Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Maharashtra wants ‘exploitative’ firms to fund research for non-Bt seeds-Indian Express

Maharashtra wants ‘exploitative’ firms to fund research for non-Bt seeds-Indian Express

Indian Express

State wants ‘exploitative’ firms to fund research for non-Bt seeds

Vivek Deshpande 
Nagpur-Wed Jul 25 2012,
Nagpur : Maharashtra Agriculture Minister Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil wants Bt cotton companies to tie up with agriculture universities in the state and pump money into research to find an alternative to itself. Companies that refuse to cooperate will be banned, Vikhe-Patil said. “I had my serious reservations about Bt even in 1999. It hasn’t helped dry-land farmers, like those in Vidarbha. It takes care of only bollworm. But farmers still have to use pesticides for other pests like reddening of leaves (lalya),” the minister told The Indian Express.
“There is a clear mismatch between promised and actual benefits, especially in input costs and productivity.”
Patil, has ordered criminal proceedings against officials of Mahyco Seeds, a prime Bt cotton company, for allegedly “violating norms about advance booking and providing the government with wrong information about seeds availability”.
Mahyco has secured anticipatory bail for its officials from the Aurangabad bench of Bombay High Court.
“The companies are simply interested in selling seeds. They must come out in public domain with all data about their products and their actual utility. They are refusing to share it. Quality of seeds has also deteriorated,” Vikhe-Patil said. “Interest of dry-land farmers must be taken into account.”
The minister’s views notwithstanding, government data show cotton area and productivity in the state went up in post-Bt years. Despite predictions to the contrary, Vidarbha has not seen a significant drop in area under cultivation which went up by 2.5 lakh hectares in 2010. Cotton area last year was 15.3 lakh ha; it is 14.3 lakh ha this year, with sowing still on.
Vikhe-Patil said he wanted seed companies to tie up with state universities to find viable alternatives to Bt. “They were anyway supposed to do that for the first two years. They are not supposed to introduce their seeds directly into the market. Let them now have participatory research with us.
“Let’s develop such varieties that will not be controlled by external factors. Now what is happening is Monsanto has developed a product and others are simply following it. I will be convening a meeting of companies and state universities to take it forward,” the minister said.
He added, “Companies that do not come out in the public domain will be banned.”
Both Vikhe-Patil and Agriculture Commissioner Umakant Dangat have been speaking of going back to “traditional varieties suitable to agro-climatic conditions of regions like Vidarbha”. An expert pointed out that fully replacing Bt cotton would require seed production on a massive scale. “We will have to produce those seeds on a huge 40,000 hectares to serve the 40 lakh hectares of cotton area in the state. The whole process will take four-five years,” the expert said.
Patil agreed that “a big effort” was needed. He insisted he was not against new technology; however, “technology shouldn’t exploit farmers. Bt companies have done that.”
Responding to issues around its face-off with the government, Raju Barwale, managing director of Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company (Mahyco), said the company was “law-abiding”, and has “always engaged with ethical and credible distributors across districts in the state”.
Barwale refuted allegations made by the Beed zilla parishad agricultural development officer that it had supplied incorrect information about Bt cotton seeds, failed to supply seeds in promised quantities, and not cooperated with local authorities.
On the minister’s allegation that Mahyco had violated advance booking norms and fed him incorrect information on the availability of seeds, Barwale said “there are no norms that Mahyco is alleged to have violated”, and that the firm “has not defaulted on any government guidelines and has supplied in excess to the agreed seed packets”.
Barwale described the government’s announcement that it is considering banning Mahyco from selling Bt cotton seeds in Maharashtra as “unfortunate”. He said he welcomed the minister’s statement that private companies would be required to tie up with universities and fund research.
“Over the years, we have entered into collaborations with academia and industry to keep pace with new developments across the agri-business spectrum,” he said.

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