Followed by the policy uncertainty over the use of genetically modified (GM) crops, global biotech companies such as Monsanto and Bayer are reducing their research activities and investments in India.
The government last March lowered the royalty rates for BT Cotton by 74 per cent and asked Monsanto, which developed the seed, to allow companies to use the Bollgard-2 variety.
“The cotton seed price control orders, fixing a trait fee for our Bollgard technology, and other issues have created significant uncertainty in the business environment. This has compelled Monsanto to withdraw introduction of new technologies in India," Monsanto had said then.
Two other multinational players, Bayer Crop Science and BASF, are also reducing their GM seed research in India. BASF closed its biotechnology research portfolio in the country in 2016 and refocused such research in the US.
“One of the major barriers to raising farm productivity in India is the lack of new technologies and new chemistry. A conducive policy environment, strong government support and reliable protection of intellectual property rights are particularly relevant for an innovation company like Bayer," said Peter Mueller, head of South Asia, Bayer CropScience.
Biotech companies have not had a smooth ride in India. In 2010, the environment ministry had placed an indefinite moratorium on the commercial release of BT Brinjal, the first GM food that was cleared by the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee. This derailed the plans of Monsanto, which was in the process of launching BT Brinjal commercially.
“A supportive, predictable policy environment encourages innovators to make long-term investments that are necessary for driving R&D in Indian agriculture. We continue to focus on our existing businesses in corn, crop protection, vegetables, biological, Bollgard II technology solutions, and digital agriculture," said a Monsanto India spokesperson.
“The benefits to Indian agriculture from biotech technologies are well documented. Indian cotton production changed after the introduction of BT Cotton in 2002," said Shivendra Bajaj, Executive Director, Association of Biotechnology Led Enterprises-Agriculture Focus Group (ABLE-AG). “It is high time India makes attempts to reclaim its leadership, which has been lost in the last few years," he added.
According to him, uncertainties over intellectual property rights and the requirement of clearances from states for conducting field trials are forcing biotech companies to reconsider their investments in the country.
Other countries in the region such as Vietnam, Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Philippines and Indonesia have moved ahead in biotechnology.
Raju Barwale, MD, Mahyco, said policy uncertainty on crop biotech had forced the industry to truncate its investments in research.For the last four years, permissions for regulatory field trials are pending with states. This has resulted in reduced employment of qualified researchers.