Karnataka's silence on GM mustard worries farmers

Of the at least nine oilseeds cultivated in the State, mustard comes last in terms of area under cultivation as well as production.

Updated - December 11, 2016 07:52 am IST

Published - December 11, 2016 12:07 am IST - Bengaluru:

Karnataka: Bengaluru: 04/11/2016: GM MUSTARD (e mail handout from reporter Bageshree)

Karnataka: Bengaluru: 04/11/2016: GM MUSTARD (e mail handout from reporter Bageshree)

The Karnataka government is yet to take its stand on the heated debate over genetically-modified (GM) mustard that is raging across the country.

Some major mustard-growing States such as Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh have been emphatically opposing GM mustard and its field trials.

Despite several farmers’ groups and organic farmers asking the State government to urge the Centre to not allow open field trials, there seems to have been no discussion on this by the Agriculture Department, according to senior officials.

Speaking to The Hindu , Agriculture Minister Krishna Byre Gowda said: “Karnataka is yet to receive a notification from the Centre. As soon it comes, the State government will take a decision in the interests of farmers of the State.”

Senior officials, on condition of anonymity, said: “Other States may have taken a decision even before receiving the notification owing to protests, but since mustard is a minor crop in the State, there has not been a discussion.”

But farmers’ groups and experts pointed out that the issue at stake is the larger question on where the State stands on GM crops as a whole and not just about field trials.

“When the Bt brinjal controversy erupted, Karnataka opposed its introduction because one of the varieties used to develop it was ‘Matti Gulla’, a GI tagged crop from Udupi district. However, in the discourse on mustard, the State is silent,” former Horticulture Director Ramakrishnappa told The Hindu . The State should have a policy on genetically-modified crops instead of a piecemeal approach to the issue based on the crop involved, he said.

Officials in the department are also wary about a discussion on GM crops. “Since the GMO issue is controversial, the Agriculture Department in the State relies on inputs from time to time from agriculture universities. We do not have a separate cell or section to deal with such issues,” a senior official, on condition of anonymity, said.

“The need of the hour is to set up a specialised cell on GM crops,” said another official.

Meanwhile, representatives of over a dozen organic groups and former officials have urged Chief Minister Siddaramaiah to write to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to not allow cultivation of GM mustard in the country.

“Though agriculture is a State subject, Karnataka cannot escape the ill-effects that transgenics could bring in,” they said in an open letter, pointing out that Karnataka was the first State in the country to introduce the organic policy. “Introduction of GM crops will affect organic farming,” letter said.

No growth in area under cultivation

Of the at least nine oilseeds cultivated in the State, mustard comes last in terms of area under cultivation as well as production. Though being part of the National Mission on Oil Seeds and Oil Palm, mustard as a crop does not get much attention.

“Mustard has been part of mixed crop in both dry and irrigated lands in Karnataka, either as an intercrop or a border crop. Not much has been done for the crop and its production, and the cultivated area has remained the same for nearly two decades,” multiple officials in the Agriculture Department said. It is farmers practising the Akkadi system who are keeping the crop alive, sources said, adding that mustard has never been promoted for large produce or yield.

In fact, mustard’s area is negligible when compared to the 33 lakh acres under oilseed cultivation. While groundnut occupies about 13.3 lakh acres, sunflower is cultivated on 9.05 lakh acres and soybean on 6.1 lakh acres. The rest is shared between sesame, niger seeds, castor, safflower, and linseed.

In 2015-16, department statistics revealed that mustard is being grown in about 13,000 acres with an average yield of about 339 kg per hectare (2.5 acres). While the area under cultivation has remained almost the same since 2002, it dropped, briefly, to around 5,000 acres between 2012 and 2014. It is not grown as a main crop in any agro-climate zone across the State.

Akkadi system fading away

Mustard is an important part of the Akkadi system, a unique multi-cropping pattern practised in Karnataka. It is an intercrop planted with paddy, ragi, jowar or millet, and in places like Davangere it is grown with maize and soya too. Experts point out that mustard acts as a “trap plant”, keeping pests away from the main crop. It also assures some returns for farmers if the main crop fails.

Sources in the Agriculture Department, however, said that the Akkadi system, which also helps in ensuring fodder for animals, is on the wane. “In fact, castor and toor have replaced mustard as a main intercrop in many areas,” sources said.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.