Monsanto in Pakistan

„There are also arrangements to produce BT seeds locally, and the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) has approved growing BT cotton to increase production,” he said. Pakistan is in the process of signing a $1bn agreement for the purchase of BT cotton seed from Monsanto, a seed developing company of the United States, with a view to increasing cotton production by 40 per cent.

BT cotton seed is used on 2.7 million acres

However, it has not been agreed so far how much quantity the country would purchase. BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) is a live microorganism that kills unwanted insects from forests and agriculture crops. Provided in cotton seed, it boosts the yield and protects the crop from most of the pests. Currently, farmers are using BT cotton seed on around 2.7 million acres of land against total cultivation of over eight million acres in the country. BT cotton seed being sold in the country was smuggled and therefore illegal, said the textile adviser. BT cotton seed being produced and consumed in Pakistan is from its first generation and plant insects can develop resistance power against it. Experts say once BT cotton lost its resistance, the insect could damage the crop and the seed itself.

40 per cent increase

BT cotton seed requires continuous improvement in order to cope with growing immune power of insects. French expert Pierre Louis Dupont, who has around 20 years of experience in cotton seed development, was offered to become Pakistan’s consultant in its negotiations with Monsanto. Dupont said, there was a need to supply second generation BT cotton seed with weed control capability. With the use of BT cotton seed, he said, yield could be increased by 40 per cent. India has boosted its cotton production to 30 million bales from 18 million. Pakistan can increase it to around 18 million bales from the current 12 million. The textile adviser said they were going to improve the supply chain. In the last couple of years, cotton production was low and industrialists suffered due to imports.

$250 million saved

„Our requirement is 16 million bales but production was nearly 12 million bales. Thus, import reaches around 4 million bales. We can save $5 billion annually by increasing the yield,” Baig said. „We can negotiate a package with Monsanto to get more effective results.” The package includes latest BT cotton seed with weed control technology called ‘Bollguard II with round-up ready flex’, which would save up to $250 million spent on pest control. According to preliminary talks with the company, it would charge $21 or Rs1,680 for sowing BT seeds over one acre. Of that amount, the company would return $4.2 or Rs336 to the farmer for research purpose. „I wish this experience should have been done in 1996 like India did and we would have saved billions of rupees,” said Dr Baig opposing usage of smuggled BT cotton seed.

Change the destiny

„It can change the destiny of the nation either way.” Growers have also welcomed the decision but have some reservations about seed distribution. Farmers Association of Pakistan’s Director Brigadier (retired) Rasheed Baig said it was good to import hybrid seeds. However, he asked what guarantees the government would give to the farmers if pests attacked the crop and how the government would ensure the seed’s availability at controlled rates. A grower of BT cotton in Mianwali (Punjab), Khan Ameer Azam, supported the import of Bollguard II, saying if weeds, which swallowed around 25 per cent of fertiliser, were removed it would boost cotton production. In Punjab and Sindh, he said, around 75 per cent of land was already cultivated with BT cotton, but imports at the government level would be fine. He also expressed reservations about possible black-marketing of the seed.

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