• 10 April 2012
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Beyond the boom: 10 years of Bt cotton

What the government must do to push further growth?

BioSpectrum traces the journey of Bt cotton in India and the impact it has had on the Indian economic scene. And also explores if this boom in cotton cultivation will continue

Cotton farmers in India, who had once given up cotton cultivation due to unaffordable costs of production and expensive and ineffective pest control, have returned to the crop since 2002. According to statistics, India owes much of this success, which is often referred to as the White Gold Revolution, to Bt cotton.

In 2011-12, India planted 12.1 million hectares of cotton, the highest-ever land under cotton cultivation. This significant increase in hectarage of cotton has been attributed, by and large, to the Bt technology, which has substantially increased profitability of cotton production in the country. Today, about 90 percent of the total cotton cultivation is under Bt cotton, which has resulted in tremendous increase in farmers' income across the country. Also, since the introduction of Bt cotton in 2002, when land under Bt cotton was 7.7 million hectares, India's cotton yield per hectare has increased by 60 percent.

Bt cotton takes over
Union Agriculture Minister Mr Sharad Pawar has praised the introduction of Bt cotton seeds by saying that it was a great step towards decreasing insecticide usage in the country. “With the use of high quality hybrid cotton seeds, Indian farmers experienced the biggest gain in the form of reduced insecticide usage, from 46 percent in 2001 to less than 26 percent after 2006 and 21 percent in 2009 and 2010,” said Mr Pawar recently in Parliament.

The number of cotton farmer cultivating cotton also increased significantly from five million in 2002-03 to eight million in 2011-12. Notably, the number of Bt cotton farmers increased from 50,000 in 2002-03 to seven million in 2011-12, representing approximately 88 percent of the eight million cotton farmers in 2011-12. Farm income too has enhanced with Bt cotton by 47,000 crore ($9.4 billion) in the period between 2002 and 2010, and 12,500 crore ($2.5 billion) in 2010 alone (Brookes and Barfoot report, 2012).

“Bt cotton has transformed cotton production in India by increasing the yield, decreasing insecticide applications, and contributed to the alleviation of poverty for over seven million small resource-poor farmers and their families in 2011 alone, and future prospects look encouraging,” says Mr Bhagirath Choudhary, national coordinator, International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications.

Dr Arvind Kapoor, CEO, Vegetable division, Rasi Seeds, says due to higher prices of cotton lint and lower costs of cultivation, farmers are earning profits. “That is why cotton sowing has increased and farmers are queuing up for good hybrids,” he adds. Expressing a similar opinion, Dr Seetharam Annadana, Traits Development & Vegetable R&D Management Lead, South Asia Syngenta, says, “The best agricultural economist of India is the humble but very intelligent Indian farmer. If he is growing it, he finds value for it and, secondly, there is no better alternative to cultivation of GM cotton at present.”

Quoting the report, State of Indian Agriculture 2011-2012, Dr Annadana says, “Bt crop technology has more than doubled India's cotton production. By 2011-12, almost 90 percent of cotton area is covered under Bt cotton. More such revolutions to accelerate agricultural growth are needed.”

Demand to go up
Out of an estimated 8,000 crore seed industry, Bt cotton seed market is pegged at 3,000 crore. As per Cotton Association of India (CAI), the total cotton supply is estimated at 42.55 million bales, while the domestic consumption is estimated at 26.8 million bales, thus leaving 15.75 million bales as opening stock for 2012-13. While India produced 32.5 million bales (170 kg each) with 27.52 million acreage during the season ended September 2011, the next season's (October 2011- September 2012) output is projected to be 35.5 million bales from an acreage of 9.9 million acres (12.1 million hectares). The speedy migration of farmers to cotton from less profitable crops, such as oilseeds and pulses, has added to the forecast.

Dr Arvind Kapoor of Rasi Seeds ruled out any scarcity of Bt cotton seed currently, but is skeptical about the future. “In future there is a possiblity of scarcity due to higher costs of production and price control by government on cotton sale,” he says.

According to sources, the demand for Bt cotton seeds for the 2012 kharif season is estimated to be 4.5-to-five crore packets, while the estimated stock with the seed companies is four crore packets. Earlier, the demand-supply gap led to black marketing of Bt cotton seeds in many states. Seeds and fertilizers were distributed under police protection in 2008 and 2009 in Maharashtra after riots over seed purchase. It was alleged that a few seed brands popular with farmers created an artificial shortage leading to strict vigil by the Maharashtra government last year.

Variable seed prices
As compared to other countries planting Bt cotton, India's Bt cottons are unique in the sense that they are hybrids and not varieties. The total value of cotton seed market is said to be around 3,500 crore. The cotton seed prices are fixed in each state depending on whether it is Bt Bollgard-I or Bollgard-II. The price varies in the range of 750 per packet for Bollgard-I to 900 per packet for Bollgard-II. In Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan, the prices of Bt cotton seeds containing BG-I and BG-II traits are 750 per packet and 920 per packet, respectively. In other states, the prices of BG-I and BG-II cotton are 650 per packet and 750 per packet, respectively. The seed industry associations have requested the government to increase it to 850 and 1,050 per packet each.

Giving a different take on the issue, Dr Gyanendra Shukla, director, Mahyco Monsanto Biotech (MMB), says, “The cost of cultivation itself constitutes up to 60 percent of investment and seed price is only seven-to-eight percent of the total cost. Therefore, the seed price is a miniscule issue as the farmers may pay for a good seed that can give better yield.” On the current requirements, he adds, “On the contrary, there is a requirement of new technology for further improvements of seed hybrids and the industry must be duly incentivized to bring down the cost of cultivation.”

Due to shortage of Bt cotton seeds in the previous years, the state governments have been asking for written commitments from the seed companies about their supply plans. Owing to factors such as rainfall and seasonal variations in Bt cotton arrivals, the prices of cotton get affected. Although a seed shortage is expected, seed prices may not go up because Gujarat, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh governments have fixed the prices through legislation. In other states, there is an indirect price control because state governments ask for undertakings from seed companies that they will not sell seeds above the maximum agreed price.

Commercially released varieties of Bt cotton approved by GEAC till 2010
Serial No Name of Company Number of approved hybrids Location
1 Ajeeth Seeds 20 Aurangabad, Maharashtra
2 Amar Biotech 55 Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh
3 Ankur Seeds 38 Nagpur, Maharashtra
4 Bayer Biosciences 30 Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh
5 Bioseed Research India 35 Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh
6 CICR 1 Maharashtra
7 Emergent Genetics (now part of Monsanto) 1
8 Ganga Kaveri Seeds 19 Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh
9 Green Gold 4 Aurangabad, Maharashtra
10 Global Transgene 5 Aurangabad, Maharashtra
11 JK Agri Genetics 38 Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh
12 Kaveri Seeds 18 Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh
13 Kohinoor Seed Fields India 3 New Delhi
14 Krishidhan Seeds 20 Pune, Maharashtra
15 MAHYCO (Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company) 33 Jalna, Maharashtra
16 Monsanto Holdings 11 Mumbai, Maharashtra
17 Metahelix Life Sciences 2 Bengaluru, Karnataka
18 Namdhari Seeds 15 Bengaluru, Karnataka
19 Nandi Seeds 22 Ahmedabad, Gujarat
20 Nath Seeds 12 Aurangabad, Maharashtra
21 Navkar Hybrid Seeds 11 Ahmedabad, Gujarat
12 Nuziveedu Seeds 84 Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh
23 Palamoor Seeds 6 Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh
24 Prabhat Agri Biotech 51 Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh
25 Pravardhan Seeds 19 Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh
26 ProAgro 2 New Delhi
27 Rasi Seeds 42 Attur, Tamilnadu
28 RJ Biotech 3 Aurangabad, Maharashtra
29 Safal Seeds and Biotech 9 Aurangabad, Maharashtra
30 Seed Works India 37 Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh
31 Solar Agrotech 16 Rajkot, Gujarat
32 Super Seeds 8 Hisar, Haryana
33 Tulasi Seeds 35 Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh
34 Uniphos Enterprises 22 Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh
35 Vibha Agrotech 38 Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh
36 Vikki Agrotech 1 Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh
37 Vikram Seeds 20 Ahmedabad, Gujarat
38 Xylem Seeds 3 Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh
39 Yashoda Hybrid Seeds 11 Wardha, Maharashtra
40 Zuari Seeds 4 Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh
Source: Indian GMO Research Information System

Events approved in India for commercialization
S No. Developed by Bt genes Events Year of approval
1 Mahyco cry1Ac MON-531 (Bollgard),licensed from Monsanto, US 2002
2 Mahyco cry1Ac and cry2Ab2, Stacked MON-15985 (Bollgrad II), licensed from Monsanto, US 2006
3 JK Agri Genetics cry1Ac Event-I, sourced from IIT, Kharagpur (India) 2006
4 Nath Seeds cry1Ab and cry1Ac, fused Even-GFM sourced from China 2006
5 Central Institute of Cotton Resaerch, Nagpur and University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad cry1Ac Event BNLA-601 2008
6 Metahelix Life Sciences cry1C Event MLS-9124 2009
Source: ABLE AG

Cotton cultivation in the last seven decades
Cotton cultivation in the last seven decadesYear Area in lakh hectares Production in lakh bales of 170 kgs Yield (kgs per hectare)
1950-51 58.82 34.3 99
1960-61 76.1 60.12 134
1970-71 76.05 56.64 127
1980-81 78.23 78 169
1990-91 74.39 117 267
2000-01 85.76 140 278
2001-02 87.3 158 308
2002-03 76.67 136 302
2003-04 76.3 179 399
2004-05 87.86 243 470
2005-06 86.77 241 472
2006-07 91.44 280 521
2007-08 94.14 307 554
2008-09 94.06 290 524
2009-10 103.1 305 503
2010-11 111.42 339 517
2011-12 121.91 345 481
Source: Cotton Advisory Board
Rahul Koul
in New Delhi

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