In a first, state govt set to sell Bt cotton seeds

After experimenting with largescale use of Bt cotton, the Gujarat government is set to produce and distribute genetically modified seeds across India at competitive rates in comparison to private players.

A year after Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) of the Government of India gave green signal for commercial distribution of Bt cotton seeds, developed by Gujarat Seed Supply Corporation(GSSC) with the help of Navsari University and US firm Mahyco-Monsanto Biotech Limited (MMB), the state is ready to produce and distribute 1 lakh packets in the current year. Each packet contains 450 gm of seeds.

This means the state government will be competing not only with private players, but also with dealers of uncertified seeds who enjoy a major share of market given their competitive rates.

Gujarat has become the first and so far the only state to have this technology and it is testing a total of five varieties in various climatic conditions across the state as well as India.

So far, there are only private players in the market. Rajasthan and Maharashtra have also received GEAC nod for commercial distribution, but they are yet to get licence for technology and production.

"In the first phase, soon after the nod from GEAC, the Gujarat government developed 25,000 packets, each of 450 gm, of two varieties. This year, the Gujarat Seed Supply Corporation is set to touch the mark of 1 lakh packets of five varieties," said a top official from GSSC.

"By the end of next year, GSSC will take a quantum jump and produce and distribute 10 lakh packets, covering one fourth of state," he said.

The state budget for the current financial year had made a provision of Rs 47 crore for the same.

"This simply means farmers no longer have to depend on private players and their products that cost nearly Rs 1,000 per packet. At the same time, farmers no longer have to go for non-certified seeds, which are available at cheaper rates. The government will provide them a third option, which also guarantees certification at reasonable rates. Government seeds are cheaper by 25 to 30 per cent in comparison to what is being sold by private players," the GSSC official said.

The new varieties have been developed by genetically modifying popular brand of Shankar6 and Shankar8 and their other higher hybrid varieties. The new seeds, officials claimed, are expected to raise the yield by nearly 30 per cent.

"We see this as a welcome change. The Gujarat government becomes the first public sector entity to get into production and distribution," said Gyanendra Shukla, MMB's regional head in India. "The move will mean a support system for farmers as it will discourage illegal players," he said.

Since Bt cotton's arrival in Gujarat in 2003, cotton production in the state has gone up from 40 lakh bales to over 1 crore bales this year in a season, the highest in India. Gujarat, especially Saurashtra region, at present has currently one fourth of total cotton cultivation area. The huge production has helped boost cotton exports in recent years.

At present, there are 35 private players in Gujarat, most of them licensed subsidiaries of MMB. Together, they sell about 35 lakh packets of seeds.

"Seeds at reasonable rates mean we can cut cost of production and enhance profits. At the same time, when it is a certified seed, we can rest assured about quality," said Sanjay Sankalia, a farmer from Junagadh.

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