Over 80 per cent of the Bt cotton crop in Raichur district, cultivated on around 1.5 lakh acres both in rain-fed and irrigated areas, has been destroyed in pink bollworm attack, resulting in a loss of over Rs. 300 crore, according to an independent fact-finding team of cotton experts.
The team visited cotton fields in the district on Thursday.
At a press conference here on Friday, H.R. Prakash, agronomist; Manjunath Holalu, environmentalist; P. Srinivas Vasu, ActionAid representative; Venkatesh Patel, an activist, and other members of the team said that the study report released by the University of Agricultural Sciences, Raichur, (UAS-R) was incomprehensive.
“As per the UAS-R report, the estimated destruction of Bt cotton by pink bollworm is around 40 to 50 per cent in rain-fed areas and 60 to 70 per cent in irrigated areas. We, however, found that it was over 80 per cent in both rain-fed and irrigated areas,” Dr. Prakash, who led the team, said. He also urged the government to set up teams of experts and conduct a comprehensive field study to estimate the extent of loss and take steps to safeguard the interests of farmers.
Mr. Holalu said the crop had been destroyed despite having been cultivated according to the instructions of seed producers and agricultural universities. “The issue is not that of seed adulteration, but of failure of biotechnology itself. As many had warned much earlier, pests gradually develop resistance to Bt toxin produced by the Bt crop. The outbreaks of whitefly in north Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh in 1996, mirid bug in Haveri and surrounding areas in 2013, and pink bollworm now in Raichur have refuted Bt cotton seed producers’ claims on pest resistance,” Mr. Holalu said.
When asked whether pink bollworm fell under Bt cotton seed producers’ pest-resistance claim purview, Mr. Holalu showed the instruction manual supplied with a Bt cotton seed packet and said that it did.
“Bt cotton seed producers, in the instruction manual, have promised protection from pink bollworm by saying that ‘it [Bt cotton] controls not only American, spotted and pink bollworms, but was also highly effective against spodoptera and semi-loopers’. Contrary to their claims, it is the pink bollworm that has devastated Bt cotton crop in Raichur district,” he said.
Mr. Holalu demanded that the Union government amend the Seed Act 1966 so as to incorporate provisions that would deal with genetic purity of genetically modified seeds.
“Bt cotton seed producers, whose pest-resistance claims have turned out to be a hoax, must be held responsible for crop loss. The government should ensure that the seed producers pay compensation to the affected farmers,” Mr. Patel demanded.
Team pegs loss
at Rs. 300 crore; terms UAS-Raichur study report incomprehensive