Bt cotton cultivation again?

Dear all
I enclose a news published in the Pioneer for your perusal

SUNDAY, 13 MAY 2012 23:23
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Even though the Government of Odisha has banned the cultivation of Bt cotton, keeping in view its disastrous ecological consequences and high input cost, reports of the banned seeds being taken up for cultivation in a clandestine manner in many areas of the State are galore.
Besides, the inability of dealers to supply hybrid cotton seeds this year has been a cause why the farmers in increasing number are cosying up to Bt cotton across the State. In the major cotton producing districts such as Balangir, Kalahandi and Rayagada, among others, reportedly, a large patch of land goes to the banned cotton farming.
Before the commencement of the Kharif season every year, the meetings of the seed dealers are held in each cotton-producing district wherein they confirm their readiness to supply the required quantum of seeds to the cotton farmers. However, according to reports, few seed dealers have turned up in the meetings already held in the prime districts to say that they are going to supply the seeds. This makes it pretty clear that in the absence of adequate hybrid seeds, the farmers would fall back on the Bt cotton seeds.
“Before the commencement of the cotton cultivation season, we convene a meeting of all seed dealers and seed company representatives of approved hybrid variety cotton, where we tell them to keep the seeds ready to be supplied to the farmers. This time, we issued letters to the seed dealers and company representatives in April, but except one company, the rest skipped, pointed out an agriculture official in Balangir.
In an apparent bid to facilitate the entry of BT cotton in Balangir district, only one hybrid cotton seed dealer of the district turned up in the meeting held on April 19 last. This is the case when the area under cotton cultivation in Balangir district has been increasing over the years, especially after cotton farmers started getting assured minimum support price, he confided.
According to official sources, the area under cotton cultivation in the district is increasing steadily from 19, 409 hectares in 2009-10 to 29, 240 hectares and further to 35, 330 hectares in 2011-12 against a target of 30,000 hectares. “This year the target for cotton cultivation in Balangir is 34, 200 hectares. We require around 85, 500 packets of cotton seeds for our district at a rate of one packet per acre,” said Deputy Director of Agriculture Manoranjan Mallick.
In Kalhandi, the situation is no better. According to reports, in Kalhandi this year, the seed dealers meeting was also marked by thin attendance. Cotton cultivation has been targeted to be taken up in 40,000 hectares of land in Kalahandi this year and the seed requirement would be around 10, 000 packets.
The banned Bt cotton cultivation in Odisha was first detected in Rayagada a few years a ago. In 2008,  Kalahandi district administration seized truck loads of Bt cotton seeds worth Rs 17lakh, confirming the fact that Bt cotton cultivation was going on in the district by the farmers clandestinely.
According to agriculture official sources, the traditional cotton crop is susceptible to pest attack and the American ball worm affects it the most. The Bt cotton, which is a genetically modified seed, releases a toxin which kills the American ball worm when it attacks. As the crop becomes pest-free, its production increases.
But the agricultural scientists said that after a few years, the American ball worm would develop resistance to Bt cotton. Obviously, a higher doze of chemicals and pesticides would be required to tackle it and it would create a bigger hole in the pocket of the farmers and endanger the ecology, they said.
When contacted, Director of Agriculture RS Gopalan admitted that adequate approved hybrid seeds are not available since the private seed providers have not yet confirmed it. However, he said the Government has been creating awareness among the farmers not to go for the banned seed. “We are discouraging the farmers to take up Bt cotton farming,” he said.
The Government lacks a clear policy to ensure that prescribed seeds reach to the farmers in time and in adequate quantity. Besides, the monopoly of some seed companies should also end, said Jati Pradhan, a social activist.

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