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India's GM cotton plantation seen rising

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Indian farmers will grow genetically modified cotton on 90 percent of the area under cotton cultivation in two years, a group that advocates the use of such crops said on Wednesday.

A woman gathers cotton to make a quilt at a workshop in Chandigarh January 3, 2009. REUTERS/Ajay Verma

“Indian farmers have overwhelmingly adopted genetically modified cotton as better yields pushed output substantially and drastically cut pesticide use,” said Clive James, chairman of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications.

The organisation advocates large-scale use and application of genetically modified crops.

“It is noteworthy that for the seven year period 2002-2008, there was a 150 fold increase in Bt cotton in India,” he said.

Indian farmers grow cotton on about 9 million hectares (22 million acres).

He said India planted genetically altered fibre on 7.6 million hectares in 2008, up from 6.2 million hectares a year earlier.

Cotton output in India, the world’s second-biggest producer, is expected fall to 29 million bales (1 bale=170 kg) in the crop year to September 2009 from 31.5 million bales a year ago as late sowing would cut output, according to official estimates.

India allowed commercial cultivation of bacillus thuringiensis or Bt cotton in 2002, sparking protests from activists who say genetically altered crops are a health hazard, spoil soil texture and harm the environment.

Increasing cotton output has encouraged government officials to support the technology which is seen as a viable step to feed the country’s more than one billion population when farmland is shrinking rapidly due to industrialisation and urban spread.

A committee of experts under the federal environment ministry has already allowed large-scale field trials of popular brinjal vegetable, the first genetically altered food crop to be tested.

An official at Monsanto, the world’s biggest seed company, told Reuters on Tuesday that the company had started field trials for genetically modified corn in India but a commercial launch was a few years away.