During the first 10 months of 2020, Bangladesh exported $22.4 billion worth of apparels. In comparison, India apparel exports in 2019 were a little over $16 billion.
Concerns For India
The concern for India comes from the fact that this could result in Bt cotton seeds being smuggled across its porous borders with Bangladesh and thus put farmers at risk.
“If Bangladesh begins commercial cultivation of Bt cotton, its seeds can find their way into India. But farmers are at huge risk since they could go for it and without any legal backing or guarantee, they could be at the receiving end if the crop fails. Also, if the seeds turn out to be fake who will they question?” wondered Shetkhari Sanghatana’s Narode.
Narode’s fears are not unfounded since Bt brinjal, which is being cultivated in Bangladesh over the last few years, have found their way into a few states such as Gujarat, Haryana and Telangana.
There is some forward movement with regard to Bt brinjal in India, which can help farmers from various pest attacks that the traditional brinjal crop faces, especially in saving pesticide and insecticide costs.
The Union government has now allowed biosafety field trials of two new indigenous Bt brinjal varieties in eight states.
According to Union Minister of Agriculture Narendra Singh Tomar, trials in Bt Brinjal have been allowed between 2020 and 2023 if the states concerned issue no objection certificates (NOC).
However, seed firms which are into production of genetically-modified crops feel permission from the states will not be forthcoming easily if any of them is scheduled to go to the polls during the period.
The companies themselves would be reluctant since any change of government would leave them at the risk of the NOC they get being cancelled and losing the investments they make in the trials and research.
Incidentally, Bangladesh’s Bt brinjal was developed with Indian company Mahyco’s technology.
Bt brinjal has proved to be a hit in Bangladesh and experts have no doubt that Bt cotton could also become popular given the gains that Indian farmers have got from it.
In fact, cotton has been India’s only Bt crop so far and it has helped cotton production to rise to record levels of 398 lakh bales in 2013-14 after it was stagnating below 150 lakh bales until 2000-2001.
Over the last few years, cotton productivity has taken a hit as no new variety, especially Bt, has been approved.
Cotton per hectare yield currently is 486 kg against 566 kg during 2013-14. In contrast, Bangladesh’s per hectare yield is over 700 kg.
Experts say that this is one reason why India urgently needs to introduce newer varieties. “Yield in new varieties is high,” said Mayee.