By admin       2018-06-13

Except for GM cotton, India has not approved any other transgenic crop on concerns over their safety, and large foreign companies have been increasingly unhappy at what they say is the infringement of their intellectual property by widespread planting of unapproved seeds. Farmers say they prefer Monsanto's herbicide-tolerant Roundup Ready Flex (RRF) strain of cotton seeds as they can cut input costs by as much as Rs 10,000 ($150) an acre compared with other varieties. Cotton growers are also getting support from farmers' unions, who are already at loggerheads with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government amid a fall in prices of many agricultural commodities. Without new varieties of seeds, they fear being outplayed by other major cotton producers and exporters such as the United States, Brazil and Australia, said Anil Ghanwat, the president of a farmers' organisation in Maharashtra. "The government is asking us to carry a sword to fight the enemy with AK-56 rifles," said Ghanwat, who has urged farmer to sow the unapproved GM seed. "We will protect them if government authorities try to destroy the crop or harass them with legal cases." Last year, just before cotton harvesting, authorities found plantations of unapproved seeds in key producing states such as Maharashtra and Gujarat in the west and Andhra Pradesh and Telangana in the south. In February, authorities in Telangana told two local companies that cotton seeds they sold to farmers may have contained traces of Monsanto's RRF strain, though the companies denied that. This year various states have formed inspection teams to curb the sale of such seeds, though farmers have built a parallel network to distribute them without getting caught, said M.S. Gholap, director at Maharashtra's agriculture department. The seeds were being produced secretly, mainly in Gujarat and Telangana, and then smuggled to other states, Gholap said. Maharashtra has seized unapproved seeds worth million rupees ($178,000) in the past two months, enough to cultivate 10,000 hectares, said Gholap. Farmers are paying as much as a 30 percent premium for the unapproved seeds in Maharashtra and Gujarat compared with seeds of older strains. The proliferation of unapproved seeds could force the government to grant approval to the new seed technology, as happened in 2002 when New Delhi legalised planting of the Bt Cotton GM strain, said C D Mayee, head of South Asia Biotechnology Centre, a New Delhi-based non-profit organisation. The strong demand for the illegal seeds has alarmed some federal government officials. "Once farmers realise laws are toothless, then they could cultivate GM soybean, corn and other crops," said one official, who asked not to be identified. "It would have serious impact on our biodiversity."

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