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Farmers in India hoping for Next-gen GM seeds after Monsanto’s Patent Victory

Abha Toppo
Abha Toppo

A court ruling that supported a Monsanto patent on genetically modified (GM) cotton seeds has now raised hopes among Indian farmers that the firm would now launch its next-generation seeds, the application for which it pulled 2 years back.

India accepted Monsanto's GM cotton seed feature in 2002 and an upgraded variety in the year 2006 in order to help transform the country into the world's leading producer and second-largest exporter of fibre.

But the newer traits are not available since the firm withdrew an application in 2016 seeking sanction for the latest variety owing to a royalty dispute with the government and worries over patent claims.

However, the new herbicide-tolerant variety permeated farms in India and many cotton cultivators openly planted them last year, prompting a government inquiry that is continuing. Monsanto said that local seed companies have illicitly attempted to ‘incorporate unauthorised and unapproved herbicide-tolerant technologies into their seeds’.

A cotton grower from Yavatmal district of Maharashtra, Shrikant Kale said “We don't understand legal issues but we need latest technologies and if the court decision helps seed companies in bringing new technology, then it will be good for us as well."


Almost a dozen farmers in three districts of Maharashtra told that they planted the illicit cotton variety in last year in June after purchasing seeds from the grey market and will happily use it legally if the firm launched it.

Another cotton farmer, Vijay Niwal said, "Illicit sales mean that there is always a risk of buying fake seeds and we purchase such smuggled seeds as there is no alternative".

Bayer, owner of Monsanto has welcomed the Supreme Court's verdict, saying it "prima facie validates our patent" and that it was sure of "defending any challenge to our patent by presenting solid scientific evidence".

Regarding plans to start new products in India, Bayer said, "Protection of intellectual property promotes innovation that is important to providing farmers in India with access to breakthrough technologies".

However, two industry sources aware of the firm's plans said that a row over royalties paid by local firms that licence its technology remained an obstacle in seeking fresh approval to sell a new variety of cotton seeds. Agriculture ministry in India has twice cut royalties in the past 2 years, apart from slashing cotton seed prices.

A source on condition of anonymity said, "The government could intervene again to decide the royalty rate, which could be actually miniscule in comparison with the cost of developing a really good product”.

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