KARACHI, Sept 17: More than five million bales of cotton this season -about 30 to 40 per cent of expected 14 to 15 million bales cotton output this autumn - is being obtained from the sowing of genetically modified seeds, which are either being smuggled from India or trans-shipped from Australia via Dubai or Hong Kong as a mis-declared item.

Officially, the government has not so far adopted bio-technological cotton seed (B.T cotton seeds) and it is banned. The government issues warnings to the farmers every year at the time of cotton sowing in June against plantation of B.T. seeds. But because of its pest resistant quality and a much better yield, the B.T. cotton has become popular among the farmers. Last season, the farmers, more particularly in Sindh, disregarded with contempt all official warnings and sowed B.T. seeds smuggled from India on big tracts of agricultural land and reaped as much as one million bales of cotton. In Sindh B.T. seeds are called Bhittai cotton.

This season, the farmers in Punjab too have sowed B.T. seeds in a big way and a rough estimate expects at least 30 to 40 per cent of cotton being obtained this season from the genetically modified seeds. Involved in local development of such B.T. seeds are two national science and research organisations under the government control, which are the National Institute of Bio-Genetic Engineering and Centre for Excellence for Molecular Biology.

Realising the popularity of B.T. cotton seed and improvement in yield, the government is understood to be seriously considering adoption of these seeds officially and associate a well-known American multinational with two national science research organisations for production of genetically modified seeds in the country.

Well connected sources say that the issue of official adoption of B.T. seeds came up for discussion last week at the annual meeting of Pakistan Central Cotton Committee held at Karachi last week with Food and Agricultural Minister Hayat Mohammad Bosan in chair.

The official in textile ministry, leaders of faming community and cotton traders had openly alleged that the seed mafia and pesticides mafia were against the official adoption of B.T. seeds in Pakistan. Normal cotton seeds obtained from market give an average yield of 15 to 20 maunds per acre but B.T. seeds give up to 100 maunds an acre if meticulously managed and normally the yield is not lower than 60 to 70 maunds in any case.

The genetically modified seeds were introduced in Pakistan about six years ago by an American multinational firm Monsanto that has its office in Lahore. This company has registered its patent internationally and expect the government to observe international patent rules.

“Any agreement with Monsanto will bind us with unbearable terms and conditions,’’ an official of agricultural ministry offered explanation last year in October. Under these terms, the Pakistan government will have to import B.T. cotton seeds every year from the US company because the seeds lose their pest resistant quality after one crop and a repeat sowing may in fact cause a disaster by spreading virus in the neighbourhood also.

The government is trying to blend foreign genetically modified seeds with local input by the scientists of two national institutions of Pakistan to make B.T. seeds more economical with a better yield and effective pest resistant. Both India and China have adopted these modified seeds but are entirely dependent on the foreign multinational company. Both these countries have tremendously improved on cotton output.

“In Pakistan we want to improve our output and with relative less dependence on foreign companies,’’ a well-placed source explained who was confident that if experiment on cotton seeds was successful, efforts will be made to extend this research on all other crops - grains, vegetables and fruits. He said that research was also being made to take care of environmental hazards, if any from sowing of these seeds, its harmful effects and all other aspects.

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