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Governments cannot sit on new farm technologies indefinitely: Maharashtra cotton farmers

November 13, 2019


Some Maharashtra cotton farmers who defied the official diktat and grew herbicide-tolerant (HT) cotton in their fields said they stood for technology freedom, and insisted that governments cannot prevaricate on technologies when farmers are looking for better options.


“At least 15 per cent of the cotton farmers in Maharashtra have grown HT cotton this season, even though the government has banned its cultivation. This would be around 5-6 lakh hectares. A large number of farmers in Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh are also growing HT cotton,” said Ajit Narde of Shetkari Sanghatana.


Benefits of the variety


Narde, who hails from Maharashtra’s Kolhapur district, is essentially a sugarcane farmer, not a cotton grower. But, he said, he stands by farmers who grow HT cotton against the government orders. He said that the HT variety offers many benefits.


“The increase in yield over Bt cotton varieties may not be much, but HT cotton cuts the cost of weeding substantially,” said Sudhir Bindu, another farmer affiliated to the Shetkari Sanghatana, who owns a seven7-hectare cotton farm in Parbani district of Maharashtra. “The government has filed cases against them for cultivating the HT cotton variety, but this does not deter us,” said the farmer, who was in Delhi this week.


Cotton is grown in 20 districts in the Vidarbha, Marathwada regions and the northern parts of Maharashtrs. While the HT variety occupies 10-15 per cent of the cotton fields in most of these districts, its use is almost 100 per cent in Gadchiroli and Chandrapur districts.


“Growing cotton was almost impossible in these districts as they get intermittent rain, leading to huge weed problem. Glyphosate-resistant HT cotton, however, solved the problem as it allows spraying of herbicide, unlike other transgenic varieties,” Narde said. “This helped farmers save up to ₹15,000 per acre,” added Bindu.


Banning onion exports


They said governments have always worked against the interest of farmers and favoured consumers. They cited the current case of onion shortage as an example.


“The first thing that the government did when it sensed that there could be a shortfall in onion production this year was to ban exports. Otherwise, exports would have helped farmers make up for the losses they more often than not incur,” said Narde.


According to Bindu, many farmers use this increase in earnings to raise investments in agriculture. He cited reports of farmers in Nashik buying 122 tractors on a single day when onion prices surged.


They said governments have to take decisions on transgenic crops in a time-bound manner, and cannot sit on approvals perceptually. “Most of the snacks we consume in the country are fried in cottonseed oil, which is mostly derived from Bt cotton. Have we come across any health impact so far,” Narde asked.



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