New pests pulling Bt yields down: CICR
Zia Haq and Pradip Maitra, Hindustan Times

New Delhi/Nagpur, March 27, 2012
Staggering challenges surrounding India’s Bt cotton are undoing initial gains from the genetically-modified crop in the world’s second largest exporter of the fibre, fresh studies suggest.
Although the GM variety, officially allowed in 2002, sharply raised yields initially, productivity is now projected to decline amid signs of diminishing returns, according to a flagship paper presented by KR Kranthi, the director of the Central Cotton Research Institute (CICR), India’s “Bt referral lab”.

New pests have emerged, repeated farming of Bt varieties has ravaged soils and farmers have been unable to pick the right variety from among 780 Bt hybrids, Kranthi’s points out.“Currently the main issue… is stagnation of productivity at an average of 500 kg lint per hectare over the past seven years,” Kranthi has stated.

Yields have simply leveled off, despite India’s Bt cotton acreage expanding from 5.6% in 2004 to 85% in 2010.

“The yield was 463 kg per hectare when the Bt cotton area was 5.6% in 2004 and reached a mere 506 kg per hectare when the Bt cotton area reached 9.4 m hectares at 85% of the total 11.1 m hectares.”

The top scientist attributes part of the problem to a surfeit of Bt hybrid variants, which are showing new signs of vulnerability.

“The leaf curl virus started to resurface as a major problem in north India, primarily due to the introduction of more than 270 Bt hybrids,” the CISR head states.

GM crops have been a deeply polarising issue. Farm leader Sharad Joshi said suicides could be not be linked to Bt cotton. “The crisis is because of low prices for raw cotton,” he said.

Yet, just three months ago, a crisis among cotton-growers prompted the Maharashtra government to announce a Rs 2,000-crore assistance.

Widows of those who died on Monday burnt Bt seeds as a symbolic protest in Vidharbha, a suicide hotspot. While the suicides have been attributed to a complex web of factors, the falling yields of Bt cotton are now a reality backed by evidence.

Deepak Chopra and Vandana Shiva Talk Seeds and GMOs

When meta-physician, Deepak Chopra and food champion and ecologist, Vandana Shiva met before a live audience at his Love in Action series atDeepakHomeBase,
they had a good laugh over the Bullshit Award. Yes, that’s right. Monsanto gave a Bullshit Award to Shiva. To Shiva, whom Forbes Magazine called one of the seven most powerful women on earth, that was an unintended compliment. To get the joke, it helps to recognize the value of cow dung (the Indian down-on-the-farm name for bullshit.)

Cow dung is the original recyclable material. It helps fertilize the fields that grow the grass, which the cows, that produce the dung, feed upon. Their grazing helps our dehydrating planet retain moisture in the earth, contributing to global water supplies. Cow dung use cuts down on the excess nitrogen produced by chemical fertilizers, which contribute to climate change. In a pinch cow dung can be burned for fuel (lowering fossil fuel use) or to help build or insulate a home (lowering fuel use and providing low cost shelter.) As an added gift, those grazing cows produce the butter, milk, yogurt, and cheese that people eat as well.

By surveying the versatile ecology of cow dung, even urban dwellers, like me, can see the earthy pragmatism embedded in the Indian worship of cows (and indeed all life) as sacred. That’s why Chopra and Shiva laughed at the would-be insult.

But before anyone rushes in to take for themselves alone the newly perceived value of cow dung, let’s recognize it as just one part of a teaming, living ecology that supports human life by helping to:

    • Feed more people


    • Promote self-sufficiency


    • Create more jobs


    • Harvest more energy


  • Maintain the earth’s climate and ecological balance


Time has tested and proven the value of cow dung, and the natural cycle to which it belongs. Acting in ways that attune with nature’s processes and cycles is not about having the right to label a product “natural.” It is about following nature as the supreme guide to creating and maintaining life. Otherwise, we risk undermining and destroying the baseline conditions for life, the two Indian scientists maintain. (Shiva originally trained as a physicist.) In different ways, they express the utter urgency to make the right choices now.

As opposed to the life proliferating activities of cow dung, GMO seeds are “terminator seeds designed to be sterile, in a deliberate creation of food scarcity for profits,” says Shiva, who has worked with and defended the rights of farmers to store seeds for three decades.

Whether or not GMOs hold up to the Monsanto claim of feeding more people, (a claim that Shiva disputes, countering that 80 percent of food is grown on small farms, rather than mass industrial ones) Monsanto defines success very differently than Shiva does.

Rather than seek to promoting life through promoting food cultivation, Monsanto acts to:

  • Obtain the exclusive intellectual property rights to the earth’s seeds
  • Modify seeds genetically with pesticides and herbicides
  • Build planned obsolescence into traditional crops
  • Sue farmers who maintain the centuries old ecological cycle by collecting seeds from each new crop

In the U.S., where long time industry executives hold powerful positions in key governmental regulatory agencies, the USDA and FDA are pursuing pro-GMO policies. But how well have those worked in India? There, Vandana Shiva reports that they have resulted in the suicide of a quarter of a million Indian farmers. When in the aftermath of being forced into industrial agriculture, Indian farmers lost their independence, livelihoods, food, and farms, they committed suicide, she says, by drinking what remained: the chemical pesticides produced by industrial giants.

The technological science so highly prized in our civilization has another side.

“Yes, it has given us important tools,” Chopra acknowledges, before he goes on to enumerate the ugly side of “fragmented science,” such as global warming, ecological destruction, mechanized death, nuclear weapons, GMOs, and pesticides. “Together they are risking our extinction as a species,” he says.

Beyond the specific health impacts Chopra enumerates, including “cancer, hormonal disorders, weight gain, allergies, and propensity to infections,” lies a more pervasive problem. “What is happening in our body is also happening in the body of Mother Earth. Because many of the chemicals and processes were originally developed for military aims, their purpose is destructive.” Using them in life proliferating activities, like food farming, amounts to “declaring war on the land,” Chopra points out.

Vandana Shiva tallies the impacts of technological science on the living systems on which humans depend.

“Pollinators are disappearing. We have a migration of birds, a loss of planetary water, changing weather patterns. We have created a war on life.”

Farmer suicides: Secret govt note says Bt cotton failing

India’s Bt cotton dream is going terribly wrong. For the first time, farmer suicides, including those in 2011-12, have been linked to the declining performance of the much hyped genetically modified (GM) variety adopted by 90% of the country’s cotton-growers since being allowed a decade ago.

Policymakers have hailed Bt cotton as a success story but a January 9 internal advisory, a copy of which is with HT, sent out to cotton-growing states by the agriculture ministry presents a grim scenario.

“Cotton farmers are in a deep crisis since shifting to Bt cotton. The spate of farmer suicides in 2011-12 has been particularly severe among Bt cotton farmers,” says the advisory.

Bt cotton’s success, it appears, lasted merely five years. Yields have been falling and pest attacks going up. India’s only GM crop has been genetically altered to destroy cotton-eating pests.

For farmers, rising costs have not matched returns, pushing many to the brink, financially and otherwise. Simply put, Bt cotton is no more as profitable as it used to be.

“In fact cost of cotton cultivation has jumped…due to rising costs of pesticides. Total Bt cotton production in the last five years has reduced,” says the advisory.

This could have larger implications for Asia’s third-largest economy where rural prosperity has been a key driver of overall growth.

The note is based on observations from the Indian Council of Agricultural Sciences, which administers farm science, and the Central Cotton Research Institute, the country’s top cotton research facility. Yet, officials HT spoke to either denied or downplayed the advisory.

Swapan Kumar Dutta, India’s deputy director-general of crop science, said he had no knowledge of the note and that Bt cotton continued to drive India’s cotton production. He could neither “confirm nor deny” that such a note had been sent, said Prabeer Kumar Basu, the agriculture secretary.

A bonanza for Tamil Nadu farm sector

Rs.3,800 crore allocated; crop loan target raised

Even as the State government set an ambitious food grain production target of 120 lakh tonnes for the next financial year, it has allocated over Rs.3,800 crore for the agriculture sector, said to be the highest ever in the State budget.

Besides, the target for crop loans to be disbursed through the co-operative sector has been raised from Rs.3,000 crore to Rs.4,000 crore, which will be interest-free if repaid promptly.

State Finance Minister O. Panneerselvam, in his budget speech on Monday, said that even during 2011-12, the government had an ambitious target of 115 lakh tonnes of food grains as against 75.9 lakh tonnes achieved in 2010-11. However, there had been considerable damage to crops due to cyclone Thane and floods this financial year.

“In spite of this, I am hopeful that the food grain production will be 105 lakh tonnes during 2011-12 due to the timely and prioritized actions of this government. In the coming financial year, the government targets 120 lakh tonnes.”

In a bid to usher in the second Green Revolution, he said that the government took various proactive steps for the development of agriculture and welfare of farmers. The Minister announced that the System of Rice Intensification scheme, which covered about 25 lakh acres in 2011-12, would be extended to 27.55 lakh acres in 2012-13. Sustainable Sugarcane Initiative Programme will be implemented on 15,000 acres and the System of Pulses Intensification would be implemented on 1.6 lakh acres, based on the ‘whole village concept’.

An agri-market intelligence and business promotion centre would be established at Tiruchi to disseminate information on prices. Through this centre, crop and market advisory services would be rendered to farmers.

While 8.48 lakh farmers had been covered under the crop insurance scheme so far, the government had set a coverage target of 10 lakh farmers for the coming financial year.

Micro-irrigation, which benefits 1.25 lakh acres now, would be extended to 1.73 lakh acres. Besides, the government would invest an additional Rs.300 crore to improve warehousing and market facilities. “Our support to promote the agro-processing industry through private-farmers partnership will continue.”

Strongly opposing what he called “ill conceived changes” in the fertiliser subsidy policy of the Centre, which had led to a steep rise in prices of fertilisers, he said that the State government was providing financial support to the Tamil Nadu Co-operative Marketing Federation (TANFED) for procuring and distributing fertilisers. In 2012-13, the present interest-free loan to TANFED would be enhanced to Rs.150 crore to ensure timely supply of fertilisers at a reasonable cost.

Referring to the crop loan through co-operative banks, Mr. Panneerselvam said it would be “interest-free for farmers who repay promptly and Rs.160 crore has been set apart for this interest subvention”.

Protests mark 10th anniversary of Bt cotton

S & T » Agriculture

NEW DELHI, March 27, 2012

Gargi Parsai

File photo shows Bt cotton hybrid Brahma BG-II raised by South India Cotton Association and Monsanto in Coimbatore for demonstration.
The Hindu File photo shows Bt cotton hybrid Brahma BG-II raised by South India Cotton Association and Monsanto in Coimbatore for demonstration.

Activists charge seed companies, mainly Monsanto, with monopoly

Protests marked the 10th anniversary of the introduction of genetically modified (GM) Bt cotton in the country. Angry farmers urged parliamentarians to hold a special session to discuss the issue and ban the technology.

Charging a few seed companies, particularly Monsanto, with monopolising the seed industry and setting the agenda for the government, social activists urged policy-makers and farmers to reject the hype around Bt cotton and demanded a comprehensive review. “The crisis in the cotton belt should be closely examined and critically re-assessed,” they said.

The Delhi Alliance for Safe Food held a protest demonstration at Jantar Mantar. Similar protests were held in the cotton belts of Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra.

A technology that was meant for irrigated areas was pushed in all cotton-growing States, including rain-fed ones resulting in higher rate of suicides of cotton growers — particularly in Maharashtra. The protests, therefore, were intense and widespread in the State where farmers burnt Bt cotton in several villages according to the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti. Several wives of farmers who had committed suicides joined the protests.

“Ten years ago, permission was granted to U.S. based Monsanto seed giant for experimental cultivation of [bollworm-resistant] GM Bt cotton in 10,000 hectares in different parts of the country. Today, with the push given to it, the acreage has gone up to over 12 million hectares and [the crop is] sown by 90 per cent growers, especially after Maharashtra permitted commercial cultivation trials of Bt cotton from June 2005,” points Kishor Tiwari of the Andolan.

A Coalition for GM-free India report released on Sunday last said the government’s own data proved that Bt cotton had resulted in stagnant yields, pest resistance and evolution of new pest and disease attacks.

“Yet, its use has spread because the creditors in the informal sector, who double up as seed agents, promote the Bt seed and deprive farmers of the traditional variety,” the activists said.

In Andhra Pradesh, for example, the 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 per cent of the area). The State government reported that 20.46 lakh farmers suffered from cotton crop failure and lost Rs.3071.6 crore.

In Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra as well as in Madhya Pradesh, Bt cotton is considered the reason for “deep agrarian crisis.”

The protesters demanded that the government rejuvenate the production of conventional cotton seeds and pro-actively advise farmers about the risks of Bt cotton. There should be strict action against false claims and misleading advertising by seed companies.

Agriculture gets highest ever allocation in Tamil Nadu

CHENNAI: Tamil Nadu has set an ambitious foodgrains production target of 120 lakh tonnes for the coming financial year despite the damage to crops due to the Cyclone Thane and floods this year. The budget estimates that foodgrains production will be 105 lakh tonnes during 2011-12 as against a projected 115 lakh tonnes.

However, former Union revenue secretary and finance secretary to the Madhya Pradesh government, M R Sivaraman told TOI that the projected 15% jump in foodgrains production would be a tall order.

While the budget has provided 500 crore for the system of Serial Rice Intensification (SRI) to cover an extended area of 27.55 lakh acres, there is a problem as a large workforce would be required to work in the fields, he pointed out.

This is because many of these farm hands may prefer to take up work under the more remunerative MNREGA scheme and marginal farmers would find it tough to get labour. Carrying this logic further, a similar problem could dog the measure to improve production of pulses under the system of Serial Pulses Intensification ( SPI) proposed to be implemented in 1.6 lakh acres based on the ‘Whole Village Concept’.

Armed with a vision of chief minister J Jayalalithaa to usher in a second green revolution, the budget has made highest ever allocation of 3,804.96 crore for agriculture. An Agri-Market Intelligence and Business Promotion Centre is to be established at Trichy during 2012-13 to disseminate information on prices and render crop and market advisory services to farmers. The budget has set a target of 10 lakh farmers to be covered under agricultural insurance and 200 crore is allocated to ensure that farmers get more remuneration over and above the minimum support price. The government is providing 100% subsidy for small and marginal farmers and 75% subsidy for others for installing micro-irrigation systems. The Sustainable Sugarcane Initiative Programme will be implemented in 15,000 acres.

An enhanced area of 1,73,000 acres would be covered during 2012-13 under micro-irrigation for which 75 crore is granted as subsidy. A new system of disbursing subsidy directly to farmers will be introduced.

Farmers would continue to be exempted from VAT on fertilizers and the present interest-free loan to Tamil Nadu Cooperative Marketing Federation Ltd (TANFED) to procure and distribute fertilizers would be enhanced to 150 crore.

“The budget is silent on establishing an organic mission for Tamil Nadu which will encourage best agricultural practices to safeguard the interests of small and marginal farmers,” said V R Ananthoo of Safe Food Alliance.

With profits heading southward, Gujarat cotton farmers interest wilts

In the last decade, cotton prices have seen lots of volatility. However, earnings and margins for cotton farmers in the state have been continuously shrinking in last four to five years.

In 2002-03, when BT cotton was introduced, prices of Shankar 6 variety, also known as Gujarat cotton, shot up from around Rs17,000 per candy (350 kg each), to Rs60,000 last year. While this year, prices tumbled down to around Rs37,000 per candy. “Due to rise in inflation rate, the cost of fertilizers, seeds and labour has increased more than double. On other side, the cotton yield in some regions of Gujarat has declined by 30%. In certain areas of North Gujarat, where I belong to, the yield of cotton five to six years back was 730 kg per hectare which is now come down to 510 kg per hectare. This has further resulted in shrinking of earnings of the farmers,” said former president of Bhartiya Kisan Sangh, Praful Senjalia.

Agreeing to the fact, the cotton farmer from North Gujarat, Niranjan Patel too has witnessed fall in earnings this year. “Last year, we got around Rs5,500 per quintal but in this year, the prices have slashed to Rs3,700 per quintal. On other side, the cost of raw material and labour charges has gone up.

The cost of labour till last year was around Rs120 per day is up to Rs200 per day this year. So for next year, I have decided to change the crop, which does not have any labour. If I stick to cotton, I may get into debt trap,” said Patel.