India's Bt cotton crop area rises to 8 million hectares; yields up 31 per cent: minister

The area under Bt cotton in the country has increased from 29,000 hectares in 2002-03 to an anticipated 8 million hectares in 2009-10. Bt cotton has also helped increase crop yields by 31 per cent, the government said today.

The average yield of Bt cotton has increased from 300 kg per hectare in 2001-02 to 560 kg per hectare in 2007-08, K V Thomas, minister of state for agriculture, consumer affairs, food and public distribution, informed the Lok Sabha in a written reply today.

Cultivation of Bt cotton has resulted in a 31 per cent increase in yields, 39 per cent reduction in pesticide usage and more than 80 per cent increase in profitability of farmers, the minister said, quoting figures from International Service for Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications 2009 (ISAAA 2009) report.

The Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR), Nagpur has been conducting detailed studies at the state level in collaboration with the state agricultural universities of the nine major cotton growing states, he said in his reply.

Information so far collected indicates that yields have increased in these cotton growing states with the introduction of Bt cotton, he said, adding that the bollworm menace has also significantly reduced all over the country. He also said there has been a reduction in market share of insecticides used in cotton.

The minister's claims are in contrast to the revelations made by Monsanto itself, the creator of the Bt cotton that has been in cultivation across the country for quite some time now.  (See: Monsanto accepts its Bt cotton is not pest-resistant)

Bt cotton in India has been marked by controversies amidst rising farmer suicides and by seed companies' claims of the crop's resistance to the dreaded bollworm pest.

But, eight years after the government allowed farmers to grow Bt cotton and the government's department of biotechnology cleared the seed, the bollworms have now started showing resistance to the Bt toxin that is said to be preventing the insect from attacking Bt cotton. There is a chorus now calling for an enquiry into just how successful genetically modified technology in India has been.