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Cotton ryots in a dilemma

M. Venkateswara Rao

VIJAYAWADA: Cotton growers in Guntur and Prakasam districts have been forced to buy hybrid seeds, specially Bt varieties in the private market, with agricultural research stations literally keeping themselves away from producing them.

The cropped area for cotton has increased from 23 lakh acres to 43 lakh acres in the State in the last eight years, thanks to Bt varieties that resolved pest problems to a large extent and covered over 90 per cent of cropped area.

Even as the Indian Council for Agricultural Research is striving to develop Bt varieties, multinational corporations have forged ahead, further improving varieties by incorporating supportive genes to fight pests and weeds.

Known as ‘white gold', cotton has brought fortune to farmers in good years but equally, it has brought misery too in bad years with its susceptibility to pests. While white fly wrought havoc in the mid-eighties, American bollworm (Heliothis) wiped out crop later, ruining the economy and leading to suicides in Guntur and Prakasam districts.

Bt cotton

The situation has changed dramatically with the introduction of Bt cotton in 2002 that made the crop resistant to Heliothis. Though yields increased only by 15 per cent, it reduced the need for pesticides and brought down cost of cultivation, making it remunerative.

By 2006, several private companies produced as many as 1,340 hybrid varieties incorporating Bt characteristics. About 20-30 varieties became popular with farmers. Their yield varied from six to 15 quintals an acre. As private players produced only hybrid varieties, farmers had to buy seed every year at Rs. 750 per packet of 650 grams.

Former Agriculture Minister, Vadde Sobhanadreeswara Rao, said Chinese farmers got seed at Rs. 150 a kilo as their government ensured that Bt characteristics were introduced in straight varieties rather than hybrid varieties.

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