Sane decision, at least this time!

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FOR THE last couple of years uptil recent past, the agriculture sector witnessed a hectic series of activities on the part of both the government and the multinational companies particularly Monsanto for the adaptation of Bt cotton seed in Pakistan. However, dismal results came out of the on-ground experiments done ultimately forced the government to shut the door on the Bt cotton seed. Opponents of the governments decision argue that Monsanto had signed such an agreement with China 1996, later with Australia and with India in 2002. We can sign such an agreement but only after reviewing all aspects of the matter. However, the fact remains that if Pakistani scientists can develop seed varieties that increase per acre yield, then there does not arise any need to enter a deal with a foreign firm. What is needed are the varieties which can resist mealy bug, sucking and chewing pests and cotton leaf curl virus (CLCV). One of the major reasons leading to cancellation of talks with the US multinational firm has been the inability of its Bt cotton varieties to kill these pests, which have emerged as the biggest threat to cotton in Punjab. Besides, the adverse impact has been noted is that the animals are unable to digest the cotton cake prepared with Bt cotton seeds and often develop sickness. The Bt cotton seeds evoked strong criticism also from the official quarters on the grounds that going for this seed would squarely harm the farmers interests. It has also been observed that whenever growers have been forced to purchase seeds from multinationals for every crop after the introduction of their varieties, these firms did attempt to monopolise the seed business. Monsanto, throughout the last three years, has been demanding a per acre royalty fee for its technology, however, but failed to demonstrate that its technology would significantly increase yields or be effective against Cotton Leaf Curl Virus. Such kind of exploitation could be affordable to some extent in the case of Bt cotton, if the variety enhances the per acre yield. Local farmers have been growing cotton from Bt seeds, smuggled from India, for the last six years. However, their experience and some field researches show that this variety, apart from high cost, has entirely failed to prove to be pest-resistant. Mealy bugs that destroyed cotton fields and spread to other plants as well came with Bt seeds. Pakistan has the research potential to increase cotton yields by 2-3 million immediately if it is able to improve seed quality and develop a remedy for CLCV. The government should concentrate on improving research and development institutes and create linkages with eminent foreign institutes which will allow our scientists to gain better understanding of the local crop pests and improve the technologies relating to agriculture.


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