The Indian government is working to develop a suite of Bt cotton genes that can be integrated into traditional varieties and be made available to farmers as a viable alternative to the current technology, which is largely sourced from Mahyco Monsanto Biotech India Ltd. (MMB).
The Indian Council of Agricultural Research has for many years unsuccessfully tried to develop Bt cotton, which contains insecticidal genes sourced from a soil bacterium and targeted at key cotton pests. However, officials told The Hindu that this project would be led by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the Department of Biotechnology (DBT).
There were already several genes available in various labs and stages of development, but the aim was “that India not be dependent on foreign technology,” said a top official privy to the project but who did not want to be identified.
While Bt cotton has always been controversial, it is now in the throes of a new controversy with the Agriculture Ministry mooting a change in the way seed companies and seed-technology companies such as the MMB share royalty, technology and determine the price as which farmers buy cotton seed. Different arms of government are split over whether seed tech companies have the right or are obliged to license their technology to seed companies on request. More clarity is expected to emerge on this issue within the next few months.