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10 years of Bt Cotton – False Hype and Failed Promises Exposed
Coalition for a GM-Free India, March 21 2012
The false hype and failed promises of Bt cotton in India were exposed by the Coalition for GM-Free India with a special report released in a press conference here today. As the 10th anniversary of Bt cotton's regulatory approval in India approaches, the Coalition, using data from government institutions, highlighted that the hype around Bt cotton as revolutionizing the cotton production in India is clearly wrong.
Closer examination of the data from the last 10 years negates the two important claims of dramatic yield increase and significant fall in pesticide usage. The report clearly exposes the dark side of the Bt cotton story – stagnant yields, pest resistance, new pest and disease attacks, the need for high levels of expensive farm inputs and the spate of tragic farmer suicides in the cotton belt.
In the face of aggressive PR campaign by the biotechnology industry which is being uncritically accepted by the government and regulators, the Coalition said, "This is a wake-up call for the Government, Parliamentarians, policy-makers, farmer organizations and media to closely examine the crisis in the cotton belt and critically re-assess the 10 years of Bt cotton. The government should stop promoting Bt cotton and pro-actively advise farmers about its unsuitability and risks."
The cotton farmers are in deep crisis after ten years of Bt cotton. The spate of farmer suicides in 2011-12 has been particularly severe among Bt cotton farmers. The extensive crop failure has exposed the false hype and advertising, often repeated by policymakers and regulators. In Andhra Pradesh, state government estimates show that out of 47 lakh acres planted with Bt cotton during Kharif 2011 season, the crop failed in 33.73 lakh acres (71% of the area). The state government reported that 20.46 lakh farmers suffered from cotton crop failure and lost Rs.3071.6 cr. In Maharasthra, the cotton crisis forced the government to take the unprecedented step of declaring Rs. 2000 cr. as compensation (the estimated loss is Rs.10,000 cr.). The cotton production estimates had to be downgraded despite the large expansion in cotton cultivation area.
Presenting some of the analysis, Kiran Vissa, co-convener of the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA) said, "The real yield gains in the past decade (from 278 kg/ha to 470 kg/ha) happened from 2000-01 to 2004-05, i.e. when Bt cotton area reached only 5.6% of the total cotton area. From 2005-06 to 2011-12, when the Bt cotton area grew to exceed 90% of the total cotton area, there is no sustained yield gain – only going from 470 kg/ha to 481 kg/ha. It is the pre-Bt cotton yield gains that have proved to be stable, resulting from various factors including fresh land brought under cotton cultivation, expansion of irrigation and use of high-yielding hybrids." The report also refers to the statement of Dr. K.R. Kranthi, Director of Central Institute for Cotton Research(CICR), "The main issue that worries stakeholders is the stagnation of productivity at an average of 500 kg lint per ha for the past seven years. The gains have been stagnant and unaffected by the increase in area of Bt cotton from 5.6% in 2004 to 85% in 2010."
Regarding pest protection, scientific studies and the company statements show that the target pest bollworm has developed tolerance to Bt cotton, whereas secondary pests like mealy bugs and whiteflies which were hitherto unseen are causing major damage. At the farmer level, pesticide spraying quickly went back to pre-Bt levels after the first three years. Data from Directorate of Plant Protection for six major cotton-growing states shows that in Maharashtra with the largest Bt cotton cultivation area, there has been a steep increase in pesticide volume (3198 MT in 2005-06 to 4639 MT in 2009-10) whereas in four other states (Gujarat, M.P., Punjab, Karnataka) there is a marginal increase. The only decline is in A.P., possibly due to the successful campaign against pesticide use by the government’s Non-Pesticidal Management (NPM) program. At the national level, even in the peak expansion years of Bt cotton, the pesticide usage increased by 10%. This is despite the heavy increase in use of more powerful low-volume pesticides during the same period, which should have reduced the total volumes. This shows that Bt technology is a false solution to the pesticide problem – the NPM methods which eliminate pesticide usage completely have been successfully demonstrated in states like A.P. in large-scale government programs while the Bt technology with all its risks, at best reduces pesticide usage temporarily for a given target pest.
Official information shows that Bt cotton requires more inputs in terms of fertilizers and irrigation, and is particularly susceptible to rainfall shortage at peak bolling period. The costs of cultivation have gone up significantly after the introduction of Bt cotton, leading to increased risk and debt for small farmers. The Coalition’s report also criticizes the false and unethical advertising by the companies like Mahyco-Monsanto whose advertisements were pulled up by Advertising Standards Council of India, earlier this year.
NOTE: The new report is here:
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http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-_18y9F0sPOI/TdIEc4UA1GI/AAAAAAAABEA/xp8fIIcCwNU/s1600/BT-Cotton-CIRAD.jpg10 years of Bt Cotton – False Hype and Failed Promises Exposed
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Hans Herren, Ph.D. is an internationally recognized scientist specializing in sustainable agriculture. He is president of the Millennium Institute, a non-profit development research and service organization dedicated to sustainable development. Dr. Herren co-chaired the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science & Technology (IAASTD), an initiative sponsored by the World Bank and United Nations in partnership with the World Health Organization that assessed global agriculture and recommended agroecological solutions to world hunger.
Dr. Herren has earned numerous awards that recognize his research achievements. These include the 2002 Brandenberger Preis for improving the living standards of Africa's rural population, the 2003 Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, and the 1995 World Food Prize for his work developing a successful biological control program that saved the African cassava crop, and averted Africa’s worst-ever food crisis.
Dr. Herren’s work in agroecology in Africa has been credited with saving millions of lives by enabling African people to produce the food they need. He developed the “push-pull” system that uses simple but powerful bio-control strategies to effectively manage corn pests, resulting in large increases in yields.
There is much discussion today about the need to “feed the world” because of the growing global population. What do you think needs to be done in order to ensure there is adequate food for everyone in the world?
HH: The issue is less on how to feed the world than how to nourish the poor and hungry. Today we produce 4600 calories per person per day, so there is enough food to feed twice the present population. The problem is that we produce mostly cheap commodities rather than quality food. These cheap products, in addition to being of low nutritional value, are based on a few crops that carry a large ecological, social, and economic footprint. What is needed is to support farmers in developing countries to grow their own healthy food by providing information, know-how, financial support for inputs, and support for them to access markets, among others.
Food security is achieved when availability, access, stability, and utilization are assured equally for all. There is also a need for new and participatory research into sustainable agricultural practices, based on the principles of agroecology and organic farming, which would free farmers from dependence on external inputs such as chemical pesticides and fertilizers.
Some agricultural “experts” are calling for another Green Revolution. What are your thoughts on this?
HH: What we need least is another Green Revolution. What is needed now is to move forward with the lessons learned from the Green Revolution, taking forward what has worked and leave behind most of it, since the Green Revolution has left agriculture dependent on external inputs that are non-sustainable and becoming more and more expensive since they are based on oil, a finite resource, and also synthetic fertilizers, also based on finite natural resources.
The way forward is to understand and work with the system in a holistic and integrated manner. Silver bullets, reductionism as often promoted by the agri-chemical industry are not solutions.
More at the linkHans Herren, Ph.D. is an internationally recognized scientist specializing in... more