Small farmers of the organic cotton sector face an acute shortage of non-GM cotton seed (free of genetic engineering) due to the widespread dissemination and adoption of genetically modified Bt-cotton hybrids. Local seed traders no longer offer any non-GM cotton seed. While older cultivars are still available at a few seed companies on pre-payment basis, they have not been tested for their suitability for organic farming conditions. India has a wealth of cotton germplasm of tetraploid (Gossypium hirsutum, G. barbadense) and traditional diploid species (G. arboreum, G. herbaceum), so called Desi cotton.
Although the traditional diploid cotton species G. arboreum and G. herbaceum have several advantage with regard to biotic and abiotic stress resistance, they largely remained neglected after the introduction of Bt-cotton and their cultivation dropped within 10 years from 20% to less than 5%. However, these cotton species have been shown to be specially suited for low external input conditions under organic farming and are morphologically distinct from present Bt-hirsutum hybrids. Without secure supply of non-GM cotton seed, the organic cotton production in India and thus the income of small holder farmers in the cotton belt is severely threatened.
Therefore, FiBL initiated and coordinated the Cotton Cultivar Evaluation Project (2011-2017), funded by various foundations and cotton stakeholders) and the Green Cotton Project Phase I on participatory cotton breeding (2013-2017), funded by Mercator Foundation Switzerland). The Green Cotton Phase I project has been terminated after the first 4 cotton seasons (April 2013 till March 2017). Phase II of Green Cotton will build on and scale up these achievements by collaboration with larger number of grower association and with the common support of different textile brands.