Publication:Times Of India Nagpur;
Date:Aug 5, 2007;
LURE OF WHITE GOLD
Bt cotton seed still a top-draw in Vidarbha
Ramu Bhagwat I TNN
Nagpur: Even after a number of suicides by cotton farmers, Bt (genetically modified) cotton seed continues to rule the roost in the cotton belt. This year, over 70% of farmers have preferred to sow Bt seeds. This is despite warnings by the state agriculture minister Balasaheb Thorat as well as farm activists that the Bt seed was not suitable for Vidarbha where less than 10% of the land is irrigated and farming is largely rain-fed. “Reports reaching us till now point to over 60% use of Bt seeds for sowing this year in western Vidarbha’s five districts. With resowing on in some parts and delayed sowing in some places, there is possibility of over 70% of the total the crop coming under Bt seeds,” Sudhir Goyal, Amravati divisional commissioner, who also heads the special government machinery implementing relief packages for distressed farmers in six districts, told ToI on Saturday. Farm activists like Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti president Kishore Tiwari have been crying hoarse that a majority of over 1,400 farmers who committed suicide last year were those who relied on Bt cotton for bumper yields that never materialised. “Because of unfavourable conditions in the region, the seeds do not deliver results. Even the promise of reduction in use of pesticides because of the claimed disease resistance of Bt seeds has proved false,” he said. In fact, he said this year farmers have already sprayed the first round of pesticide so early in the kharif season. From the white gold it was known as till a decade ago, cotton has now turned into a killer crop. But the region so used to it as cash crop is finding it difficult to wean away from it. “There is no shrinkage in cotton growing area in the division, “ said Goyal. Tiwari went on to claim that the area under cotton cultivation this year may actually go up to around 17 lakh hectares from around 14 lakh hectares last year. He attributes it to a shortage of soyabean seeds believed to be created by Bt cotton seed dealers. However, Wardha district in Nagpur division which is included in the six distressed, suicide-prone districts covered by the PM’s and state’s special relief packages, has proved to be an exception. Soyabean, the alternative cash crop, has overtaken cotton cultivation in the district. “This year, nearly 75% farmers in Wardha have sown soyabean. There is a major shift from cotton,” said Vijay Jawandhiya, a farmers’ leader. “Last year, soya fetched a very good price in the range of Rs 1200 to Rs 1700 per quintal. Moreover, soya cultivation is relatively less expensive than cotton. Farmers are expecting soya prices to stabilise around Rs 1300 per quintal,” said Jawandhiya.