Feb 12, 2013

After China, it is now the turn of India. Bt cotton 'silver bullet' bites the dust.

As Prof Glenn Davis Stone points in his blog post, Indian farmers are responsible for not turning the Bt cotton tide in favour of Mahyco-Monsanto. They don't know how to adapt to the GM technology. 

The Bt cotton controversy refuses to die down. Before Bt cotton was introduced in India, in 2004, we were flashed with the China story. China had an upstart and had already brought in some 5 million farmers to cultivate Bt cotton, we were told. The genetically modified cotton was projected as a 'silver bullet' for the Chinese small cotton producers, and so how could India afford to miss the technological revolution?

India did bite into the bullet. The media strategy to show how China was racing ahead of India certainly paid dividends. The Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (as it was then called) gave a green nod for commercialisation of Bt cotton, in 2004. In fact, GEAC was ready to allow the entry of Bt cotton in India's cotton field even a year earlier in 2003, if it was not for the opposition by a few of us who challenged the scientific data. Nevertheless, the approval came.

It has been roughly eight years since Bt cotton was introduced, and we are repeatedly bombarded by industry drones of how successful the introduction has been for the farmers as well as the country. But surprisingly, if you noticed, the Chinese success story has disappeared from the headlines. If Bt cotton in China was a classic case of a 'silver bullet' before 2004, there should have been an unprecedented boom in cotton production in China. By now, considering all the promises made in increasing 'productivity', China should have emerged as the global supplier of cotton. On the contrary, no one talks of China's foray into GM cotton anymore. There must be some reasons.

In 2006, a study conducted by Cornell University along with the Chinese Academy of Sciences showed that after seven years of introduction Chinese farmers had to undertake 20 times more pesticides sprays to control pests. "The study -- the first to look at the longer-term economic impact of Bt cotton -- found that by year three, farmers in the survey who had planted Bt cotton cut pesticide use by more than 70 percent and had earnings 36 percent higher than farmers planting conventional cotton. By 2004, however, they had to spray just as much as conventional farmers, which resulted in a net average income of 8 percent less than conventional cotton farmers because Bt seed is triple the cost of conventional seed." (Joint study shows genetically modified cotton less profitable in China, People's Daily, July 26, 2006. http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/200607/26/eng20060726_286925.html). 

The magic bullet had bitten the dust in China.

In India, the Corporate media kept the story alive. Every now and then I find edit page articles being published detailing the promises of GM crops. More often than not these are based on wrong facts. If this is not enough, GM industry ensures that it packs a few 'participants' in every conference/seminar organised by the civil society or farmer organisations. Recently while I was speaking at the Indian Merchant's Chambers in Mumbai, two farmers -- one from Rajasthan, and another from Warangal in Andhra Pradesh -- got up to say how successful the technology has been for the farmers. Incidentally, both farmers happened to be passing through the city when they heard of the conference !

Returning back to the Bt cotton controversy, I draw your attention to an excellent (and provocative) analysis by Prof Glenn Davis Stone of the University of Washington. In a blog post entitled: GM cotton failing in India; blame the farmers! (See the linkbit.ly/Y1lKc0 ), he writes: If you follow GMO debates you will have heard several years of kennel barking about how these figures show a remarkable success.But as I have pointed out (in my blog and in EPW), most of the rise in productivity had nothing to with Bt cotton; in fact it happened before Bt cotton became popular. 

He then goes on to explain. "Check it out: the biggest rises were from 2002/3 to 2004/5, when yields rose 56 per cent from 302 to n470 kg. But by 2004/5, only 5.6 per cent of India's cotton farmers had adopted Bt. Do the math: if those 5.6 per cent of planters were really responsible for a 56 per cent rise in yields, then they must have been harvesting 3,288 kg/hectare."

This incisive analysis by Prof Stone is what I would like the business journalists to read. For the policy planners and politicians, who are habitual in having faith in foreign writings (in addition to policy approaches), let me tell you that this analysis too comes from an American anthropologist. I am sure your faith will not be diluted or corrupted.

Dr K R Kranti, director of the Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR), the institute that monitors cotton cultivation in India, has said: "No significant yield advantage has been observed between 2004-2011 when area under Bt cotton increased from 5.4 to 96 per cent." Shouldn't this statement alone put the entire controversy at rest? Why is that the GM industry and its drum beaters continue to rake false facts again and again to mislead the nation? Well, it is the powerful stakes involved that gains more when more confusion is created.    

Whatever be the reasons, I think it is important to rest the controversy on Bt cotton once for all. Let the cotton farmer emerge out of this deadly trap, and lead a decent life. Spare the thought for him. #

See also, Dr K R Kranti's paper:
http://www.cotton247.com/news/?storyid=2160 (part I)
http://cotton247.com/news/ci/?storyid=2159 (part II)
http://cotton247.com/news/?storyid=2171 (part III)

1 comment:

vista said...

but 5% of farmers has started using Bt cotton in india from 2002 itself though it might be unofficial but the production was done.