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Campaign against Bt cotton is motivated, says research scientist

Coimbatore: For the septuagenarian R. Krishnamurthy, an authority on cotton research in the country after six decades of dedication and innovation, the campaign against genetically engineered (Bt) cottonseeds is a motivated one.

"This campaign of toxicity in this cotton is triggered by some pesticide companies as their use in the cotton sector has slumped drastically, thanks to the Bt seeds.

"After all, it is cotton which consumes 50 per cent of the total pesticide used in the country," contends the doyen of cotton breeding.

"Bt cotton is a roaring success not because it is a hybrid or is of high quality, but because it is able to combat diseases," he says.

No complaint

Punjab has extended the trial of one hybrid for one more year and there has been no complaint against it in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Maharashtra and even Andhra Pradesh.

The major problem, according to him, is the entry of "illegal Bt seeds".

"A couple of years ago, the share of illegal seeds was almost 70 per cent. Now it has slumped to 30 per cent," Mr. Krishnamurthy says.

In an interaction with G.Satyamurty, he recounts his association with cotton stalwarts, traces the growth in cotton varieties and hybrids, and shares his thoughts on the current scenario.

A post-graduate in agriculture, he began as Farm Manager, Central Farm, Coimbatore.

After being posted as Research Assistant in Rice Fallow Cotton in 1954, cotton became his life breath for the next 34 years of Government service in various capacities.

Recognising his phenomenal contribution to cotton research, the Attur-based Rasi Seeds made him its Director of Research after superannuation.

National share

He is the father of LRA 5166, which had a national share of 20 per cent in the late 1980s, both in area and production.

It was he who brought out Suvin, the finest extra-long staple cotton.

It is now in high demand in Japan, which is able to spin even up to 200 counts with this.

He has been responsible for the release of 43 cotton hybrids under the banner of Rasi Seeds Besides, 20 Bt cotton hybrids are in advanced stages of testing and six are awaiting approval for commercial release.

During the current year, nine Bt cotton hybrids developed by Mr.Krishnamurthy have been proposed for National Variety Trial in various zones.

Winner of several awards, he received the Association of Biotechnology-led Enterprises Award on April 12.

Breeder

"I would like to call myself a breeder rather than a researcher. This field requires a lot of discipline and you have to work virtually round-the-clock," he says.

He considers Ramanatha Iyer, who was instrumental in research on "desi types", as the doyen of cotton breeders in the early part of the century.

He also recalls his association with the galaxy of cotton researchers like T.V.Rangasamy, S.M.Kalyanaraman and R.Balsubramanian.

In 1960, it was Santhanam, the doyen of cotton, who brought him into the Indian Council of Agricultural Research and gave him "freedom to work" on a number of varieties from Russia.

It was M.S.Swaminathan, "who was my boss in the later stages" who "reposed a lot of faith in me", he adds.

Mr.Krishnamurthy explains how a Cambodian variety entered India and helped develop a number of varieties like CO 1,2,3,4 here resulting in a phenomenal increase in cotton area.

The MCU variety that was developed in 1971-72 was very popular.

Similarly, some French experts working in Central Africa in 1965 brought in three very good varieties that were better than even Russian types.

Thus was born REBA-B-50. Next to be given birth were Supriya and Suman. Suvin was released in 1973.

But it was LRA 5166, developed in 1975-76 through "three way crossing", which was unique and popular across the whole of the peninsula.

Variety

" Even when the hybrids were prominent, it was this variety which had a substantial share in the national production," he says.

Both LRA 5166 and LRK 516 were used even in Pakistan as they were resistant to leaf curl virus that broke out there in 1995.

While he is happy with the current research, overemphasis on hybrids by the research stations has resulted in a very few varieties being developed, he says.

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