Agri-biotechnology Agriculture Policy Bt cotton GM Crops

PM Must Reassure Agri-Biotech Industry of No More Arbitrary Action: Ram Kaundinya

Ram-K

The former CEO of Advanta and former DG of ABLE-AG tells Vivian Fernandes not only should the government withdraw the notification on licensing of GM traits, but the PM should also make a statement that no such arbitrary action will be repeated.

The 18 May order of the agriculture ministry bringing genetically-modified Bt cottonseed under compulsory licensing through the essential commodities act and converting it five days later into a draft for consultation with the public, has shocked the agricultural biotechnology industry says Ram Kaundinya, former CEO of Advanta and former director-general of ABLE-AG (Association of Biotech-led Enterprises — Agriculture Focus Group).

‘It is an anti-IP (intellectual property) move. It is interference in private contracts,’ said Kaundinya, speaking on the phone from Rishikesh, where he was on a pilgrimage.  Any trait provider, he said, would like to select their licensees for technical and financial capability, ethical practices and ability to conduct stewardship of the technology.

In the case of Bt cotton, the insecticidal traits produced by implanting borrowed genes in cotton plants are the ones that are licensed by the technology provider. The Indian seed industry is fragmented. There are hundreds of companies and not all of them can handle Bt technology. For instance, they must ensure that all seeds express the insecticidal protein in the required potency. Otherwise bugs can develop resistance. They should also be able to reach out to farmers and educate them about correct planting practices. By denying the technology provider the right to pick and choose, the government was allowing a free-for-all, that would ultimately work to the detriment of farmers.

‘What was the need to issue the order, when 98 percent of cotton area is already covered (by Bt cotton),’ asked Kaundinya. The majority share of the Bt cottonseed market is with Monsanto, an American multinational, through its associate companies. If there were issues of anti-competitive practices, the Competition Commission can look into those, Kaundinya added.  Mahyco-Monsanto Biotech, which licenses the most popular Bollgard II Bt cotton technology, had 46 licensees before licenses of three of them, including the one with the largest market share, were terminated for reneging on royalty payments. Even now, sources in the company say, there is enough stock of seeds to meet requirements of the June sowing season.

‘The GO (government order) did not serve any purpose except to help those who did not have access to technology,’ Kaundinya said without stating who those might be.

Even though the controversy has been given a national versus multinational colouring, it affects all R&D-led agricultural biotech companies, whether Indian or foreign, Kaundinya said. ‘It reflects a disconnect between what the government is intending and what it is doing.’  The government is keen on attracting foreign direct investment into the agricultural sector. It has said it respects intellectual property rights.

‘When returns are becoming unpredictable, they would not like to invest,’ Kaundinya said. He wanted a ‘clear and unequivocal statement from the highest level,’ that is the Prime Minister or his office that government would not take away their fundamental right of companies to do business freely. Fear must the dispelled, he said.

(Photo of Ram Kaundinya courtesy of ABLE-AG)

Email This Page

Leave a Comment


Hit Counter provided by technology news
Web Design MymensinghPremium WordPress ThemesWeb Development

I Do Not Understand Bt Cotton technology; I Know It Works

Kallanagouda PatilY Kallanagouda Patil, 46, of Uppinbetegeri village in Dharwad taluk  owns 52 acres jointly with his three brothers. He holds a diploma in agriculture from a school in Raichur. Patil grows cotton on ten acres, apart from sugarcane, potato, Bengal gram, jowar, tur,moong and vegetables. He uses groundwater to irrigate his fields. The water is drawn from a depth of 280 feet. Electricity is free so he flood irrigates the fields, except the one under banana  where he uses drip irrigation. He does not micro-irrigate cotton because it is closely planted and has to make way for another crop after eight months. This farmer has his cost all worked out. Making quick mental calculations, he estimates the cost of cotton crop at Rs 22,500 an acre and the realization from 17 quintals an acre at Rs 68,000. He had planted Bayer seed. ‘I do not understand technology, he says, all I know is if I use Bt seed there will be no

Pests Snack on Chilly But Not Cotton

RudagiF Basavaraj Rudagi, 48, did not grow cotton before 2008. This farmer from Saundhi village in Dharwad district’s Kundogol taluk made a partial switch to Bt cotton as chilly was susceptible to pest attack and yield was declining. From five acres in 2009, Rudagi had fifteen of a forty acre joint farm under cotton this year, when smartindianagriculture  caught up with him in February. He tried out Bayer in a change from Mahyco and Raasi seed. Rudagi says he got 11.5 quintals (100 kg) an acre from his rain-fed crop and at Rs 4,050 a quintal, his realization was a little over Rs 46,000. The cost, he says, is Rs 26,000 an acre, excluding rental earnings had he leased out the land. This does not mesh with the profit he claims he makes, but then he admits to not keeping crop-wise accounts. Rudagi also grows peanuts, coriander, gram, safflower and jowar. There is safety in diversity. And yes he plants pigeon pea or tur around the cotton crop for bollworms to feed on so they are not forced by the survival instinct to develop resistance to Bt protein.  In this sense he is quite a cut apart. Low cotton prices are worrying but what is the alternative?