Bhavika Jain| TNN | Dec 6, 2017
MUMBAI: Nearly 50% of the cotton crop in the state has come under pest attack with official estimates of losses pegged at a whopping Rs 15,000 crore. Maharashtra is one of the largest producers of cotton. A total of 42 lakh hectares us under cotton and nearly 20.36 lakh hectares spread across 18 districts have been affected with pink bollworm - a major cotton pest.
Officials in the state agriculture department say there have been complaints of Btcotton seeds failing for the last two to three years now, but this year the magnitude of the attack and losses are unprecedented. Till November 30, nearly 80,000 farmers had applied for compensation with the agriculture department. But field inspection of only 2,188 farms has been completed so far. Farmer leaders and opposition parties have criticized the state government, terming its response to the escalating problem as sluggish.
"Cotton farmers have been left at the mercy of multi-crore seed companies without any protection against faulty seeds. The government must take away their right to call these seeds 'Bt' as they have failed to protect crops from pests, which was the main USP," said Vijay Jawandhia, a farmer activist from Wardha, who is a cotton farmer too. BT cotton seeds are genetically modified seeds in which one or more gene is added to give higher yield and offer improved resistance against pest attack- mainly pink bollworm.
The cost of insecticides and pesticides, which constitute nearly 40-45% of the total cost of production, was also projected to come down through use of Bt seeds. On the basis of these claims, companies manufacturing the seeds were charging farmers a higher sum. Nearly 96% farmers in the state use Bt seeds. This year 160 lakh packets of Bt seeds each costing Rs 800 were sold bringing in business of Rs 1,280 crore for companies.
The state cabinet has given its nod to conduct inspections of affected area. Compensation will be given to the farmers either through through state disaster relief fund or the national disaster relief fund. "The area affected is not as much as the Opposition is claiming it to be. The first two picks have yielded more cotton than last year. The pest attack has only affected the third picking," said Chandrakant Patil, minister for relief and rehabilitation.