More reports on: Agriculture

Farmers in India dump Monsanto, switch to local cotton seeds

03 August 2016

Cheated by promises of high yields and pest resistance of genetically modified cotton seed for over a decade, Indian farmers are now dumping the world's biggest seed company Monsanto for better local seed varieties.

Farmers across the northern cotton belt in Punjab, Rajasthan and Gujarat have abandoned Monsanto's genetically modified Bt cotton after a whitefly blight last year and have switched to "desi", or indigenous, cotton seeds that promise good yields and pest resistance at a fraction of the cost.

With the Indian government intervening to cap exorbitantly high prices that Monsanto charges farmers and actively promoting new homegrown seeds, the world's largest seed company is seeing its high margins squeezed everywhere except in the United States.

Reports say thousands of cotton farmers across the country, the world's biggest producer and second-largest exporter of the fibre, have switched to the new local variety, spelling trouble for Monsanto.

With seed sales down 15 per cent, or nearly $75 million in one year, Monsanto stands losing the world's biggest cotton producer and second largest exporter of the fiber, according to a Reuters report.

Monsanto's genetically modified cotton variety has lost as much as 5 per cent to indigenous varieties this year alone, the government is promoting indigenous varieties, says the report.

Also, the report cited a shift from cotton to other crops like pulses and lentils by farmers who lost out on cotton cultivation, causing another 10 per cent fall in Monsanto's seed sales, says the report.

While the Monsanto seed is resistant to the bollworm pest, it is not effective against the common Indian whitefly pest, especially in dry seasons. Local varieties are more resistant to whitefly and Monsanto's resistance to bollworm is also declining.

The area under new indigenous cotton variety is officially estimated at 72,280 hectares in northern India, up from around 3,000 hectares last year.

Most cotton farmers in main producing states of Gujarat and Maharashtra are still using Monsanto's GM cotton, which has helped nearly double India's cotton production. But, it may take long for a wholesale switch over if the current trend continues.

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