General Studies Paper 3 (Indian Economy): Indian Cotton

Cotton field in India

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Syllabus: General Studies Paper 3 (Indian Economy)

 

Problems in Indian cotton need ecological understanding, not biotechnology. Critically analyse.

 

Introduction:

India is the only BT cotton-growing country and currently Facing problems in terms of cotton cultivation and growth. Currently Indian cotton industry is  facing the problem of pink bollworm infestation. Losses caused by the pink bollworm infestation have raised questions about the sustainability of GM cotton, which accounts for over 90% of all cotton grown in the country.

 

Body:

Cotton is mostly grown in monoculture and is a very pesticide-intensive crop. Although it is only grown on 2.5% of the world’s agricultural land, it consumes 16% of all the insecticides and 6,8% of all herbicides used worldwide.

  • Between 2003-04 and 2011-12, India’s cotton output more than doubled — from 14 million bales (of 480 pounds or 218 kg each) to 29 million bales, 302 kg per hectare in 2002-03 to 566 kg in 2013-14.
  • There was an expansion in crop area from 7.67 million hectares to 11.96 million hectares during this period, and an initial reduction in insecticide use with BT technology.
  • The introduction of hybrid Bt cotton led to an initial reduction in insecticide use, but by 2012, insecticide use was at pre-2002 levels, and now targeted still newer induced secondary pests (for example, whitefly, mealy bugs, jassid).
  • Resistance to insecticides and to BT toxins was developing in pink bollworm and American bollworm ,quite likely other pests as well. Indian cotton farmers were now riding both the insecticide and biotechnology treadmills in the face of stagnant yields.

 

Why problems in Indian cotton needs ecological understanding.

  • Introduction of Improved Indian F1 hybrid long season cotton varieties began in the 1970s. Use of these varieties, in turn increased the use of fertilizer and insecticide to protect against the native pink bollworm.
  • As insecticide use grew, regional outbreaks of secondary pests, namely the so-called American bollworm, were induced by the ecological disruption.
  • They caused havoc and suppressed yields. In cotton, the more we spray, the greater the outbreaks of pests this phenomenon has occurred worldwide.
  • In addition, yields are affected by inter-seasonal differences in rainfall, induced pest outbreaks and, the effects of increasing pest resistance to insecticides and to the BT technology.
  • Most of central and south Indian cotton is rainfed, and low-density long season cottons are simply inappropriate, and further encourage late season build-up of pests and greater insecticide use.

However, Biotechnology also has its share in low yields.

  • There was no substantial difference found between Bt and non-Bt cotton for germination and vigour, indicating that there is no substantial difference between transgenic Bt and control non-Bt cotton with regard to their weediness potential.
  • Bt cotton hybrids do not have any toxic effects on the non -target species such as sucking pests. The beneficial insects remained active in both Bt and non Bt varieties.
  • The growing number of farmers committing suicides in some cotton growing states has re-ignited the protests against the Bt Cotton.
  • Bt hybrids:
    • Farmers in rain-fed regions were / are compelled to choose from a long list of Bt hybrids, most of which are late maturing, sucking pest-susceptible hybrids, that are unsuitable for rain-fed region.
    • Problem is with late maturing hybrids that do not perform well owing to the late-season moisture deficit in shallow soils, especially when they are sown late.
  • High cost of Bt cotton seeds as compared to non Bt cotton seeds.
  • Effectiveness up to 120 days, after that the toxin producing efficiency of the Bt gene drastically reduces.
  • India is the only country whose intellectual property laws have never prevented its farmers from either saving or selling seeds.
  • Over 70 countries that are members of the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, for example, allow farmers to reuse seeds from a protected plant variety, but not to sell them.
  • Hybrids lose their genetic stability when their seeds are replanted. This compels farmers to repurchase seeds each year, protecting corporate revenues.
  • Normal cotton seed is largely unavailable to Indian farmers because of Monsanto’s control of the seed market.

 

Way forward:

  • The solution is planting rainfed short season high density (SS-HD) cotton as developed at CICR, Nagpur, and other institutions cotton that could double yields, avoid pink bollworm infestations and hence reduce insecticide use and obviate the need for Bt technology.
  • Because the Indian F1 hybrid technology is costly and really doesn’t contribute to yield, it is inappropriate for implementation in SS-HD cottons.
  • Fully fertile hybrid varieties such as those developed in China could be developed for India, but seed companies would lose control of their IPRs.
  • Further, as a warning, the use of fertile GMO varieties for food crops would lead to contamination of non-GMO seed-stock.
  • The solution to the dystopic Indian cotton system lies in developing an ecological understanding using the SS-HD cotton as a basis.
  • Government must take decisions on GM technologies on the basis of scientific evidence.
  • Government should adopt a participatory approach to bring together all stakeholders to develop regulatory protocols that restore trust in the process.

 

Conclusion:

Cotton yields, the more we spray, the greater the outbreaks of pests this phenomenon has occurred worldwide. As   insecticide use grew, regional outbreaks of secondary pests, namely the so-called American bollworm, were induced by the ecological disruption. yields are affected by inter-seasonal differences in rainfall, induced pest outbreaks and, the effects of increasing pest resistance to insecticides and to the BT technology. The solution to the dystopic Indian cotton system lies in developing an ecological understanding using the SS-HD cotton as a basis. Government must take decisions on GM technologies on the basis of scientific evidence. Government should adopt a participatory approach to bring together all stakeholders to develop regulatory protocols that restore trust in the process.

 

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