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India and Bt Cotton

  • In recent days, “Bt Cotton” has become a hot topic among agricultural communities and also among policy makers, social activists, NGOs, politicians etc because of it’s controversial nature.

a. What is Bt Cotton?

  • Bt Cotton is a genetically engineered form of natural cotton. The main advantage of utilizing biotechnology in agriculture are the possibilities of increase in productivity through the use of newer varieties that possess properties such as resistance to pests, diseases, and other stressful conditions like drought, salinity, or water logging.
  • Bt Cotton is produced by inserting a synthetic version of a gene from the naturally occurring soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, into cotton. The primary reason this is done is to induce the plant to produce its own Bt toxin to destroy the bollworm, a major cotton pest. The gene causes the production of Bt toxin in all parts of the cotton plant throughout its entire life span. When the bollworm ingests any part of the plant, the Bt cotton toxin pierces its small intestine and kills the insect.

b. Why it came to India?

  • Although India has the world’s largest acreage of 8.9 million hectares representing about one quarter of the global area (35 million ha) under cotton cultivation, the average yield of cotton is 440Kg/ha, which is far below the world average of 677 Kg/ha. The production is also only 16% (4.13 million tonnes) of the world production of 26.19 million tonnes. Main cause for this reduced production is the 162 species of insects, which are known to devour cotton at various stages of growth, of which 15 are considered to be key pests.
  • Among the insects, cotton bollworms are the most serious pests in India causing an annual loss of at least US$300 million. Together these pests and diseases result in an estimated loss of 50% to 60%of potential yield. Farmers therefore use a cocktail of expensive chemical pesticides to control pest infestation. Currently pesticides account for one-third of total cultivation costs. In India, an estimated US$ 660 million (Rs 29 billion) worth of pesticides is used in agriculture, of which US$ 344 million (Rs 16 billion) is used on cotton.
  • Bollworm alone takes a heavy toll, costing the farmers an annual US$ 235 million (Rs 11 billion). This accounts for more than a third of current pesticides sales in India. So to mitigate this yield loss incorporating insect resistance has become the prime objective of cotton improvement efforts in India. But painfully no bollworm resistance is available in the germplasm. Thus the efforts got diverted to harness genetic engineering technology for bollworm resistance in India in 1990s with the import of genetically modified (GM) cotton and initiation of research programmes in national laboratories.
c. How Bt Cotton developed and introduced into India?
  • The chronology of Bt cotton development started with the formation of Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBSC) and application for transgenic Bt cottonseed import in 1994. In 1995 the Maharashtra hybrid seed company (Mahyco) received the permit from Department of Biotechnology (DBT) to import 100 g. Bt Cotton seed of Coker 312 from Monsanto, USA that owns a 26% share in Mahyco.
  • After importing Bt Cotton seeds into India in 1996, crossing with Indian Cotton varieties, Mahyco conducted greenhouse and small-scale field trials on the newly developed varieties through 1999. In 2000, Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) approved the first large-scale field trials on 85 ha and also to undertake seed production on 150 ha. These large scale trials were conducted covering 100 ha and field trials were also conducted by All India Coordinated Cotton Improvement Project of the ICAR in 2001.  And then in April 2002 GEAC approved three Bt Cotton hybrids for commercial cultivation in six states (Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu) after taking into account the data on their performance.

d. What is the magnitude of Bt Cotton spread in India?

  • As of now some 62 Bt cotton hybrids have been developed by private seed companies, which are under commercial cultivation after the approval from GEAC. Almost all the hybrids, except some few have the Monsanto-Mahyco Bt Technology that has been sublicensed to the respective seed companies. JK Agri - Genetics Ltdhas used an alternate cry1Ac gene construct for its 4 hybrids developed by the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, Nath has sourced its `cry1Ab-cry1Ac fusion gene' technology for its 3 hybrids from Biocentury Transgene Technology Company, a Chinese Government-promoted joint venture.

Bt Cotton varieties approved for commercial cultivation in the various zones during 2002-2006.

S.No

Name of Hybrids

Name of Company

Gene Event

Zone

April 2002
1
MECH 12 Bt***

M/s Mahyco

Cry 1 Ac (MON 531 Event) Central (renewed)
2
MECH 162 Bt***

M/s Mahyco

Cry 1 Ac (MON 531 Event) Central & South (renewed)
3
MECH 184 Bt*** M/s Mahyco Cry 1 Ac (MON 531 Event) Central & South (renewed)
April 2004

4

RCH 2 Bt
M/s Rasi Seeds Ltd.
Cry 1 Ac (MON 531 Event) Central & South
April – June 2005
5
NCS – 207 Mallika M/s Nuziveedu Seeds Ltd. Cry 1 Ac (MON 531 Event) Central & South
6
NCS – 145 Bunny M/s Nuziveedu Seeds Ltd. Cry 1 Ac (MON 531 Event) Central & South
7
RCH – 144 Bt M/s Rasi Seeds Ltd. Cry 1 Ac (MON 531 Event) Central
8
RCH – 118 Bt M/s Rasi Seeds Ltd. Cry 1 Ac (MON 531 Event) Central
9
RCH – 138 Bt M/s Rasi Seeds Ltd. Cry 1 Ac (MON 531 Event) Central
10
RCH – 20 Bt M/s Rasi Seeds Ltd. Cry 1 Ac (MON 531 Event) South
11
RCH – 368 Bt M/s Rasi Seeds Ltd. Cry 1 Ac (MON 531 Event) South
12
RCH – 134 Bt M/s Rasi Seeds Ltd. Cry 1 Ac (MON 531 Event) North
13
RCH – 317 Bt M/s Rasi Seeds Ltd. Cry 1 Ac (MON 531 Event) North
14
MRC – 6322 Bt M/s Mahyco Cry 1 Ac (MON 531 Event) South
15
MRC – 6918 Bt M/s Mahyco Cry 1 Ac (MON 531 Event) South
16
MRC – 6301 Bt M/s Mahyco Cry 1 Ac (MON 531 Event) Central & North
17
MRC – 6304 Bt M/s Mahyco Cry 1 Ac (MON 531 Event) North
18
Ankur – 651 Bt M/s Ankur Seeds Ltd. Cry 1 Ac (MON 531 Event) Central & North
19
Ankur – 2534Bt M/s Ankur Seeds Ltd. Cry 1 Ac (MON 531 Event) North

20

Ankur – 09 M/s Ankur Seeds Ltd. Cry 1 Ac (MON 531 Event) Central
  April –July 2006
21
MRC – 6025 Bt M/s Mahyco Cry 1 Ac (MON 531 Event) North Zone
22
MRC – 6029 Bt M/s Mahyco Cry 1 Ac (MON 531 Event) North
23
NCS – 913 Bt M/s Nuziveedu Seeds Ltd. Cry 1 Ac (MON 531 Event) North/Central/ South Zone
24
NCS – 138 Bt M/s Nuziveedu Seeds Ltd. Cry 1 Ac (MON 531 Event) North
25
RCH 308 Bt M/s Rasi Seeds Ltd. Cry 1 Ac (Event 1) North
26
RCH 314 Bt M/s Rasi Seeds Ltd. Cry 1 Ac (MON 531 Event) North
27
RCH 377 Bt M/s Rasi Seeds Cry 1 Ac (MON 531 Event) Central Zone
28
RCH 111 BG 1 M/s Rasi Seeds Ltd. Cry 1 Ac (MON 531 Event) South Zone
29
RCH 371 BG 1 M/s Rasi Seeds Ltd. Cry 1 Ac (MON 531 Event) South Zone
30
RCHB-708 BG 1 M/s Rasi Seeds Ltd. Cry 1 Ac (MON 531 Event) South Zone
31
GK 205 Bt M/s Ganga Kaveri Seeds Pvt Ltd. Cry 1 Ac (MON 531 Event) Central Zone
32
GK 204 Bt M/s Ganga Kaveri Seeds Pvt Ltd. Cry 1 Ac (MON 531 Event) Central Zone
33
GK-209 Bt M/s Ganga Kaveri Cry 1 Ac (MON 531 Event) South Zone
34
GK-207 Bt M/s Ganga Kaveri Cry 1 Ac gene (Event 1) South Zone
35
KDCHH 9810 Bt M/s Krishidhan Seeds Pvt Ltd. Cry 1 Ac (MON 531 Event) Central & South Zone
36
KDCHH 9632 Bt M/s Krishidhan Seeds Pvt Ltd. Cry 1 Ac (MON 531 Event) Central & South Zone
37
KDCHH 9821 Bt M/s Krishidhan Seeds Pvt Ltd. Cry 1 Ac (MON 531 Event) Central Zone
38
ACH-33-1 Bt M/s Ajeet Seeds Ltd. Cry 1 Ac (MON 531 Event) Central & South Zone
39
ACH-155-1 M/s Ajeet Seeds Ltd. Cry 1 Ac (MON 531 Event) Central & South Zone
40
Tulasi 4 Bt M/s Tulasi Seeds Pvt Ltd. Cry 1 Ac (MON 531 Event) Central & South Zone
41
Tulasi 117 Bt M/s Tulasi Seeds Pvt Ltd. Cry 1 Ac (MON 531 Event) Central & South Zone
42
NPH 2171 Bt M/s Prabhat Seeds Ltd. Cry 1 Ac (MON 531 Event) Central & South Zone
43
Brahma Bt M/s Emergent Genetics Cry 1 Ac (MON 531 Event) Central & South Zone
44
VICH 5 Bt M/s Vikram Seeds Pvt Ltd Cry 1 Ac (MON 531 Event) Central & South Zone
45
VICH 9 Bt M/s Vikram Seeds Pvt Ltd Cry 1 Ac (MON 531 Event) South Zone
46
PRCH- 102 Bt. M/s Pravardhan Seeds Ltd. Cry 1 Ac (MON 531 Event) Central Zone
47
PCH- 2270 Bt M/s Prabhat Seeds Ltd. Cry 1 Ac gene (Event 1) South Zone
48
VCH-111 Bt M/s Vikki Agrotech Pvt Ltd. Cry 1 Ac (Event 1) Central Zone
49
MRC 7301 BG H M/s Mahyco Cry 1 Ac and cry 2 Ab (MON 15985 Event) Central Zone
50
MRC- 7326 BG H M/s Mahyco Cry 1 Ac and cry 2 Ab (MON 15985 Event) Central Zone
51
MRC- 7347 BG || M/s Mahyco Cry 1 Ac and cry 2 Ab (MON 15985 Event) Central Zone
52
MRC- 7351 BG || M/s Mahyco Cry 1 Ac and cry 2 Ab (MON 15985 Event) South Zone
53
MRC 7201 BG || M/s Mahyco Cry 1 Ac and cry 2 Ab (MON 15985 Event) South Zone
54
KDCHH-441 BG || M/s Krishidhan Seeds Pvt Ltd. Cry 1 Ac and cry 2 Ab (MON 15985 Event) Central Zone
55
ACH-||-2 BG || M/s Ajeet Seeds Ltd. Cry 1 Ac and cry 2 Ab (MON 15985 Event) Central Zone
56
JKCH 1947 Bt M/s J.K Agri Genetics Seeds Ltd. Cry 1 Ac gene (Event 1) North Zone
57
JK Varun Bt M/s J.K Agri Genetics Seeds Ltd. Cry 1 Ac gene (Event 1) Central Zone
58
JK Durga Bt M/s J.K Agri Genetics Seeds Ltd. Cry 1 Ac gene (Event 1) South Zone
59
JKCH-99 Bt M/s J.K Agri Genetics Seeds Ltd. Cry 1 Ac gene (Event 1) South Zone
60
NCEH-6R M/s Nath Seeds Ltd. Cry 1 Ab+ Cry 1C North Zone
61
NCEH-2R M/s Nath Seeds Ltd. Cry 1 Ab+ Cry 1C Central Zone
62
NCEH-3 R M/s Nath Seeds Ltd. Cry 1 Ab+ Cry 1C South Zone

Following the approval of GEAC, Commercial Cultivation of BT Cotton was undertaken in the immediate cropping season of 2002 in 6 states whose statistics is as follows:

State

Area under Bt hybrids (ha)

MECH –12
MECH-162
MECH – 184
Total (Ha)
Andhra Pradesh

44

5,564

-

5,608

Gujarat

76

4,136

4,642

8,854

Madhya Pradesh

60

404

1,756

2,220

Karnataka

-

3,828

80

3,908

Maharashtra

112

9,300

5,334

14,746

Tamil Nadu

-

2,042

660

2,702

TOTAL
292
25,274
12,472
38,038

After this initial pick up till now the area under Bt Cotton is continuing with its increasing trend, which is evidenced from the following table:

Year
Seed Packets Sold
Area covered (million ha)

2003

213,098

0.86

2004

1,326,134

0.55

2005

3,102,067

1.26

Source: DBT, 2006

  • Now in 9 states Bt cotton has been adopted among which Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Madhyapradesh were leading with 49.7%, 18.1%, 11.8% and 11.4% share of the national Bt cotton acreage respectively. i.e. Central Zone of India showed the highest adoption of Bt cotton followed by South and North zones.
e. How Bt Cotton is performing in India?
  • From the initial date of introduction several studies have been made on field performance of Bt Cotton in India by seed companies, Research scientists/Organizations, Market researchers etc.
  • The results are as follows:

  • Mahyco (1998-99):  Revealed that 40 % higher yield of Bt hybrids (14.64 q /ha) over their non Bt Counterpart (10.45 q/ha). The bollworm damage to bolls was significantly reduced in Bt Cotton (2.5 % at 61-90 days planting) when compared to non-Bt hybrids (11.4 % at 61-90 days planting). The overall pesticide requirement for controlling bollworm was reduced drastically. Because of these total economic benefits of Bt Cotton over non Bt Cotton had been estimated as Rs 13,703.60 per ha.
  • ICAR (2001): Mainly concentrated on Cost Benefit analysis of Bt Cotton. Yield increase over non Bt cotton were recorded to the magnitude of 60 92% and gross income showed a 67% advantage where it was Rs 23,604 for Bt Cotton and Rs 14,112 for non Bt Cotton. After adjusting the additional cost of Bt hybrid seed the net economic advantage of Bt cotton ranged between Rs 4,633 and Rs 10,205 per hectare.
  • Qaim and Zilberman (2003) - Funded by German government's research arm: Declared that Bt Hybrids received three times less sprays against bollworm than non –Bt hybrids. But the number of sprays against the sucking pests was same for all. Insecticide amounts on Bt Cotton were reduced by about 70 % both interms of commercial products and active ingredients. Interestingly they reported a yield increase of 80 – 87 % over non-Bts. They also said that yield advantages of Bt cotton would remain bigger in India with its agro ecological conditions than in the United States or China.
  • But the article was criticized on the argument that the study sites chosen did not represent the entire spectrum of cotton growing areas in India and data collection and analysis were faulty that the reported yield effect of Bt gene was scientifically untenable.

  • Bennett et al. (2004):They made their study in a typical farmer –managed conditions and analyzed commercial field data rather than trial plot data. The study met the recommendations of FAO (2004). In both the seasons number sprays required for the control sucking pest was same for Bt and non-Bt cotton. But the number of sprays required for bollworm was much lower for Bt cotton. There was a corresponding reduction of 72% and *3% in 2002 and 2003 in expenditure. With the high Bt cotton seed price the results showed higher average costs for Bt cultivation compared to non – Bt cultivation. So the real benefit came from the higher yield of cotton in Bt plots.
  • AC Nielsen ORG-MARG (2003):  A nationwide survey of more than 3,000 farmers by AC Nielsen found that in Bt Cotton cultivation profits increased by 78 percent, on average, over farmers who planted traditional varieties. Yields also increased 29 percent, on average. Pesticide use declined by 60 percent.
  • The survey found that some Bt cotton farmers were paid 8 percent more for their crop because it was of a higher quality.
  • Gene Campaign (2003):Report that Monsanto's Bt cotton has smaller boll size, shorter fibre length, poorer cotton quality leading to low market demand and lower yield, leading to an overall loss of income for those farmers who have cultivated the Monsanto cotton.

  • Mahyco 2004: After their launch of Bt Hybrids in 2002, they made a study in 2004, which supported the higher yields and reduced insecticide sprays, which added to the total economic benefit providing additional income to the Bt cotton growers.

  • Deccan Development Society and Andhra Pradesh Coalition in Defense of Diversity: (2002-2005): The report surveyed 440 Bt cotton farmers of Andhra Pradesh in India and found that while Bt cotton marginally reduced pesticide use and increased yields, the overall profits for farmers growing Bt cotton were 9% lower.
  • Gokhle Institute of Politics and Economics, Pune (2003):Conducted a comparative study of Bt and non-Bt cotton during Kharif 2003 in two prominent cotton-growing districts of Maharashtra and revealed that Bt Cotton was profitable in irrigated conditions and it is not observed in rainfed condition. And also noted complaints of bollworm and other pest disease attacks in Bt Cotton. So the overall findings from the above studies clearly reveals that there exists some confusions because of mixed signals regarding the performance of Bt cotton in India as some are claiming that Bt Cotton has significantly lower infestation of bollworms compared to non Bt Cotton leading to fewer number of sprays required for bollworm control. The reduced pest infestation is also associated with higher cotton yields, which is the major contributor for the economical advantage of Bt Cotton in India.
  • And the controversial claiming includes, High cost of  BT cotton seeds, threat to environmental safety, cross pollination and gene flow into wild varieties, Residual effect in soil, effect on non target organisms, Bollworm resistance buildup, Poor quality of lint etc.
f. What are all the Realities over the Myths  about Bt Cotton?
  • Myth: Transgenic cotton will pollinate other species planted nearby or be carried over long distances with unknown consequences.
  • Reality: Trials revealed that out-crossing occurred only up to 2 meters, and only 2.1% of the pollen reached a distance of 15 m. As the pollen is heavy and sticky, the range of pollen transfer is limited. Also, the pollination is incompatible for cross-pollination with near relatives other than cotton in any Indian conditions.
  • Myth:Bt Cotton’s in built resistance against bollworm might also kill other beneficial insects, which may be advantageous.
  • Reality: Bt Proteins have no detrimental effects on the survival and production of beneficial species of insects as they remained active in both Bt and non-Bt varieties. Bt can be harmful to useful pests but it has proven to be much better than conventional pesticides.
  • Myth:The toxin present in the root exudates of Bt Cotton crop will ultimately spoil the soil organisms and fertility.
  • Reality:The studies revealed that Bt protein was not detected in soil samples indicating that Bt protein is rapidly degraded in the soil on which Bt cotton is grown. The Cry 1AC protein was rapidly degraded in the soil in both the purified form of the protein and as part of the cotton plant tissue. The half-life for the purified protein was less than 20 days. The half-life of the Cry 1AC protein in plant tissue was calculated to 41 days, which is comparable to the degradation rates reported for microbial formulations of Bt.

  • Myth:Cattle or animals that gaze may be adversely affected.
  • Reality: Studies in the Industrial Toxicology Research Center Lucknow, established that Bt Cotton is safe to mammals, birds and fishes. The data on allergy studies on rats show no adverse effect. Feeding experiments conducted on poultry, fish, cows and buffaloes were conducted at National Dairy Research Institute (NDRI), Karnal on lactating cows; Department of Animal Nutrition, College of Veterinary Sciences, G.B. Pant University of Agriculture & Technology, Pantnagar on lactating buffaloes; Central Avian Research Institute (CARI), Izzatnagar on poultry; and Central Institute of Fisheries Education (CIFE), Mumbai on fish with Bt cotton seed meal on fish chicken, cows and buffaloes indicated that Bt cotton seed meal is nutritionally equivalent, wholesome and safe as the non-Bt cottonseed meal.
  • Myth: Bt Cotton ensures that seeds die with each year's crop forcing the farmer to buy afresh every year. (Referred to as Terminator Gene).
  • Reality: A study was carried out by The Department of Genetics, University of Delhi (South Campus) Delhi to check the presence/absence of such gene in the Bt cotton. The PCR analysis of DNA samples isolated from individual seedlings derived from Bt cotton hybrids showed that Bt cotton hybrid lines positive for Cry1Ac amplification did not show any amplification product using cre primers. This conclusively demonstrated the absence of “terminator gene” in Indian Bt cotton hybrids. The seeds have already progressed to more than six generations.

  • Myth: Pest populations exposed to Bt-crops continuously for several years have the potential to develop resistance to cry proteins.
  • Reality alias Risk Management:This can be better called as a threat rather than a Myth. But this phenomenon is not unique to Bt. In view of this, proactive insect resistance management (IRM) strategies have been developed and are in place so as to prevent or delay resistance development. A key element of these plans is that growers should plant sufficient non-Bt crops to serve as a refuge for producing Bt-susceptible insects. The recommendation includes growing 20% non-Bt cotton in the periphery of Bt-cotton as refuge and taking necessary control measures against bollworms in the refuge crop as and when required. The alternative is to grow only 5% non-Bt as refuge without taking any control measure. The refuge strategy is designed to ensure that Bt-susceptible insects will be available to mate with Bt-resistant insects, should they arise. The offspring of these mating will be Bt-susceptible, thus mitigating the spread of resistance in the population. Gene stacking or pyramiding, expression of optimum dose of Bt protein, and deployment of Bt-crops as one of the components of integrated pest management are the other options for IRM. Bollgard® II developed by Monsanto which has been approved for commercialization in Australia and the USA in 2002 is an example for gene stacking. This contains two Bt genes, cry 1Ac and cry 2Ab2. The proteins produced by these have different binding sites, thus making it very difficult for the pest to develop resistance to both the proteins simultaneously.

g. How is Bt Cotton performing in other countries?

China:

  • In China research on Bt Cotton first began in 1991, and subsequently commercial growing of this cotton started in 1998. The Chinese Situation is very similar to that of the Indian situation because both countries have lots of small farmers and scattered land holdings. Use of this genetically engineered cotton has been very beneficial to China, making it the biggest producer of cotton in the world. Pesticide use has reduced by 15,000 tons, the bio diversity of insects has improved and there is little resistance due to scattered plots and small farmers and also due to the extra insecticide gene present in Chinese Bt Cotton. This variety has led to higher yields and lower costs. Average Chinese yields are about 943 kg/.

United States:
  • In the United States, research on Bt Cotton began in 1989, and commercial growth began in 1995. Bt Cotton has proved to be very beneficial to the US farmers as well. Total acres under cotton production increased from 12% of total land in 1996 to 36% in 2000. An estimated 260 million pounds extra cotton was produced in 1999, and revenue increased by approximately $99 million. The average insecticide application also decreased from 10 units through 2 units to 0 units.
South Africa:
  • South African farmers have also had considerable success with Bt Cotton. It was observed that small scale farmers received benefits estimated at $165 per acre, reduced usage of insecticide sprays by 6% and increased yields by 26%, Large scale farmers received benefits estimated at $112 per acre, reduced usage of insecticide sprays by 4% and increased yields by 23%.
  • At present BT cotton is being commercially grown in over 20 countries, including the above said leading cotton growers  - US, China and South Africa. Pakistan and Egypt are the latest to join the bandwagon. Are we to believe that none of them did sufficient research in the matter?
  • Since most of the reporters use China as an example of adopting as well as developing Bt cotton to support their viewpoint, let us learn how and why China rapidly adopted Bt cotton and it could be useful to other developing countries like us.

h. What is China’s experience about Bt Cotton?

  • In China, transgenic Bt cotton is the main GM crop under large-scale commercial production. With rising pest pressure and increasing resistance to pesticides in insect pests, by 1997, under the financial support of the government, two Bt cotton varieties were developed using a modified Bt fusion gene (Cry lab and Cry lAc) by the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS), and commercialized. Although China developed Bt cotton with its own efforts soon after the USA, Chinese legislation did not prevent import of Bt cotton from USA during 1990s

  • Collaboration between the agrochemical company Monsanto in the US and the Chinese National Cotton Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS) in Anyang, Henan, facilitated the approval of US varieties for commercialization in China in 1997, the first year of global commercialization of biotech crops.  New Bt cotton varieties were then produced by back crossing local varieties with Monsanto and CAAS derived cotton varieties. A rapid uptake of Bt cotton varieties meant that by 2002, CAAS had permission to grow 22 Bt cotton varieties across China, with an estimated 1.5 million hectares actually planted; equating to 31% of China's total cotton area being planted to Bt cotton.

  • Again the area of Bt cotton increased from 3.3 million hectares in 2005 to 3.5 million hectares in 2006. The percentage of Bt cotton adoption is 66 percent. In 2005 approval was granted to grow one of the new hybrids, Yinmian 2 on about 700 hectares in the yellow river region in 2006. Notably the public sector in China has invested significantly in crop biotechnology and has developed Bt cotton varieties that share the market with varieties developed by the international private sector. The simultaneous marketing of biotech crops from the public and private sector is unique to China at this time and it has introduced more than 777 GM crops in China.
Technological Impact
  • In China, Bt cotton has provided a 60-80% decrease in the use of foliar insecticides with an estimated average benefit of up to €209/ha in 1998-2000.  In addition, the Cotton Insect Research Group at the Institute of Plant Protection of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences has conducted a series of ecological safety studies of Bt cotton since 1995 and found the following benefits:
    • a decrease in environmental pollution
    • a reduction in the average insect control costs for cotton
    • an increase in the effective lifetime of certain insecticides because they are being applied at a much reduced rate and less frequently
  • However, Bt Cotton does not bring unit yield gains relative to non-Bt cotton that is well managed by pesticides. The increased revenue results from cost savings on various cultivation practices and not through the direct yield increase. To mitigate the low yield potential of Bt Cotton, the Chinese authorities and scientists quickly developed and commercialized HBtCotton by integrating Bt transgenic technology, utilization of heterosis and agronomic techniques with ‘Chinese characteristics’ for seed production and planting. China’s experience in adopting Bt cotton will be definitely useful to other developing countries.

i. What are all the things that India can learn from China?

Availability of Technology:

  • In China there are two different Bt cotton technologies available.
  • a. The Bt technology, developed by Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS), which is the apex agricultural research body of China, was the first technology to get commercial approval in the year 1997. By the year 1999, 20 Bt cotton varieties were developed for sale in China with this CAAS technology.

    • b.The private Joint venture between Monsanto, Delta and Pine Land Company and Singapore Economic Development Authority again formed a joint venture with Hebei Provincial Seed Company. The JV named as JIDAI started selling Bt seeds in 1997 with the approval of Chinese Bio-safety Committee in a proprietary variety known as 33B (owned by DPL). In 1998 the commercial production started in China.
    • But as of now in India only the second source of Seed (Private Sector) is available and the public sector has not yet commercialized even a single Bt Cotton Variety for cultivation, which is expected to be more advantageous to Indian farmers.

    Need based Allocation of Technology:

    • Since because of China’s public sector involvement it’s need based technological planning in Bt cultivation is appreciable which is one of the reason for its’ huge success. For example in one of it’s cotton growing region Xinjiang region (1.5 mn hectares) Bt cotton is not approved by the government since it was felt that this technology is not essential as the Bollworm problem is not of very serious nature there. But where as in Yellow River area almost the whole planted area in this region is under Bt cotton.
    • There is no mandatory refuge requirement in China since the bio-safety committee is of the opinion that due to diversity of crops in the cotton growing regions other crops may act as refugia.
    • This learning can be well adopted in India to mitigate the environmental issue to some extend.
    Pricing and Royalty:
    • From the beginning onwards there has been a lot of interest in the Indian media, farmers and seed industry about Bt cotton seed pricing and royalty collected in China.
    • In China, the Bt cotton hybrid seeds are sold in 500gm or 350gm packing (unlike in India where 450-gm packs are sold). The cost of packet varies between US$7.2 - US$8. The farmers plant about 5.25 kg of hybrid seeds per hectare and obtain plant population of 30,000 plants per hectare in Yangtze valley area. In Yellow river valley area the cost of variety seeds ranges between US$8-US$10 per kg to the farmers who use 12.5-17.5 kg seed per hectare obtain even higher plant population.
    • The CAAS technology has been transferred into a Joint Venture company formed by CAAS (through their Bio-technology Research Center) and a Real Estate Firm of Shenzhen, Southern China. The JV is named as Biocentury Transgene Technology Co. Ltd (BTC), which is headquartered at Shenzhen.
    • The BTC in turn licensed the technology to more than 30 private and provincial seed companies in China. The license fee is collected by way of a lump sum payment @ USD 60,000 (about Rs. 27.50 Lakhs) per annum per company irrespective of their sale. The seed company after obtaining license can transfer the technology into their hybrids and supply the Bt cotton seeds to the farmers. Due to this type of lump sum royalty collection the price difference between Bt and non-Bt seeds in China is minimal and as a whole seed prices are affordable to farmers.
    • BTC also sells cotton seeds on their own and said to be increasing their sales year after year due to superiority of their genetic material.
    • Monsanto technology is sold through the joint venture company JIDAI and carried primarily on varieties. The royalty component is said to be 19% of the wholesale seed price and comes to about USD 2 per kg of seeds. Monsanto technology is approved by Chinese Bio-safety Committee in the Yellow River Valley only whereas CAAS technology is approved for both Yellow River valley and Yangtze River valley.
    • The Monsanto technology is sold through Hebei Provincial Seed Company in Hebei Province and Anhui Provincial Seed Company in Anhui Province.
    • In India, on the other hand, the same Monsanto Company is charging a huge sum on the each packet of seed from the poor farmer. And, he cannot re-use the seeds for the next season as they would no more be viable, and so is again left at the mercy of the MNC.
    • Although two sources of seeds are available in China, as per the available industrial more area is planted with CAAS technology seeds as compared to that of Monsanto technology. The probable reasons are cited as:
      • availability of CAAS technology in hybrids which are becoming increasingly popular.
      • availability of CAAS seeds through several companies in several hybrids,.
      • comparatively lower cost of seeds to the farmers
      • good bollworm control.
    • The availability of Bt cotton technology at more affordable prices appears to have be the main reason for China to become the global leader in cotton production with almost twice the average yield of India. Development and commercial approval of Bt technology by public sector Research system (even before Monsanto’s technology was approved) is the main reason for the competition in the market place and affordable seed prices in China. In India, the delay in the development of Bt technology in the public sector research, and resultant monopoly driven high pricing of the technology resulted in very high seed prices, which has to be borne by the poor farmers.
    • Above that because of China’s strong public sector base in Bt Cotton industry it can quickly respond to problems regarding Bt Cotton Cultivation. For example there was a huge cry that BtC does not bring unit yield gains relative to non-Bt cotton that is well managed by pesticides. The increased revenue results from cost savings, which differs from previous reports that monetary benefits were from both increased yield and saving on pesticides. In response to the low yield potential of BtC, the Chinese authorities and scientists quickly developed and commercialized HBtC by integrating Bt transgenic technology, utilization of heterosis and agronomic techniques with ‘Chinese characteristics’ for seed production and planting. As a result, HBtC has been widely adopted in southern China.
    • So there are many things that we can learn and implement from China’s Bt Cotton Experience which will inturn help in surpassing the present murmurs on Bt Cotton Cultivation.
    Conclusion:
    • Since from 1990  the rate of growth of food production fell behind the rate of population growth. To feed every Indian in the year 2011-12 food production needs to grow at a rate of 3.4% per year. The current rate is 1.8%. Chemical fertilizers cannot bridge this gap as it already operates on the law of diminishing returns. Organic fertilizers may be beneficial for the soil but not in increasing the volume. The world's entire organic fertilizer resources can meet the food requirement of 4 billion people alone. Finally, there is a limit to the arable land available. So the only option is biotechnology with its multipurpose innovations. The adoption of genetically modified crops can definitely help in evolving more productivity and sustainable agriculture to meet the increasing population demand. But the concerns are the risks and the magnitude of the consequences to environment. Technology might be having some adverse effects, yet people continue innovating and accepting the new challenges that provides more comfort. If we have to abandon all the technologies that involved some kind of risks, everyone would have to move to forests and survive off nuts and berries. So banning is not the solution. Finding out the ways to overcome the risk is the action required at this stage.
    • Also the existing relationship between the scientific community and the general public must be strengthened so that negative public perception about the technology can be wiped out  and realization of GM crops great potential can also be possible.
    • The appropriate role of government and public sector research system in GM Technology will be highly helpful in solving the current controversial issues regarding Bt cotton which is expected to be utilized for the benefit of Mankind.