A fresh beginning – New GM cotton can reverse the yield decline

Source: The post is based on the article “A fresh beginning – New GM cotton can reverse the yield decline” published in the Business Standard on 1st March 2023.

Syllabus: GS-3: Awareness in the field of biotechnology.

Relevance: About GM pest-resistant cotton.

News: Recently, Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) for bio-safety field trials has approved the new genetically modified (GM) pest-resistant cotton.

The move highlights a significant shift in the government’s policy concerning GM crops. In the future, more gene-tweaked crops, which are in different stages of development, may also be approved for the gainful utilisation of cutting-edge biotechnology for raising farm output and farmers’ income.

About the GM pest-resistant cotton

The crop is reported to have a set of genes derived from the soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). The crop produces a kind of protein in the plant that proves lethal for pink bollworms.

Note: Pink bollworm is one of the most destructive pests which feed on the reproductive parts of the plant, depressing the overall yield and marring the lint quality of the produce.

This can prove a boon for cotton growers who are looking for innately pest-tolerant varieties to cut down the cost of repeated spraying of pesticides.

What is the need for GEAC approval of GM pest-resistant cotton?

The desperate need to increase cotton yields: India’s cotton production is stagnating over the past several years at 34-35 million bales (of 170 kg each). Average crop productivity also has descended from 558 kg a hectare in 2007 to around 457 kg in 2021. Hence, fresh Bt-cotton strains are needed.

Reduce cotton imports: India’s cotton exports witness a rise of 200% in value terms in the past 10 months of this fiscal year. Recently, the government waived off import duty on cotton, but this has limited effect.

Why Bt-cotton varieties are notwithstanding pests?

Farmers are also partly responsible for the Bt-cotton varieties losing their inherent capability to withstand pests. Farmers have to plant a strip of non-GM plants on the periphery of the Bt-cotton fields. This belt acts as a refuge for pests and minimises the chances of their acquiring immunity against the Bt toxin by feeding on the main crop. But, the farmers do not undertake this recommended precaution.

What are the challenges faced by Indian cotton industries?

Together price rise and reduced yields hit all segments of the employment-intensive textile sector, including ginners, yarn producers, textile mills, garment makers, and exporters.

The price competitiveness of Indian textile and garment units is not improved compared to Indian counterparts such as Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Indonesia.

What should be done before introducing GM pest-resistant cotton?

The farmers should be advised to strictly follow the planting of buffer in all GM crops. Else, the new GM pest-resistant cotton will also have limited life spans and would need to be replaced far more quickly than is normally necessary.

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