Farmers empty bags of hand-picked cotton bolls onto a tarp in a field. | Photographer: Prashanth Vishwanathan | Bloomberg
Farmers empty bags of hand-picked cotton bolls onto a tarp in a field. | Photographer: Prashanth Vishwanathan | Bloomberg
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Mumbai: Farmers in Maharashtra protesting against the ban on genetically-modified (GM) seeds by openly sowing them have now found political support.

Ramdas Tadas, a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP from Vidarbha region, has spoken out in favour of farmers demanding GM technology in agriculture. The MP from Wardha raised the issue last week during Zero Hour in the Lok Sabha.

“My point was that farmers should be able to avail of the technology. It should be the farmers’ right to choose what to sow in their fields. The current ban on GM technology should be relaxed,” Tadas told ThePrint.

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 former environment minister Jairam Ramesh had imposed a temporary moratorium on it.

The Herbicide Tolerant (HT) variety of cotton, which farmers across Maharashtra have been openly sowing over the past few weeks, is, however, still unapproved.

The HT seeds are genetically-modified to tolerate some specific herbicides. So, even as herbicides kill the surrounding weeds, they leave the cultivated crop intact.

‘To compete globally, farmers need technology’

“Farmers have the constitutional right to choose what seeds to sow on their farm, but there is still a ban on certain type of seeds,” Tadas said.

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“In today’s world, our farmers have to compete globally with farmers of other countries who have access to such technology, and it helps boost their production. The way governments of other countries have given technological independence to farmers, our government should do too,” he added.

Since there is a ban on GM technology, farmers are not getting proper direction in ways to improve their output and, therefore, they have to go through a lot of difficulties, the MP said.

Tadas added he has not received a reply from Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar on his question yet.

Farmers planted HT cotton seeds in protest

Farmers had been furtively using banned HT cotton seeds to save expenditure on manual labour for weeding for years now, but over the past few days, cultivators across the state, especially from the cotton-growing region of Vidarbha, have been openly planting these seeds to defy the ban and also demanding GM technology.

It started with one farmer, Lalit Bahale from Akoli Bahadur village in Akola district, who sowed HT cotton seeds earlier this month in the presence of about a thousand other farmers.

After Bahale, a handful of other farmers including Mahadev Khamkar from Anandwadi village in Ahmednagar district, Amol Masurkar from Akola district’s Adgaon Budruk village, and a group of women farmers in Pusada village of Amravati district also sowed HT Bt cotton declaring their defiance on social media.

The union environment ministry has asked the state government to investigate the matter and take action. The Akola Collector’s office has sent a sample of the seeds that Bahale had planted to a laboratory to ascertain whether it is an unuthorised GM strain.

Political parties in Maharashtra have not officially taken note of the protests yet, choosing to remain silent on the issue.

Also read: Don’t penalise farmers for pro-GM crop protest, address their concerns instead


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