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Mahyco to offer free non-Bt cotton seeds

Harish Damodaran

NEW DELHI, April 19

MAHARASHTRA Hybrid Seed Company (Mahyco) has decided to supply free-of-cost the non-Bt cotton seeds that farmers are required to plant as `refugia' in the vicinity of the area under its Bt hybrids.

The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) has approved the commercial release of three Bt cotton hybrids developed by Mahyco in collaboration with the US-based life sciences major, Monsanto.

The approval was conditional upon the growers accessing Mahyco's Bt seeds planting at least 20 per cent of their field area under non-Bt cotton hybrids or varieties.

``Accordingly, for each 450 gm packet of the Bollgard or Bt cotton that we would be selling to farmers, we will also be distributing free-of-cost a separate 120 gm packet of non-Bt cotton seeds. Considering that a 450 gm packet has Bt seeds to cover one acre, it means that the farmer can simultaneously plant an additional 0.27 acres under non-Bt seeds without paying us anything extra'', said Mr Raj Ketkar, Deputy Managing Director, Mahyco Monsanto Biotech (India) Pvt Ltd, the 50:50 joint marketing venture between the two companies.

The additional area under non-Bt cotton would act as a `refuge' for the American bollworm insect pest and is meant to ensure that the Bt cotton (incorporating the Bacillus thuringiensis gene, which is claimed to impart `in-built' resistance to the pest) does not lose its potency over time.

The GEAC has stipulated that the refuge area under non-Bt hybrids or varieties should occupy a minimum of 5 rows along the periphery of the farmer's field or 20 per cent of the total area under both Bt and non-Bt cotton, whichever is higher.

``By supplying a 120 packet of non-Bt seeds along with a 450 gram packet of our Bollgard hybrid, we are making sure that the farmer will be able to maintain the required refuge area,'' Mr Ketkar noted.

The supply of non-Bt hybrids free-of-cost is also expected to make the Bollgard cotton more affordable to farmers.

Mahyco's is currently selling its regular cotton hybrids such as Mech-12, Mech-162 and Mech-184 for Rs 350-450 per packet of 450 gram.

On the other hand, the Bt versions of the same hybrids are expected to cost Rs 1,350-1,450 per 450 gram packet.

``By giving the farmer the chance to plant an additional 27 per cent area under non-Bt cotton without paying anything, we are trying to keep his overall cost relatively low. After all, even the non-Bt hybrids would give him at least a reasonable level of yield and he is not losing anything by planting these free-of-cost'', Mr Ketkar added.

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