Nagpur: The pink bollworm crisis, which hit the state’s cotton farmers, has taken a new turn. The companies that make Bt cotton seeds have threatened to stop manufacturing the genetically modified variety, which is supposed to be resistant against bollworm. A letter sent by National Seeds Association of India (NSAI) to joint secretary (seeds) in the union agriculture ministry says that its members may stop making the current version of Bt cotton seeds from this month, if their demands are not accepted.
The seed makers are under fire from state government, which has announced that manufacturers would have to pay a part of the compensation payable to cotton growers for losses due to pink bollworm attack. The seed makers also hinted at plans to move the court against the state government order.
There 300 companies using the technology offered by US multinational Monsanto. The American company has formed a joint-venture, Mahyco Monsanto Biotech Limited (MMBL), to operate in India. The technology is routed through MMBL for a charge of Rs49 per bag of Bt cotton seeds, says NSAI.
As the state plans to penalize seed companies, the NSAI has said it is Monsanto or MMBL — the technology provider — which is to be blamed. At present, the BG II variety of seeds, which have two bollworm resistant genes, are available in the market.
The NSAI said in its letter dated January 1 to the joint secretary that the second gene introduced in the seed is not effective against the bollworm. Since the seed companies cannot remove the second gene, even though it is not effective, the government should do away with the fee payable to MMBL on each bag. Once the fee component is removed, it can be treated at par with any other non-Bt hybrid cotton seed. No resistance against pink bollworm should be expected from it after that, the NSAI said.
The letter further says that if the ministry of agriculture still decides to impose the fee, a clear notification may be issued that the developer — Monsanto or MMBL in this case — is completely responsible for the efficacy against the pest. “If such clarity is not brought about, we will be constrained to stop producing and marketing Bt cotton hybrids with the two gene trait,” says the NSAI letter.
The association has also asked the central department to clarify to the Maharashtra government that while seed companies are responsible for the quality parameters, they have no role in maintaining efficacy of the gene trait. The matter was brought to notice in February 2016 itself, but MMBL did not give it any importance, says NSAI.