The overall goal of Seeding the Green Future (SGF) is to improve the availability of non-GM cotton seeds of genetic improved cotton cultivars specifically suited to organic farming systems. This is fundamental to guarantee the integrity and credibility of the organic value chain. Moreover, this will enhance the competitiveness of organic cotton as well as the income security and autonomy of small holder cotton farmers.
Q: What is your main focus at the moment?
Our main focus is to improve and safeguard the genetic diversity of non-GM American (G. hirsutum) and traditional Desi (G. arboreum) cotton species. We are developing a portfolio of new cotton cultivars with improved agronomic performance, industrial preferred fibre quality (staple length: 28+; micronaire: 3.8 – 4.5; strength: >28 HVI modus) and good ginning outturn. Our focus is to screen promising cultivars that are well adapted to the various local organic growing conditions (different regions, soil fertility, irrigation regime, cropping systems) and show high resilience towards different stresses (biotic and abiotic) and climate change.
Q: What’s unique about the work you do?
Seeding the Green Future is a unique initiative where all the stakeholders are equally involved in decision making with shared responsibilities. We promote and facilitate local capacity building with a special focus on smallholder farmers to achieve seed sovereignty and improved livelihoods. We encourage transdisciplinary collaboration among the various actors and stakeholders along the value chain by enhancing the international network and exchange of material, methods and information across geographic regions. Our major strength lies in identifying bottlenecks in the adaption of improved cultivars and the uptake of own seed multiplications by farmers through socio-economic studies.
Q: What trends are you seeing in the organic cotton sector?
There is growing demand from consumers for organic textiles, while production of organic cotton is limited with a minimal supply of quality non-GM seed. The sustainability of the organic sector very much depends upon a secure supply of non-GM seed. Many organisations are looking for a long term solution. We believe that a sector-wide collective effort will be a much more efficient way to improve the availability of non-GM cotton seeds specifically suited to the context of smallholder organic cotton farmers. Much has been received in the last 8 years and many cultivars developed under this project are in the pipeline. However, there are numerous challenges ahead, which still need to be addressed.
Q: What are the biggest challenges you face in your work?
Irrespective of the existing wealth of cotton germplasm in India, availability of non-GM cotton seed is limited. Some older cultivars are still available on the market on a pre-payment basis, but the variable performance of different cultivars recorded in different region has also highlighted the need for agro-ecological zone-specific cultivar development. One of the biggest challenges is to build and safeguard the GM-free seed supply chain as organic farmers are surrounded by 95% GM-cotton farmers. So GM contamination in seed remains the most significant threat to the organic cotton sector. Controlling the GM contamination to 0% at seed level will be the first step toward aligning the organic cotton sector with SDGs.
Q: Where do you see Seeding the Green Future in five years’ time?
In 5 years, cultivars developed under this initiative will lay the foundation to fulfil the demand for non-GM cotton seed. Extensive and diverse data generated on cultivar performance with relevance to the parameters desired by the textile industry will yield several non-GM promising cotton cultivars suitable for organic cultivation. As a result, the rate of adoption will increase; this will also allow expansion of more participatory research programs. Consequently, we will have a large outreach to almost all organic cotton growers and those in conversion.