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Dr K R Kranthi
Director, Central Institute for Cotton Research, Nagpur

The Central Institute for Cotton Research was established at Nagpur in 1976 and is situated Near Panjri naka, on the Wardha Road, 5 km from the airport. It has regional stations in Sirsa, Haryana and Coimbatore , Tamilnadu. The institute is spread over 427 acres and has 80 scientists, more than 200 technical, administrative and supporting staff. The institute has been recognized all over the world for its outstanding research on cotton improvement, development of production technologies and innovative crop protection strategies.

 

It is very heartening to note that cotton production has increased significantly over the past five years. Cotton yields doubled to 315 lakh bales (170 kg lint/ bale), within just 5 years from a meager 165 lakh bales in 2001. A record production of 325 lakh bales is expected in 2010. Th e enhancement in yields has been primarily due to several technological changes that have taken place since 2002, significantly related to the introduction of Bt-cotton, new cotton hybrids, novel pesticides, TMC, IRM, IPM and INM. Apart from these, the 27% increase in area under cotton from 78 lakh hectares in 2002 to 108 lakh ha in 2010, favourable weather conditions and extremely low bollworm infestation, good market price for the cotton have contributed to the rise in area and production. It is widely believed that many of the improved varieties developed by the public sector are being used by the private seed industry to develop high yielding commercial hybrids, which have contributed to the enhanced production. The Institute contributed immensely towards yield enhancement through its research findings that helped in developing remedial measures for the management of mealybugs, leaf reddening, and wilt problems which have recently become a menace, especially reducing yields of Bt-cotton. The role of farmers, scientists, private sector in introducing Bt-cotton, coupled with the role of Governmental agencies such as the Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Science and Technology and ICAR, has been significant in taking cotton production to new heights. The institute played a stellar role in supporting research for the introduction and popularization of Bt-cotton in India . The institute scientists developed package of practices and appropriate strategies to optimize input use and maximize benefits from Bt-cotton.

 

The institute has also developed several genetically modified genotypes of Gossypium hirsutum and Gossypium arboreum ( Desi ) varieties incorporating cry1Ac, cry1F, cry1Aa3 genes for insect resistance, chitinase genes and viral coat protein genes for disease resistance. These varieties will be subjected to biosafety testing and are expected to be made available to farmers within the next 4-5 years, after approval of the GEAC. The institute is known all over the world for its pioneering work on molecular pathology especially on the geographical diversity of bacterial blight pathogens and also for the complete range of DNA based detection kits of all cotton pathogens. The institute has pioneered the development of immunological ELISA (Enzume linked immunosorbent assay) detection kits and DNA based PCR tests to detect genetically modified (GM) crops that express any of the Bt genes such as Cry1Ac, Cry2Ab, Cry1F, Cry1C and also with generic markers for NPT-II and UID-A. The institute has obtained several national and international patents in South Africa , China and Uzbekistan . The Bt-detection kits have been patented and commercialized. The kits have become extremely popular with farmers, extension workers and seed testing agencies, as evidenced by the fact that kits worth more than Rs 422 lakhs have been purchased thus far. The Bt-detection kits enabled regulation, streamlining and ensuring Bt-cotton seed quality for farmers in the country. All seed testing laboratories in the country have been using the kits. In the absence of the testing kits, illegal Bt-seed would have been rampant and proliferated without any control. It has been widely acknowledged that the kits acted as deterrents for spurious seed traders. It is estimated that the cotton yield losses due to illegal seed trade and Bt-spurious-seed trade would have reached about Rs 200-250 crores worth each year, if the kits were not available. The bollworm resistance management strategies using the resistance detection kits were implemented in 26-32 cotton growing districts in the country over 10 years with financial support from the ICAR and the Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India. The research and technology innovation thus resulted in reducing the usage of insecticides by more than 60-80% without any reduction in yields. Proper use of insecticides also resulted in better pest control and more yields as compared to fields of non-participating farmers. The project which has been funded by the Ministry of Agriculture has about 100,000 farmers as direct beneficiaries and was implemented in 1650 villages covering nearly 200,000 hectares in 30 districts of 10 cotton growing states since 2002. The direct benefits from the project implementation are estimated to be more than Rs. 160 crores on account of insecticide reduction and enhanced yields.

 

New research programmes are focused on the discovery of new genes for economically important traits to be imparted through RNA interference based gene silencing and the development of genetically modified cotton varieties. Additionally, research initiatives on the development of cotton picker, development of transgenic crops for drought resistance, and disease resistance have been taken up. India is currently importing 5 lakh bales of extra long staple cotton. Revival of extra long staple cotton in the country will be high on our current agenda so that we can reduce imports. The institute has recently bagged a new project ‘A value chain for cotton fibre, seed and stalks' under the ‘National Agricultural Innovation Project' (NAIP). The innovative concept will provide higher economic returns to farmers and allied stakeholders in the production to consumption chain and is being implemented in Yavatmal and salem districts on a pilot scale. The institute work on plant breeding and crop improvement is widely acknpwledged. The institute has the world's second largest germplasm collection and 26 wild species which are being used in ‘introgression breeding' to develop varieties resistant to insect pests, diseases and abiotic stress. Several other innovative aspects of useful research include the discovery of apomixis, cleistogamy, temperature sensitive male sterility and five-loculed genotypes. The institute has developed many implements and devices and has filed patent applications for ‘solar powered knap sack sprayer' and ‘bullock drawn planter' that have been developed and commercialized. The CICR has also developed and validated a cotton crop simulation model for yield gap analysis and regional production forecast. The institute will thrive to make cotton a more economically attractive cash crop for the farming community. The socio-economists of the institute have carried out detailed studies on the agrarian crisis in Vidharbha and other cotton growing regions of the country and have suggested programmes research approaches that can offer solutions to the crisis. CICR has initiated special research programmes under the ‘Technology Mission' project to face the emerging challenges and pave the way towards yield enhancement.

 

Amongst the several awards received, t he Institute won the ICAR (Indian Council of Agricultural Research) award of Rupees one lakh and a citation for “outstanding multidisciplinary team research in agriculture and allied sciences" best annual report award, best AICRP award, best women scientist award, ICAC researcher of the year award, ‘Bremen' cotton researcher of the year felicitation, NAAS fellow recognition, Vasantrao Naik award and Hindi Raj Bhasha award amongst the many recognitions received.

 

Clearly, India is poised for a breakthrough and is expecting to become a world leader in cotton production. At this juncture it is important for all stakeholders to ensure that all adequate attention and support is given to the science and technology that confers sustainability to cotton production. The CICR has been contributing significantly for the cotton progress in the country. We hope that collectively all of us will strive to strengthen all aspects of cotton production and post harvest technologies so as to enable India become a strong economy, resulting in happiness and cheer for the Indian farming community.

K. R. Kranthi
Director