Leaps and bounds A file photo of desi cotton variety MCU-5 on sale at the Boothapadi regulated market in Erode, Tamil Nadu. The area under desi cotton cultivation in North India is at a decade high
Whitefly attacks drive farmers away from Bt cotton in Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan
BENGALURU, JUNE 29:
Stung by the whitefly attack that caused heavy crop losses last year, a section of farmers in North India — mainly in Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan, have preferred to plant the desi or indigenous cotton varieties.
As a result, the area under desi cotton varieties has taken a quantum leap and the acreage is at a decade high, although the overall area under the fibre crop this year has declined 30 per cent in the region, where the kharif planting has ended.
“Desi cotton has been planted on about 72,280 hectares in North India this kharif. Last year, the acreage under desi cotton in the region had barely touched 3,000 hectares,” said KR Kranthi, Director of Nagpur-based Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR). In the last 10 years, it had not exceeded 5,000 hectares, he added.
Desi cotton, which is resistant to dreaded disease like leaf curl virus and pest attacks such as whiteflies, accounted for 7 per cent of the total cotton acreage of 10.17 lakh hectares in North India this year. “We expect the acreages under desi cotton to increase to 25 per cent in the next two to three years,” Kranthi said. He added that the acreage could have gone up further, if only more seeds were made available to the farmers this year.
Despite lower cultivation costs compared to the Bt varieties, the short staple length is seen as a disadvantage for the desi cotton. The short staple and coarse desi variety cotton is mostly being used as surgical cotton due to its better absorption capacity and also in making denim.
The genetically modified Bt cotton hybrids had seen a steady increase over the past decade and now accounts for over 96 per cent of the total cotton area. Desi varieties account for less than two per cent of the country’s cotton area.
Also, the campaigns by respective State governments promoting the desi cotton varieties has also helped boost acreage this year.
“There is an increase in the area under desi cotton varieties in North India this year. We are going to keenly watch the performance this year,” said M Ramasami, Chairman of Rasi Seeds.
Though the acreages in North India are down this year, Rasi has seen a 15 per cent growth in its seed sales in the region. “We have gained market in North India. Growers, who had seen the benefits of our products that are tolerant to the leaf curl virus, have come back to us,” Ramasami said adding that the company sold some 18 lakh packets (of 450 gm) of Bt cotton seeds in North India this year.
Good domestic demand
“There is a lesser possibility of whitefly attacking the desi varieties and as a result growers are seen shifting to these varieties,” said MB Lal, former Chairman of Cotton Corporation of India and Managing Director of Shail Exports. There is a good demand for the desi cotton within the country also, he added.
Till June 24, cotton was planted on about 19 lakh hectares (lh) as against 34 lh in the corresponding period last year. With the progress of monsoon, the planting is expected to gain pace in the days ahead and the shortfall is likely to be made up, Kranthi said.