New Delhi: The Energy and Resources Institute (Teri) has developed a plant-extract-based biopesticide, Bollcure, that effectively targets cotton bollworm, a common larvae affecting cotton crop, and test results show it to be at least twice as cost-effective as chemical and other biopesticides currently available in the country.
If commercially viable, it could benefit organic farming, which is becoming increasingly popular among farmers in India, thanks to international demand from companies such as Nike Inc., Reebok International Ltd and Marks and Spencer Plc.
According to a report from Organic Exchange, a California-based non-profit organization that promotes consumption of organic cotton globally, India accounts for 31.71% of global organic cotton production, just behind world leader Turkey’s
Safe fields: If commercially viable, the biopesticide could benefit organic farming. Organic cotton is in demand from MNCs such as Reebok.
Approvals are more easily obtained for biopesticides than for genetically modified (GM) seeds, which essentially work towards a common end of killing species of larvae that destroy the cotton crop.
Bt Cotton is the only transgenic crop that can be commercially cultivated in India. and is genetically modified to counter the cotton bollworm, but getting approvals for the variety took over a decade. “We haven’t yet compared the commercial viability of using regular cotton seeds and Bollcure, to cultivating transgenic seeds, said Nutan Kaushik, the Teri scientist involved with developing the pesticide. “But even GM cotton requires pesticide sprayings. So Bollcure certainly will help GM cotton seeds,” she added.
Developed with assistance from the department of biotechnology of the Union government, Bollcure, which has finished multi-location and toxicity tests, according to Kaushik, could be registered as a commercial pesticide within a year. The test results on which Teri’s claims are based, are sourced from field trials conducted and validated by the Indian Agricultural Research Institute.
Teri has already filed for product and process patents in India for Bollcure, an extract of the eucalyptus plant, which is effective against jassids, white fly, spodoptera and other insects that traditionally affect cotton seeds.
However, a technical expert with Monsanto India Ltd, a leading transgenic seed company, who didn’t wish to be identified, said that inbuilt seed resistance was the most important criteria to increase yield and pest resistance. “I am aware of Teri’s research, but biopesticides can’t replace a seed which is tolerant, or genetically made tolerant, to a certain family of pests,” the expert added.
Devender Sharma, a food policy analyst from Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security, said that Bollcure might be effective against the larvae, but will really not help the farmer in the long run. “Cotton bollworm has become a problem because pesticides per se destroy a natural ecological cycle of 27 insects that eat the bollworm. The bollworm larvae ends up becoming resistant to every variety of transgenic seed, and now even with biopesticides. Right fertilizers sown at the right times are best for cotton. They might not increase your cotton production, but at least they won’t destroy your crop and lead to suicides,” he added.
According to the Maharashtra government, over 1,920 suicides were reported from the state’s Vidarbha region in 2006 because of cotton crop failures.