Karnataka bans Bt cotton seeds following large-scale crop failures

Seed company, Mahyco, offered Rs 10 crore compensation to farmers when losses were to the tune of Rs 230 crore

By Aparna Pallavi
Published: Monday 31 March 2014

It is finally out in the open. Bt cotton has failed miserably to deliver in Karnataka. Following large-scale crop failure on a whopping 58,195 hectares (ha) in seven districts in the state, the state agriculture department has finally taken the decision to bar Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company (Mahyco) from selling Bt cotton seeds till further order.

Karnataka state director of agriculture, B K Dharmarajan, told Down To Earth that the company has also been blacklisted, preventing it from participating in the department’s tendering process.

This year, Mahyco had sold 563,000 packets of Bt seeds of the MRC-7351 and Nikki-Plus varieties, of which MRC-7351 was sown on 139,000 ha and Nikki-Plus on 12,000 ha. Following complaints, field inspection teams, comprising officials of the revenue and agriculture departments, Mahyco representatives and agriculture scientists, found that yield loss to the tune of 50 per cent or more had occurred on 58,195 ha in 1,983 villages spread over seven districts in the state, and 54,150 farmers have been affected.

Field inspections reveal irregularities

The order issued by the department enumerates a number of irregularities found during the field inspections and in reports submitted by scientists.

Difference in characteristics: Field surveys undertaken by scientists in 61 seed-lot plots found difference in characteristics of plants in 28 plots. These included differences in the height of plants, shape and size of bolls and jassid (a sucking pest) infestation. On close inspection, scientists said, the crop appeared to have been grown from F2 generation seeds instead of F1.

In some villages, plants grown from the same packet of seeds were found to have characteristics different from the recognised characteristics of the MRC-7351, such as the shapes of leaves and bolls. In village Kavalageri in Dharwad, for instance, as many as 40 per cent of the plants were found to be different.

Misleading literature: Apart from this, the literature supplied with the seeds was found to be misleading. The order quotes scientists’ reports as saying that while the literature claims that MRC-7351 has tolerance to sucking pests, in actual field conditions it was found to be more susceptible compared to other Bt hybrids grown in similar conditions.

Too little compensation to farmers

Dharmarajan said Mahyco had offered Rs 10 crore compensation to farmers, whereas the actual losses are to the tune of Rs 230 crores. The state government has, however, refused the compensation; it has chosen to pay farmers Rs 6,000 per ha compensation from its own coffers. The exercise will cost the state exchequer Rs 35 crore, he added.

Failure of Bt cotton during Khariff 2013 in Haveri & Davanageri districts, Karnataka

A decade of Bt cotton experience in Karnataka: 2002 to 2012

An overview of Bt cotton experience in Karnataka: 2002 to 2009

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