Maharashtra farmers’ union defies govt ban, sows GM brinjal, cotton

Tuesday, Jun 11, 2019


By Shrikant Kuwalekar


MUMBAI – Shetkari Sanghatana, a farmers union in Maharashtra, has defied the Centre's ban on genetically modified crops and has started sowing brinjal and cotton using this technology.


Calling it a new revolution in India, Lalit Bahale, a member of the union, has already sown seeds of herbicide tolerant (HT) bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) cotton seeds and Bt brinjal as well in his two-acre field at Akot tehsil of Akola district in Vidarbha region. Around 1,500 farmers vowed their support to the movement by participating in sowing earlier this week.


The decision to defy the ban was taken in the wake of government apathy and indecisiveness in approving the next generation GM technology, which is the basic right of farmers, said Ajit Narde, a sugarcane farmer and head of science and technology cell of the farmers' body.  


In 2010, India had announced an indefinite moratorium on use of Bt brinjal seeds, while herbicide tolerant cotton, used in many states in the previous season, is yet to get the government's approval.


The existing bollgard-II Bt cotton seeds have been losing efficacy against pest attacks and hence farmers across the country have been demanding approval of modern technology in farming including the nod to sow Bt maize, chana, and oilseeds among others. 


The Haryana government had recently destroyed brinjal plantations of two farmers in the state accusing them of using illegal Bt variety of the vegetable crop.  The union has been raising money to provide relief to these two farmers who have lost crops and facing regulatory action. 

"Government numbers showed that 15% of the area under Bt cotton in the previous season was of HTBt variety, this year it may rise to 25%," Anil Ghanwat, national president of the Shetkari Sanghatana said. Unfortunately, farmers are exposed to spurious HTBt seeds in the absence of government approval for the variety, Ghanwat said.


Explaining the benefit of HTBt cotton, Narde cited an experiment by Gajanan Deshmukh, a farmer from Jintur in drought-hit Parbhani district, who yielded 3.0 tn-per-ha raw cotton from the use of HTBt cotton seeds in the last season, as against 1.7 tn from Bt variety. Similarly, a small farmer in Shrigonda tehsil of Ahmednagar district, who had shifted back to cotton from other crops due to availability of HTBt cotton could save a labour cost of 20,000 rupees per ha in addition to getting premium for hit produce. 


Ghanwat said allowing GM technology in oilseeds will be benefit India in the form of sharp decline in imports of edible oils. India annually spends around 750 bln rupees on nearly 15 mln tn of edible oils, fulfilling over 60% of the domestic consumption.


Both Ghanwat and Narde declined to reveal the source of the HTBt seeds and said they are available in Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat.


So far the state government hasn't initiated any action against the use of HTBt seeds. However, if it happens, the farmers body will not hesitate to initiate a state-wide agitations as sowing is already delayed due to lack of pre-monsoon or monsoon rains, Ghanwat said. End


Edited by Maheswaran Parameswaran


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