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Feb. 15, 2012

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Feb. 15, 2012

India proposes new Bt cotton project

The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) has proposed a Rs 150-200 crore nationwide project to develop genetically modified (Bt) cotton, with genes to provide multiple protection against virus, fungi, etc, beside being reusable.

This has gone to the ministry of agriculture for clearance. The idea is to involve a pan-India network of major agricultural institutes and universities like the Ludhiana-based Punjab Agriculture University, Ludhiana; the University of Agriculture Sciences, Dharwad; the Govind Ballabh Pant Agricultural University, Pantnagar; the Central Institute of Cotton Research, Nagpur, and so on.

The idea is to also apply the esons learnt from the controversy over the ‘Bikaneri Narma’, the first indigenously developed Bt cotton. ICAR stopped its production and sale (in 2009) after allegations that some of its seeds contained a variety earlier patented by Monsanto, the private chemicals company. An inquiry is underway, being conducted by S K Sopory, vice-chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.

"The idea is that one incident of small contamination or misinformation cannot hinder indigenous research on genetic biotechnology,” Swapan Datta, deputy director-general of crop sciences in ICAR said.

Technology boost India’s cotton crop over six decades
Year
Area*
Production**
Yield#
1950-51
5.88
3.43
99
1960-61
7.61
6.01
134
1970-71
7.60
5.66
127
1980-81
7.82
7.80
169
1990-91
7.43
11.70
267
2000-01
8.57
14.00
278
2001-02
8.73
15.80
308
2002-03
7.66
13.60
302
2003-04
7.63
17.90
399
2004-05
8.78
24.30
470
2005-06
8.67
24.10
472
2006-07
9.14
28.00
521
2007-08
9.41
30.70
554
2008-09
9.40
29.00
524
2009-10
10.31
30.50
503
2010-11
11.14
33.90
517
2011-12
12.19
34.50
481
*In million hectares; 
**In million bales. One bale =170 kilograms
#Yield in kilograms per hectare; 
Note: BT Cotton Was Introduced In India In 2002
Source: Cotton Advisory Board

Adding: “Bikaneri Narma had not even reached one per cent of all cotton farmers before its production and sale was stopped. Hence, any chance of it contaminating the existing seeds is virtually non-existent.”

The new programme seeks to address all discrepancies raised at the time of the Bikaneri Narma issue. “The project will not only look at domestically produced advanced genetically modified cotton, but also better varieties of organic cotton,” Datta said.

He said patenting of genes produced by ICAR scientists will help in profit-sharing with private companies with germplasm patents and also sub-licensing of the patented genes developed by ICAR scientists.

India’s per hectare cotton yield has risen 60 per cent since the introduction of Bt cotton in 2002.

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