Sunday, May 19, 2024

GM Hybrid increased cotton yield in India! Really?

The popular perception is that India’s cotton production increased after introduction of GM cotton 20 years ago.

This is true. The production of cotton has indeed increased after introduction of GM cotton. However, this increase is contributed more by area expansion than yield improvement.

Facts need be told.

Fact 1: Growth rate of cotton yield in India before introduction of GM cotton (1981-2001) was 20% higher as compared to growth rate of cotton yield post GM cotton (2002-2022). In terms of CAGR too, it has declined.

Fact 2: Can it be said that the yield growth in Indian GM cotton is less as the productivity peaked? No! India’s GM cotton yield is far from its peak. In fact, even a small country like Myanmar has overtaken India in GM cotton yield.

Both India and Myanmar introduced GM cotton almost at the same time in 2022. The only difference is that India introduced GM cotton hybrids whereas Myanmar introduced GM cotton varieties.

GM cotton yield in India has increased 53% between 2002 to 2022. During the same period, the GM cotton yield in Myanmar increased by a whopping 258%.

China and Australia lead in global cotton productivity with more than 2000kg/ha. This is 5 times higher than India’s. Therefore, it can not be said that in India, the GM cotton yield has peaked.

Fact 3: India’s GM cotton production is primarily driven by area expansion.

Question: What ails the GM cotton in India?
India is the only country that exclusively uses GM cotton hybrid seeds without GM cotton varieties. According to experts, this is the main reason for the steady decline of GM cotton yields in India.

“It was a big mistake to adapt Bt technology only in hybrids, and this is what led to yield stagnation and rapid resistance development. India is the only country in the world which has Bt (Bacillus thuringienis) genes incorporated in hydrids. In China, Australia and the USA, it has been introduced in cotton varieties and not hybrids.“ Experts want Bt tech in varieties and not hybrids, The Times of India, 9 th March 2016.

“Productivity enhancement in India can come from yield improvement in rainfed ecosystems through development and deployment of Bt cotton varieties. “ Bt varieties for increasing cotton yields under rainfed ecosystem in India by Dr. H.B. Santosh, Scientist (Plant Breeding), ICAR-CICR, 2021

If only India can achieve the cotton yield comparable to Myanmar the area under cotton can be reduced by 25-30%. This can be used to grow other crops, especially oil seeds to reduce our import burden.

There needs an investigation by experts to provide sustainable solutions to the poor performance of GM hybrid cotton in India.

For GM technology to work in India, there should be an inclusive approach involving both hybrids and varieties. Therefore, before introducing GM mustard in India, government should first study and fix the problem in GM cotton.

Introducing GM mustard without understanding and addressing the inherent yield limiting problem in India’s GM cotton could be a double whammy.

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