A former Bt cotton farmer is developing a non-Bt cotton seed bank, including some varieties that are extremely resistant to drought.
Karnataka farmer develops non-Bt cotton seed bank
TNN, Aug 16 2013
NEW DELHI: For 52-year-old Nagappa Nimbegundi, a farmer from Makari village in North Karnataka, this Independence Day was special. After three years of relentless efforts, he has managed to revive 13 varieties of indigenous cotton and 11 other varieties of non-Bt cotton in his farm.
The seed bank that he is developing is of significance as 90% of cotton production in India has been taken over by Bt cotton, a genetically modified variety developed by an American company. Indigenous varieties have become virtually non-existent and are difficult to find even at research institutions.
Nagappa, who used to be a Bt cotton farmer, was finding it difficult to grow the variety. When rains failed, his crop output would be very low. "I was facing many other problems. For instance, it's difficult to do mixed-cropping with Bt cotton. I wanted to grow some food crops too along with cotton. So I decided to search for native varieties from different states," says Nagappa.
With the help of other organisations, Nagappa collected cotton seeds from across the country like Bengal Desi from West Bengal, Comilla cotton from Bangladesh, Cernuum cotton from Meghalaya, Karung Kanni Parthi variety from Tamil Nadu, Wagad and Kala cotton from Gujarat, Pundur from Andhra Pradesh, Jayadhar from Karnataka, and many others. It took him close to three years to multiply them.
"The process was slow but these native cotton varieties are extremely drought-resistant so they [can be] sustained in the harsh conditions here. In fact, some varieties also have the capacity to suppress weeds in the farm and are best suited for mixed farming," says Nagappa. He is, however, not sure what to do with the organic, native cotton yet. "Maybe I will sell whatever I grow. I am not sure people realise the value of these Indian varieties."
Activists say that Nagappa's efforts can inspire other farmers to cultivate original and naturally drought-resistant varieties. "The famous Dhaka muslin was woven with desi cotton. Bengal Desi cotton was grown in over 90% of the area under cotton in the 1940s. But now it is being grown in less than 1% of cotton growing land. The price of Bengal Desi and other indigenous varieties has also shot through the roof increasing by almost five times," says Krishna Prasad of Sahaja Samrudha, a farmer's collective.
While organic, indigenous cotton has a very niche market as of now, Nagappa hopes the demand will increase in the times to come.
Noted ecologist, Madhav Gadgil says Nagappa's effort should be replicated by other farmers. "Instead of promoting the interest of seed companies, government should promote farmers who are multiplying these rare native varieties. We have the protection of plant varieties and the farmers' rights act under which the National Gene Fund has been constituted. The aim of this body is to incentivise and promote farmers who are conserving seed varieties. This can revive biodiversity and liberate farmers from the monopoly of seed companies." Gadgil says.