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Defying authorities, Maharashtra cotton farmers seek plan to grow other GM crops

Presently, sowing, selling or storing of banned GM crops invites a fine of Rs 1 lakh and five years of imprisonment.

Maharashtra’s cotton farmers who had defied the government and planted herbicide tolerant cotton (HTBT) in their fields are now planning to begin a technology freedom movement in the country that will be led by the Shetkari Sanghatana. The farmer body plans to take this movement further by planting other GM crops, including brinjal, from the next season, representatives of the Sanghatana revealed.

The movement began on June 10 this year when Lalit Bahale, a farmer and member of the Shetkari Sanghatana, led the resistance by planting the banned variety seeds on his farm at Shivar village of Akot taluka of the state . This caused a great stir in the country. Ajit Narde, who heads the technology cell of the Shetkari Sanghatana said that a comparative study of the experience of HTBT and BT cotton in the state will be made by experts and farmers. The farmer body shall release a survey on the comparative study of HTBT cotton versus BT cotton and decide the future direction of the movement, he said.

Narde said that at least 15 % of the cotton farmers in Maharashtra, around an area of 5-6 lakh hectares, have grown HT cotton this season, even though the government has banned its cultivation. A large number of farmers in Gujarat and Telangana are also growing HT cotton, Narde said.

“A comparative study by the farmer body reveals that while farmers who had planted BT cotton had to spend about `10,000 per acre for manual labour to remove weeds from their fields. In contrast, farmers who had planted HT variety sprayed their fields twice during the season with glyphosate, and spent `600 per spraying and their fields were cleaner with fewer weeds,” Narde added. ” This year rains continued even until Diwali and therefore the amount of weeds in the fields has been more, he pointed out.

Cotton is grown in nearly 20 districts in the Vidarbha, Marathwada regions and the northern parts of Maharashtra. While the HT variety occupies 10-15 % of the cotton fields in most of these districts, its use is almost 100 % 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. “We are working on the details of the survey and shall publish the findings publicly to create more awareness among farmers,” he added.

This year the seeds were obtained illegally and we also discovered that nearly 10% of the HTBT cotton planted by the farmers was of the spurious variety, according to Narde. Gujarat and Telangana are the major cotton seed manufacturers in the country and HTBT cotton is freely cultivated in the state. However the success rate in Maharashtra has been higher because the weeding problem is more severe in Maharashtra due to black soil. Gujarat has sandy soil that is loose and hence farmers could use small tillers to remove weeds.

Narde said a large part of the barren land in Chandrapur and Gadchiroli, which receives very heavy rains every year and is not useful for other crops, has come under the HTBT cotton in last three-four years. Though HTBT variety can’t be sold officially, a number of brands have been retailing hybrid cotton seeds with herbicide-tolerant gene for last three-four years, market sources said.

Presently, sowing, selling or storing of banned GM crops invites a fine of Rs 1 lakh and five years of imprisonment. Despite that, the farmers in Akola had carried on with their protest under the banner of Shetkari Sanghatana, reportedly stating that the government was free to take action against them. Narde said that the farmers would meet the government with their findings and press for freedom of technology.

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Source: Financial Express