New Delhi: Indian scientists plan to launch hybrid varieties of genetically modified cotton seeds at nearly one-third the price charged by most seed companies in the country, said a scientist on condition of anonymity.
The hybrids will be developed from a genetically modified variety of cotton—Bt Bikaneri Narma, which has been developed by a consortium of research institutions and universities, including the Central Institute for Cotton Research, or CICR, Nagpur, and the University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad, Karnataka.
Scientists will first release Bt Bikaneri Narma for the 2009 kharif season (June-September) and then release the hybrid varieties by the end of this year, after necessary approvals.
Productivity factor: A woman works in a cotton field in Rajkot. The average yield of cotton has almost doubled in the past seven years, according to statistics from the Union ministry of agriculture. Adeel Halim / Bloomberg
Hybrid seeds of cotton are derived from Bt cotton varieties and both have their relative advantages and disadvantages. Hybrids are generally expensive and high-yielding, but force farmers to keep going back to seed companies for fresh seeds every year. Varieties are sturdier, cheaper and can be reused over three-four seasons but are low-yielding.
“When the hybrid variety is cleared, we are ready to take on competition from the private sector. The Bt hybrid we are developing would cost around Rs450 per 750g.” There are some 30 seed companies in the country that sell Bt cotton at a price ranging from Rs650-950 per 450g.
Bt Bikaneri Narma, which is likely to cost only Rs260 for a 2kg packet, will be sold in some cotton-growing areas where hybrids don’t grow. “There are some rain-fed cotton regions such as parts of Vidharbha and central India where hybrids don’t work. Only (Bt cotton) varieties work there. Why should they be denied the benefits of Bt (cotton)?” asked K.R. Krathi, acting director, CICR.
The average yield of cotton has almost doubled in the past seven years, according to statistics from the ministry of agriculture and scientists and policymakers say this is largely on the back of transgenic, or Bt cotton. Nearly three-quarters of the area under cotton cultivation in India grows transgenic cotton, according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, a biotech industry-sponsored organization.
However, some seed companies don’t seem worried. M.K. Sharma, general manager, Mahyco Ltd, a Maharashtra-based seed company, said: “There’s always been price difference between seeds from government and the private sector. Ultimately, the farmers are the best judge of the performance of the crop. The very fact that Bt cotton has shown record acreages largely on the back of private suppliers is proof that we are price competitive.”