Small farmers of the organic cotton sector face an acute shortage of GMO free cotton seed (free of genetic engineering) due to the wide-spread dissemination and adoption of genetically modified Bt cotton hybirds. India has a wealth of elite cotton germplasm of tetraploid and diploid species, however in recent years private breeding companies became more active and focus mainly on tetraploid species like G. hirsutum and G. barbadense. Main breeding goal is the development of Bt hybrids with high fiber quality and high yield potential under optimum high input farming conditions. Although the traditional diploid cotton species G. arboreum and G. herbaceum have several advantage with regard to pest and stress resistance, they are largely neglected after the introduction of Bt cotton and their cultivation dropped within 10 years from 20% to less than 5%. However, these cotton species might be specially suited for low external input conditions under organic farming.
Through close cooperation with the University of Agricultural Science Dharwad and two organic cotton organisations this gap shall be closed and decentralized cotton breeding initiatives shall be established, which remain GMO free and meets the need of organic and low-input farmers. In an innovative transdisciplinary approach, smallholders, breeders, researchers, extensionists, spinning and textile industry will be actively involved from the very beginning. Overall objective of the project is to strengthen the smallholders by restoring their sovereignty of seed for organic cotton production.