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India poised to become world's top cotton producer by 2015

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Bhagirath Choudhary & Kadambini Gaur

Bangalore, Aug 20, 2009: Bt cotton was approved for release in India by the Ministry of Environment and Forest, Government of India, on March 26, 2002. Over the last seven years, it has revolutionized cotton production in the country, doubling it from 13.6 million bales in 2002-03 to 31.5 million bales in 2007-08. The yield per hectare, which was hovering around 300 kg per hectare for more than a decade until 2002, touched an all time high figure of 560 kg per hectare in 2007-08. In fact, India emerged as the world’s second largest cotton producer in 2006-07, edging past the US, which held the second rank till then.
The increased availability of raw cotton at the domestic level has transformed India from being an importer of cotton to becoming a major exporter of raw cotton. A cursory analysis of global cotton outlook indicates that India’s share in the world cotton production has substantially increased from 12.5 percent in 2001-02 to 20.6 percent in 2007-08 – an indication that India is poised to become the number one cotton producer in the world by 2015.

Bt cotton was the first biotech crop to be approved in India despite fierce resistance and criticism from select anti-biotech groups. The approval came after six years of successful commercial cultivation in the US, Australia, Argentina and Mexico, and it corroborated the fact that Bt technology offers enormous benefits to cotton growers, especially small and resource-poor cotton farmers. In India, more than 5 million farmers have benefited from Bt cotton, with an additional Rs 12,800 crore ($3.2 billion) farm income generated from Bt cotton technology during the period 2002-07. This has been a real farm bonanza for poor farmers who otherwise had to depend on government-sponsored waivers and loans.
The large-scale adoption of Bt cotton technology has proved that there is no substitute for the timely introduction of cutting-edge technology in agriculture to tackle constraints in farm production. It is more so for small and resource-poor farmers who have limited means and resources at their disposal. Bt technology stands to offer equitable benefits to both small and big farmers; but when coupled with efficient weed management technology it can deliver more benefits to small farmers because they face greater constraints in production. Interestingly, one of the key features of biotechnology is that it can incorporate new traits in seeds in such a way that they can be easily made available to farmers irrespective of farm size, location and category. Bt cotton is one such example that has brought startling changes in the attitude of farmers about what biotechnology can do.