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Can India’s homegrown Bt cotton compete with Monsanto’s version?

In Business, Environment, GM Crops, India, Politics, Science on June 6, 2009 at 6:51 pm

Seven years after Monsanto launched its genetically modified Bt Cotton in India, a homegrown variety is set to blossom in India’s cotton fields….well 10,000 acres of it, compared to the 17 million acres currently growing Monsanto’s version. The Indian version costs 1/3 what the Monsanto version costs, and it can be stored and multiplied by the farmers, unlike the Monsanto version which need to be bought fresh every year. The government is already admitting it doesn’t have the resources to compete with the private sector.

Monsanto’s entry into India has been mired in controversy since it arrived in 1995 when it teamed up with India’s Mahyco to import Bt cotton seeds. The debate is framed around the idea that GM technology is an attempt by multinational companies to control India’s agriculture and markets. Leading this charge are various NGOs around the country with Vandana Shiva, an environmental activist and scientist being Monsanto’s harshest critic.

In the past decade alone an estimated 160,000 farmers in India have committed suicide, many of them cotton farmers in the states of Andra Pradesh and Maharastra.

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) published a paper in 2008 concluding that Bt Cotton was not to blame for a resurgence in farmer suicides. But its poorly planned rollout including “poorly explained, often misused technology in drought prone areas, low market prices and an absence or failre of a credit system” was a clear recipe for failure.

Meanwhile the Andhra Pradesh Biodiversity Board is seeking royalty payments from Monsanto India Ltd for genetic information it alleges was ‘stolen’ from Bt bacteria found in the soils of Mahanandi village in Kurnool district.

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