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Monsanto, Bayer CropScience cut India investments

Rajesh Bhayani/Mumbai 13 Jun 17 | 01:52 AM

Global biotech companies are reducing research activities and investments in India following policy uncertainty over the use of genetically modified (GM) crops.

The government last March lowered by 74 per cent royalty rates for BT Cotton and asked Monsanto, which developed the seed, to allow companies to use the Bollgard-2 variety.

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“The cotton seed price control order, 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 CropScience and BASF, are not pursuing GM seed research in India. BASF closed its biotechnology research portfolio in the country in 2016 and refocused such research in the US. Sources said even in the US, research directed towards the Indian market was not being conducted by the German company. The BASF spokesperson declined to comment, but the company recently announced crop protection solutions for India that will boost rice yields by managing diseases, weeds and pests.

“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 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, biologicals, 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). 

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.

“It is high time India makes attempts to reclaim its leadership, which has been lost in the last few years," Bajaj added.

Raju Barwale, managing director of 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.

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