The Shetkari Sanghatana is circulating posts and organising conferences where farmers share knowledge of GM crops even as the state cracks down on use of unapproved variants of GM cotton.
Mumbai: At a time when there is a massive controversy over genetically modified crops, a farmers’ organisation in Maharashtra is making a strong pitch for GM seeds.
For about 15 days now, farmers across Maharashtra have been getting social media forwards urging them to give a missed call if they wish to fight for the availability of the GM seed technology.
The posts being circulated by Shetkari Sanghatana, a farmers’ organisation, say “Bheek nako, GM biyana dya” (don’t give us your alms, give us GM seeds instead).
The organisation is also organising conferences for farmers on this issue.
The Shetkari Sanghatana, founded by former Rajya Sabha member and farmers’ leader Sharad Joshi, has always been in favour of GM technology.
However, with the state government now cracking down on farmers using unapproved variants of GM cotton, the organisation has raised its pitch on the need to make latest seed technology commercially available to farmers.
There is ample opposition to introducing GM food in India with activists, environmentalists and politicians raising fears of it adversely affecting food safety and biodiversity in the country.
Its proponents have been stressing on the increased yield, lower use of pesticides and thus lower production cost for farmers as advantages of having GM technology.
Currently, cotton is the only GM crop that the government has allowed to be sold in India. There were attempts to commercially release Bt Brinjal, a GM variety of the vegetable, but the then environment minister Jairam Ramesh imposed a temporary, but an open-ended moratorium on it.
Last year, the environment ministry’s Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee recommended a genetically modified variety of mustard, developed by a Delhi University institution, for commercial use. The government, however, referred it back to the committee for more tests.
Farmers’ conferences to popularise GM seeds
The Shetkari Sanghatana is organising conferences for farmers and consumers to create awareness about GM seeds and its volunteers are also going directly to villages to speak to farmers about it.
“We have been getting about 100-150 missed calls on a daily basis supporting the cause,” said Shetkari Sanghatana leader Ajit Narde.
“We have now started sending these farmers information about GM seed technology and updates on our activities to fight for technological independence for farmers,” he added.
According to Narde, “the government has allowed technological advancements in every sector, but expects India’s farmers to stick to primitive practices.”
‘700 farmers attended conference’
The organisation held its first such workshop in Akola in Maharashtra’s Vidarbha district last week. In the first half of the conference, experts in the field of agriculture and seed technology spoke to the audience explaining how GM technology came into existence, what the experience of other countries has been and the various tests that have been conducted worldwide to dispel doubts of activists and environmentalists.
In the second half, Shetkari Sanghatana gave the stage to farmers who have used Bt Cotton in farming to share their experience with the GM crop. As per the organisation’s estimates, about 700 farmers from across 10 districts in Maharashtra attended the technology conference.
The Shetkari Sanghatana has scheduled its next conference for 7 June in Pune.
Row over using unapproved HT cotton seeds
The Shetkari Sanghatana has also offered its support to farmers who have been using herbicide-tolerant cotton seeds, which have not been approved by the government, promising to stand by them against any government action.
HT seeds can tolerate some specific herbicides. They kill the surrounding weeds, but leave the cultivated crop intact. Farmers have used such unapproved herbicide-tolerant seeds as they let the herbicides destroy weeds without harming the crop, saving expenditure on manual labour for weeding.
While there are no official estimates of the number of farmers in Maharashtra using these seeds, Shetkari Sanghatana leaders peg the total farming area in Maharashtra being cultivated with HT cottonseeds to be about 4 lakh hectares.
In 2017-18, Maharashtra registered a total kharif cotton sowing of more than 38 lakh hectares.
Shital Rajoba, a farmer from Sangli district’s Narde village, and a supporter of the Shetkari Sanghatana said he does not use the HT variety of cotton, but has heard of a number of farmers using it.
“I mostly grow capsicum and brinjal on my six-acre land. Every alternate day, I have to spray pesticides worth Rs 2,000 to Rs 3,000 on my crops,” Rajoba said.
“It would have been a blessing if the commercial sale of Bt Brinjal had been approved,” he claimed.
“What we are saying is that let trials take place. If it is proved that the seeds are bad, we will not support them, but there is pressure from the lobby of pesticide companies and some people with vested interests to not even let the trials take place,” Rajoba added.