Cotton farming: Natco Pharma takes on India’s biotech resistant pink bollworm

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The pink bollworm (pectinophora gossypiella) is a big problem for cotton farmers the world over. Adult insects lay their eggs on cotton bolls, the larvae go on to eat the seeds inside and damage the fibres of the cotton which reduces yield and quality. In 2018 the US was declared officially free of the pest for the first time a century but India has struggled to achieve a similar outcome. Now Indian pharmaceutical company Natco Pharma Limited (NATCO) plans to manufacture a pheromone-based solution for Indian farmers.

The pink bollworm moth was first detected in the US in 1917, for one hundred years it devastated the cotton growing industry there. In recent years however a dual pest management approach saw the bollworm’s total eradication, saving US farmers $192 million between 2014 and 2019.

Initially the biotechnology industry engineered a cotton plant which produced insect-killing proteins from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). Next billions of sterile pink bollworm moths were bred and dropped from the air on to crops. As well as successfully addressing the bollworm problem this approach also facilitated a huge reduction in insecticide use – good for farmers and the environment.

Indian resistance

Unfortunately in India the pink bollworm has become resistant to the same engineered ‘Bt’ crops and the pest continues to damage cotton crops there. 90% of all cotton planting conducted in India today uses the genetically modified Bt cotton but its usefulness as a pest control tool is rapidly deteriorating. As a consequence agricultural officials in the Indian state of Gujarat, known for its cotton growing importance, expect a 15% reduction in yield in the 2020/21 growing season.

Cotton boll flowering

Pheromone based mating disruption technology

NATCO is best known as the market leader in branded oncology medicines in India and also among the country’s top three producers of hepatitis C drugs. Now it begins a foray into its pheromone based mating disruption technology.

Through its Crop Health Science (CHS) division NATCO is working with ATGC Biotech Pvt Ltd (ATGC) to develop an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) solution for farmers in India. ATGC is a science based innovative technology company concentrating on developing new biosafe molecules and tools to protect diverse crops from insect pests, in collaboration with US based agricultural biotech company ISCA Inc.

NATCO plans to launch its first Green Label Pheromone product for effective management of pink bollworm in cotton crops under the brand NATMATE PBW. This is the first pheromone-based indigenously manufactured product for mating disruption to receive approval from India’s Central Insecticide Board (CIB). With this launch, Indian cotton farmers will have a new and powerful tool to manage pink bollworm.

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About Author


Matt has worked in digital publishing for twenty years, holding management positions at Nature ( and William Reed Business Media ( etc.). He has also worked with BBC Worldwide, Centaur Media, UKi Media and Mark Allen Group. Since 2010 Matt has been a digital consultant working with B2B media companies in the agricultural, automotive, aviation, robotics and technology sectors. As Chairman of his local allotment association Matt grows his own food whilst chasing the dream of a one tonne giant pumpkin. He is a member of the British Garden Media Guild and was a finalist in the Garden Media Guild Awards 'blog of the year' category in 2018 and 2019.

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