Mumbai: The Maharashtra government is implementing a pilot project in eight districts of Vidarbha region to increase the per-acre yield of cotton while reducing its per-acre cultivation cost.
The project, being undertaken in collaboration with the Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR) over 160 acres of land belonging to 160 farmers in this region, is adopting the Brazilian model of cotton cultivation where the per-acre density of cotton is double what it usually is in India.
However, by promoting the Brazilian model which uses straight varieties of cotton and not the hybrid or Bt (genetically-modified) ones, the government appears to be doing a rethink over its policy of promoting Bt cotton, say experts.
Currently, nearly 90% of the area under cotton in India is under Bt varieties. According to the agriculture ministry’s statistics, during fiscal 2012, nearly 12.1 million hectares of land was under cotton cultivation in India, out of which around 90% was under Bt cotton.
A file photo of a BT cotton field in Kurnool district of Andhra Pradesh.
State agriculture commissioner Umakant Dangat said, “India has the lowest cotton productivity in the world and Maharashtra, the lowest in India. With this new Brazilian model, we hope to increase it to India’s level.”
The world average is around 725 kg/lint per hectare (ha.) whereas India’s average is around 500 kg/lint per ha. and Maharashtra’s average is just around 350 kg/lint per ha., he added. In India, the per-acre density of plants is around 4,000-5,000 plants per acre, whereas in the Brazilian model it is around 8,000-9,000.
As cotton is the only cash crop in Vidarbha and the region’s economy depends upon it, living standards of farmers will improve and the number of suicides will reduce if the experiment succeeds, claimed Dangat.
CCIR director Keshav Kranthi was more optimistic than Dangat. “We can even match the world average if our experiment becomes successful,” he said, adding that the Brazil pattern not only increases the yield per ha. but also reduces the cultivation cost by almost two-thirds compared with Bt cotton.
The Maharashtra government has started a pilot project in the Vidarbha region to emplu the Brazilian model of cotton cultivation. Mint’s Makarand Gadgil says the move indicated a rethink of the strategy of using genetically modified cotton.
He explained that the cost of seeds of straight varieties is much lower than Bt varieties, besides which these varieties become ready for plucking in just 150-160 days whereas BT varieties take around 180-200 days, which reduces the need for fertilizers, pesticides and other nutrients substantially. And unlike Bt cotton varieties, seeds derived from straight cotton varieties can be used during the next season also, he said, adding: “All these factors reduce the cost of cultivation from around Rs 12,500 per ha. to under Rs 5,000 per ha.”
While welcoming the move, Shetkari Sanghatana leader Vijay Jawandhia said, “The government must come clean on Bt cotton and admit that our policy of promoting Bt cotton in the rain-fed areas was wrong, which prompted farmers to commit suicide across the country.”
The Vidarbha region has seen a large number of cotton-growing farmers committing suicide since 2005. According to Vidarbha Janandolan Samiti’s (VJAS) president Kishore Tiwari, nearly 9,000 cotton growing farmers have committed suicide till date although official government figures stand at 4,000.
According to Tiwari, the major reasons for the suicides of cotton farmers are crop failure due to erratic rains, low yields and rising cost of cultivation coupled with faulty agricultural produce export policies of the government.