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DID BT COTTON FAIL A.P. AGAIN IN 2003-2004?
- results of a season long study
by A P Coalition in Defence of Diversity and Deccan Development Society
 

Two years have passed since Bt Cotton cultivation was permitted in Andhra Pradesh. Nothing much has changed in its performance except for the hype by Mahyco Monsanto, the company which produces Bt cotton seeds in India.

This year weather gods were very benign to Warangal District in Andhra Pradesh which is the largest grower of Bt cotton in AP as well as in other cotton districts of AP. Rains occurred just at the right intervals in right quantities throughout the cotton cultivation period. This was what the Gods ordered for cotton. But in spite of this extraordinarily benevolent rain regime, Bt cotton's performance did not live upto even a fraction of the promises made by the industry.

As a matter of fact, the industry continuously makes several tall claims to promote Bt Cotton. Three of the most important claims are:

  • Cultivation of Bt cotton will reduce pesticide use considerably
  • Cultivation costs will come down significantly
  • Profits for farmers will increase

On all three counts Bt Cotton failed in Andhra Pradesh for the second consecutive time. This is evident in this season long study for 2003-2004 taken up on behalf of the AP Coalition in Defence of Diversity by Mr Abdul Qayum and Mr Kiran Sakkhari, two agricultural scientists. The study conducted in three districts of AP viz. Adilabad, Warangal and Kurnool had a sizeable sample of nearly 164 farmers. They were studied almost on a day to day basis throughout the cotton cultivation period, from the date of sowing to the date of harvesting. In Warangal District the sample size was nearly 10% of all the farmers who cultivated Bt cotton in the district. Therefore what the study says bears a great significance to the entire Bt cotton phenomenon.

The number of very interesting results point out to the fact that Bt cotton has once again let down small and marginal farmers in the dryland districts of Warangal, Adilabad and Kurnool in Andhra Pradesh. The facts are :

  • In comparison to non-Bt hybrids, pesticide use has not drastically come down in Bt cultivation
  • Costs of cultivating Bt cotton is higher compared to non Bt cultivation
  • The Bt Cotton yields were barely 2% higher compared to non Bt cotton.
  • Having paid higher price for Bt seeds and investing more money on its cultivation, farmers in fact earned more profits through cultivation of non Bt cotton than through Bt Cotton

For us in the AP Coalition in Defence of Diversity, a matter of great concern is the hype built up around Bt cotton by the industry which directly contrasts with the findings of this painstaking year round study.

We would like to particularly mention the Monsanto AC Nielsen study which is making rounds all over the world, without being challenged. The study paints extremely rosy picture for Bt cotton in India, whereas the field realities are completely different. Take two or three findings of the Monsanto study and compare them with this study:

State
Bollworm Pesticide Reduction
Yield Increase
Increase in
Net Profit
%
Rs.
%
qu/ac
%
Rs/ac

Andhra Pradesh
[Monsanto Study]

58
1856
24
1.98
92
5138
Andhra Pradesh
[APCIDD Study]
14
321
2
0.09
(-) 9
(-) 750

This clearly points out how far from truth are the claims made by the study conducted by a marketing agency, which contacted farmers through questionnaires just once after their crop period. The APCIDD study which worked with farmers continuously contacting them every 15 days brings and therefore always close to the realities of the situation brings out the truth which counters the hollow claims of the industry.

False claims

The industry has claimed four times more than the actual reduction in pesticide use, 12 times more yield and 100 times more profit than the actual. If left unchallenged, the industry which is losing ground in the rest of the world [including China] will completely overrun our agriculture and decimate farming as we know it.

Last when the results of our study for 2002-2003 came out and unmasked the disaster that Bt cotton had brought upon the farmers of Warangal, there was a great outcry by the media which made the government sit up and take notice of the tragedy it had let loose on the farmers. It made the government institute its own survey which clearly came out with the finding that cost of cultivation for Bt was more and net returns were too low in comparison with non-Bt.

Later the then Minister for Agriculture Mr Shobhanadrishwara Rao made a public statement asking farmers to stay away from cultivation of Bt Cotton. But within a month or so the government went back on its statement and without an iota of remorse invited Monsanto to sell its Bt cotton seeds from the government outlets.

The result is that farmers who paid 3.5 times higher price for Bt seeds today suffer a loss of 9% compared to the farmers who cultivated non Bt cotton.
Will the government accountable to this loss? Will it ask the industry to compensate the farmers this loss?

And what about the ever deepening ecological crisis? As our scientists point out who will pay for the ecological costs the constant induction into soils, airs and water of the built in poison in Bt plants?

Erosion of Regulatory Authority

Over the last two years, farmers merrily mixed Bt and Non Bt cotton when they took them to the market. Thus cotton seeds which are the source for edible oil and cattle feed have been contaminated with Bt. How will it affect human health, both by consuming cotton oil and milk from the cattle which have eaten Bt feed? Who is monitoring this? Why have the regulatory authorities totally abdicated their responsibility?

The profit hungry industry is not happy even with this sleeping authority. The latest moves from the powerful industrial lobby in India has been instrumental in a process that might completely dismantle the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee of the Ministry of Environment and Forests and hand over the control to an industry dominated committee in the name of a fast track approval.

As a consequence we are completely handing over the control over our agriculture, health, environment and our well being itself into the hands of an irresponsible industry which knows very little beyond its balance sheet. This will be a tragedy of monumental proportions.


PERFORMANCE OF Bt COTTON IN AP : 2003-2004

In Kharif 2002, around 1200 farmers cultivated Bt cotton in Warangal district alone. More than 90% of them cultivated Bt MECH-162 cotton hybrid, which was marketed by Mahyco-Monsanto. A season long study conducted by AP Coalition in Defense of Diversity in 2002-03 showed that the cotton hybrid MECH- 162 failed miserably on the farmers' fields in Warangal district. This study and other studies which endorsed these results forced Mahyco-Monsanto to replace MECH - 162 with MECH-12.

As a sequel to its earlier research in 2002, the AP Coalition in Defense of Diversity decided to enlarge its study for Kharif 2003 to three cotton-growing districts viz., Warangal, Adilabad and Kurnool covering 28 villages with a sample size of 164 farmers. The season long study systematically collected field data from farmers using structured interview schedules which recorded each and every farmer's income and expenditure patterns with regard to cultivation of cotton, both Bt and Non-Bt. This was done at fortnightly intervals right from sowing of the cotton crop till it was harvested. The data collection was helped by 11 NGOs working in these districts.

Besides the written interview schedule, video documentation was also done with eight farmers from three villages at monthly intervals. In addition, monthly meetings were held in Warangal to collect the data sheets from data writers and to identify the villages to be visited by scientists every month.

All the data was collated and analysed to arrive at the following results.

  • Bt seeds costed 230% more than Non Bt hybrids
  • Total investments for Bt was 8% higher than for cultivation of non-Bt cotton.
  • The reduction in pesticide consumption by Bt farmers was just 12%
  • Net profits from Bt was 9% less compared to profits from Non Bt hybrids
  • The Benefit cost ratio was in favour of Non Bt hybrids
  • For small and medium category of farmers, the yield difference between Bt and non-Bt was marginal

The study clearly showed that, even though the over all yields were marginally more for Bt cotton, the overall Benefit cost ratio is still in favour of Non Bt hybrids. This was caused by the higher investments incurred for the cultivation of Bt cotton hybrids which was 8% more than the investment for Non Bt hybrids. In addition, the results clearly show that, for small and medium farmers Bt is not a viable proposition as the net profit from Bt was 9% less than Non Bt hybrids.

The study underlines the argument that Genetically Altered crops need more investment per unit area than their non GM counter parts while the net profits are higher for non-Gm crops. This is a worldwide phenomenon. Therefore, in a country like India, where majority of the farmers are small and medium, while looking for GM options, we need to explore a policy that takes a long term perspective on the sustainability of different options available.

Over and above all this, there is a definite impending danger of major Lepidopteran pests- such as American Boll worm, Spotted Bollworm and Pink bollworm developing faster resistance to the delta-endotoxin, which will be catastrophic to the other alternate host crops like redgram, sorghum, maize, sunflower, groundnut and beans besides cotton. This will be highly disastrous for farmers who grow crops like pigeonpea and above-mentioned crops for their food and other needs.


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