Rytu Swarajya Vedika & Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA)
Roundtable meeting demands comprehensive review of Bt Cotton
On the 10th anniversary of introduction of Bt cotton in India, the Roundtable meeting and press conference organized by Rytu Swarajya Vedika and Centre for Sustainable Agriculture exposed the false hype and failed promises of Bt cotton. The Roundtable, which was attended by farmer union leaders, scientists and representatives of people’s organizations, came out with a consensus that “the Government, legislators, policy-makers, farmer organizations and media should reject the false hype about Bt cotton, closely examine the crisis in the cotton belt and critically re-assess the 10 years of Bt cotton. A few companies, particularly Monsanto, are controlling the seed industry and also setting the agenda for the government. The government should stop acting as an agent for the seed companies and act independently in the interests of farmers against the monopolistic exploitation by companies pushing technologies like Genetically Modified crops.” The prominent attendees included Mr. Kodand Reddy, President of A.P. Kisan Congress, Mr. Nallamala Venkateswara Rao, Secretary of Telugu Rythu, Dr. A.Prasad Rao, advisor to A.P. Rythu Sangham (CPM), Prof. Satya Prasad, President of Jana Vigyana Vedika, Prof. N.Venugopala Rao, well-known agricultural scientist and leader of Jana Vigyana Vedika, Prof. Ramana Murthy, agricultural economist from Hyderabad Central University, Dr.Narasimha Reddy from Chetana Society, Kondal Reddy from Caring Citizens Collective, K.Ravi, assoc. editor of Tolakari magazine, Kiran Vissa from Rytu Swarajya Vedika, and Dr. G.V. Ramanjaneyulu from Centre for Sustainable Agriculture.
Rytu Swarajya Vedika and CSA released a Telugu report on 10 years of Bt cotton, using data from government institutions, which 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.
The organizers said, “The aggressive PR campaign by the biotechnology industry is being uncritically accepted by the government and regulators. 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.
Presenting some of the analysis, Kiran Vissa of Rytu Swarajya Vedika 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. In A.P. state, in the period from 2001-02 to 2007-08 when the Bt cotton area had not fully expanded, the yield went from 454 kg/ha to 690 kg/ha, but by 2010-11 it had fallen to 505 kg/ha and in 2011-12 reports indicate it is as low as 320 kg/ha.” 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.”
Kondal Reddy from Caring Citizens Collective said, “We have been working for six years with farmer suicides in 3 districts of A.P. We find that the farmer suicides are maximum in areas of Bt cotton – for example, the Parakala area in Warangal district. This technology showed some temporary gains but has trapped the farmers in debt cycle. At the farmer level, pesticide spraying quickly went back to pre-Bt levels after the first two years.”
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. Data from Directorate of Plant Protection that in five out of six major cotton-growing states there is an increase in pesticide usage during the period 2005-06 to 2009-10 when the Bt cotton cultivation expanded in a big way. 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 A.P. in various crops in the large-scale CMSA program (Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture) in 30 lakh acres while the Bt technology with all its risks, at best reduces pesticide usage temporarily for a given target pest.
Farmer leader Mr.Kodand Reddy from A.P.Kisan Congress said, “My experience as a farmer, as well as 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. Based on the experience of Bt cotton, the government should be extremely careful with promoting any other Genetically Modified crops, and the state government rightly took a stand in 2010 that Bt Brinjal should not be allowed.”
Dr. Ramanjaneyulu of Centre for Sustainable Agriculture said, “The fact is that the crisis of cotton farmers in A.P. has only become deeper after the adoption of Bt cotton. A large number of farmer suicides in A.P. have happened with cotton farmers. Though studies have shown that Bt cotton is not suitable for rain-fed regions which form majority of the cotton cultivation area, it is promoted aggressively with farmers through misleading advertising. Even the government institutions do not have non-Bt seed available for the farmers. Farmers who were frustrated with one unsustainable technology of chemical pesticides were asked to adopt another unsustainable technology promoted by the same companies which sold the pesticides.”
Prof.N.Venugopal Rao, entomology professor at the Agricultural University (ANGRAU- Hyderabad) and leader of the people’s science movement Jana Vigyana Vedika, said, “As believers in true science and people-friendly science, we can say clearly that the Bt cotton technology is a temporary unsustainable solution that doesn’t address the problem of the farmers. Jana Vigyana Vedika will take up public programs with farmers in four cotton-growing districts along with Rytu Swarajya Vedika to raise awareness about pitfalls of Bt cotton.”
Prof. A. Prasada Rao, retired soil scientist from Agricultural University (ANGRAU-Hyderabad) said, “Farmers around the state need to be more aware of the dangers of the technology and the manipulations and monopolistic control of these corporations. As with any technology, we should look at the sustainability, impact on environment and the question of who controls the technology. Bt cotton is not an appropriate technology on any of these counts.”
Demands emerging from the participants of roundtable:
- The government, political parties and scientists should reject the false hype about Bt cotton.
- Government should perform a comprehensive, independent review of 10 years of Bt cotton.
- Government agencies should stop promoting Bt cotton, and revive non-Bt seed production to make it available for farmers. Especially in rainfed areas, government should clearly educate farmers about the unsuitability and problems of Bt cotton.
- Strict action should be taken against false advertising and penalties imposed for sub-quality seed
- Lessons from the false propaganda of Bt cotton should be learnt, and policy-makers should reject the false hype about GM crops being the inevitable way forward for increasing productivity.
- Promote more sustainable solutions such as NPM, crop diversity and sustainable agriculture.
- More public funding should go into agricultural research and our institutions should be freed from the heavy influence of big corporations such as Monsanto setting the research priorities.
Dr.G.V.Ramanjaneyulu Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, 09000699702, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. D. Narasimha Reddy Chetana Society, 09010205742, email@example.com
Prof. N.Venugopala Rao Jana Vigyana Vedika, 09490098905, firstname.lastname@example.org