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Throttled by activists at home, Indian GM seed firms find great demand overseas

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Mahyco inks deal with Kenyan government to export GM cotton seeds, JK Agri Genetics finds Ethiopian Bt cotton market.

New Delhi: As Genetically Modified (GM) seeds continue to remain blocked by activism of the left and the right, and fears of science, Indian seed companies that have suffered policy indecision are now beginning to find captive markets overseas, especially in fast-growing Africa.

One of India’s largest seed companies, Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Co. Ltd (Mahyco) has entered into a contract with the Kenyan government to export GM cotton seeds. Mahyco has initiated various field trials currently being conducted in Mwea, Bura, Katumani, Kampi ya mawe and Perkerra, said sources.

Mahyco has a joint venture with Bt seeds pioneer Monsanto called Mahyco Monsanto Biotech. Mahyco sub-licenses BT cotton technology in India through its collaboration with the US-based firm, acquired by Bayer last month.

Interestingly, the Kenyan government had banned the import of GM crops in November 2012, but with this contract, the ban has been lifted. Mahyco will supply the seeds to Kenya’s farmers with commercialisation expected in the next two years, added sources.

The Jalna-based company produces seeds for cotton, wheat, rice and sorghum, among others.

Earlier this year, another Indian company JK Agri Genetics Ltd was contracted by the Ethiopian government for the import of Bt Cotton Seeds.

Issues in India

Indian seed companies’ expansion overseas comes in the backdrop of vehement opposition to GM crops by several sections, including environmentalists and members of the civil society, the Swadeshi Jagran Manch which is close to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and an establishment suspicious of biotech.

Last year, Mahyco talked about reducing research in GM crops in India and looking for markets overseas where it can take its technologies.

In April this year, the Delhi high court ruled that Monsanto cannot claim patents on its GM cotton seeds. The company has appealed the ruling in the Supreme Court.

In October 2016, the government told the Supreme Court that it would not release GM mustard without the court’s nod, about a fortnight after the court asked the Centre to hold its release for 10 days. The court’s direction came in response to a petition filed by activist Aruna Rodrigues seeking prohibition of open field trials and commercial release of GM mustard.

Developed by Monsanto, Bt cotton was the first GM crop to be approved for cultivation in India in 2002.

“The seed companies are being vilified in India because GM research has been painted in negative light. This, even though they are simply catering to the agricultural sector by seeking to supply highly productive seed variety,” said biotech champion C.S. Prakash, professor of plant genetics, biotechnology and genomics at Tuskegee University, US. “Look at how Bt cotton has been a success story. While these seed companies are vilified in India for selling GM seeds, they are now sought after globally. Them turning to overseas markets is a logical step given they don’t see a future here.”

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  1. I wonder if all Indian exports only because of they have been throttled at home. Exports happen because of a trade, economic and profit rationality. This article instead of focussing on the agreements and how Kenyan farmers gain/lose from this agreements, instead chooses to blame Indian campaign. Anti-GM campaign can throttle GM seed exports too. How come news is coming to be reported loaded with views, with no substantiation and fairness? This same article could have quoted the activists, as well, as journalistic standards proscribe for.

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