"The arrival of Bt cotton has almost wiped out the local varieties and our aim is to protect and popularise our own varieties and highlight the ill-effects of growing Bt cotton" said Shivayogi Makari
A small group of cotton growers in Karnataka is attempting to revive the indigenous varieties of cotton, which most growers have given up in favour of Bt cotton in the last decade.
In their second season of experimentation, this group of 36 growers, who have now given up Bt cotton cultivation, is attempting to raise 45 indigenous (desi) varieties, sourced from across the country, and trying to analyse the efficacy of cultivating them in Karnataka’s weather condition. They have not only attempted to grow 45 indigenous varieties, but have also formed the Desi Cotton Growers Association of Karnataka recently to popularise the cultivation of indigenous cotton.
Role as protectors
“The association was formed to propagate and popularise the desi varieties among farmers. The arrival of Bt cotton has almost wiped out the local varieties and our aim is to protect and popularise our own varieties and highlight the ill-effects of growing Bt cotton,” association co-ordinator Shivayogi Makari told The Hindu. Only those who grow local varieties and practise organic farming are part of the group, he added.
The group, which had 17 members in the first season last year when 27 varieties were grown, has now grown to 36, and the number is expected to go up. “We still have some seeds left and hope to have more growers joining the group. As rainfall is deficient, proper sowing has not picked up now,” Mr. Makari said, adding that the group plans awareness campaigns against cotton farmers committing suicide.
While the group members, hailing from Haveri, Dharwad, Gadag, Belgaum, Raichur and Chamarajanagar districts, are cultivating different varieties, one of them, Nagappa Nimbegondi, is cultivating all the 45 indigenous varieties on a demo plot in Makari village in Hirekerur taluk of Haveri district.
The varieties include Bengal Desi from Gujarat and Rajasthan, tree cotton from Bengal, Dev Capass from south Karnataka, Pandarapura variety of north Karnataka/ Maharashtra, Wagad cotton of Gujarat, Karung Kanniparthi of Tamil Nadu, Cernuum of Meghalaya, Pondru of Andhra Pradesh besides a host of others sourced locally.
It was not easy for the group to source these indigenous varieties. “We had to struggle to source the seeds from various places. Some even thought we were trying to steal the seeds for commercial gains,” Mr. Makari said. “Farmers will be convinced to cultivate these varieties only after our experimentation succeeds.” According to him, the Ramachandrapuram variety from Andhra yielded about 12 quintals per acre as against 8 to 10 quintals Bt cotton yields. “This will quell the popular perception that indigenous varieties are of inferior quality. Further, the cost of cultivation will always remain lower in organic cultivation,” he said.
Mr. Nagappa, who has converted three of his seven acres into the demo plot, said: “I was inspired to do this to protect the local varieties from become extinct due to Bt cotton. Many farmers have come forward to support this venture and I am distributing seeds at a subsidised rate.”
For the association, the chance of popularising the local variety is both an opportunity as well as a challenge. While convincing farmers to turn to desi varieties is difficult, the opportunity lies in the large medical and surgical cotton market that depends on local varieties that supply short staple. Currently, 80 per cent of this demand is met from desi cotton growers of Gujarat and Rajasthan.
Details can be had from Mr. Nagappa on 8971187282/ Shivayogi 9448838147.