Vidarbha’s tryst with Bt Cotton

While yields, profits increased initially, rise in input costs, non-remunerative prices have reduced earnings

Pramit Bhattacharya Mail Me

First Published: Tue, Oct 02 2012. 10 09 PM IST
In Maharashtra, the second largest cotton growing state in the country after Gujarat, the state government plans to review whether agricultural technologies such as Bt are suitable in rain-fed or non-irrigated regions such as Vidarbha. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
In Maharashtra, the second largest cotton growing state in the country after Gujarat, the state government plans to review whether agricultural technologies such as Bt are suitable in rain-fed or non-irrigated regions such as Vidarbha. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
Wardha (Maharashtra): In the winter of 2005, a sleepy village in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra served a wake-up call to the nation when its villagers said they were putting the entire village, roughly 600 acres, up for sale.
The act of desperation by 40 debt-laden families of Dorli village, barely 20km away from Wardha, became one of the most poignant symbols of Vidarbha’s agrarian crisis. Vidarbha, the eastern part of Maharashtra, poses a stark contrast to the prosperous cotton-growing region of south Gujarat and also to the sugarcane belt of western Maharashtra. Dominated by resource-poor cotton farmers, the region has been notorious for farmer suicides since the nineties.
“Our lands are worth far more than what we owed in farm loans, and it seemed reasonable to sell off that land and move to the cities instead of committing suicide,” said Chandrashekhar Dorlikar, a 45-year-old member of Dorli’s panchayat (village council). “Increasing costs and low returns were making farming unsustainable.”
There were no takers for Dorli though. No one even bothered to ask the price, said Dorlikar, an agriculture graduate whose family owns 35 acres.
Since then, one major change in the village and across the region has been the advent of Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) cotton varieties, which most farmers started cultivating in 2006. Yields and farm profits have increased since then, although increased costs of inputs such as fertilizers, labour and pesticides along with non-remunerative cotton prices have reduced profits in the past couple of years, villagers said.
“After Bt cotton’s success, almost everyone has stopped cultivating traditional varieties,” said 41-year-oldRashtrapal Zarunde, who owns 12 acres of land in Dorli.
A decade after India’s first and only genetically modified (GM) crop was approved, the technology remains mired in controversy. In Maharashtra, the second largest cotton growing state in the country after Gujarat, the state government plans to review whether agricultural technologies such as Bt are suitable in rain-fed or non-irrigated regions such as Vidarbha.
By protecting against bollworm attacks, Bt saves yields and reduces the use of pesticides, raising profitability. But anti-Bt activists question its safety and economic feasibility, arguing that the variety is costlier and more input-intensive, and therefore an undesirable burden on resource-poor farmers.
Scientists say much of the criticism is misdirected. The Bt technology only inserts one trait, of bollworm resistance, in cultivars and several alleged failures of the technology actually arise from improper choice of cultivars. A cultivar refers to a particular plant or plant variety, selected for cultivation for certain desirable characteristics.
“Bt technology has done its job,” said K.R. Kranthi, one of India’s leading cotton scientists and director, Central Institute for Cotton Research (CICR). “But the problem with Bt in India is that it is available only as Bt hybrids and not as straight varieties.”
Two different cultivars are crossed to develop a hybrid, often to boost yields. Cotton hybrids are late-maturing, requiring water for a longer stretch and are more responsive to fertilizers. The proliferation of approved Bt hybrids has led to the introduction of inappropriate hybrids, many of which are susceptible to sucking pests and other insects, said Kranthi.
Companies such as Mahyco Monsanto Biotech (MMB), which own the licence for the Bt trait, and seed companies find it profitable to sell hybrids because farmers have to purchase seeds every year, Kranthi pointed out.
The right inputs as well as knowledge and education about farming practices to manage unpredictability caused by a varying environment provides optimal yield and income, a Monsanto spokesperson said. While farmers have received better seeds, much needs to be done in the area of soil fertility through testing and education, so they know what to use when by way of right nutrient applications, water use, and during pest attacks, he added.
Hybrids accounted for around half the cotton acreage 10 years back but with the advent of Bt, nearly all cotton grown in the country is using hybrids. In states such as Gujarat, where the soil is deep and water is assured, the spread of hybrids and technologies such as Bt have played a key role in driving up yields (see the first part of the series). But the results have not been as favourable in rain-fed regions.
Maharashtra, where most of the area under cotton is in Vidarbha, saw a 59% jump in cotton yields over the past decade while yields doubled in Gujarat over the same period. As in Gujarat, farming here has become more input-intensive over the past decade, but the lack of a commensurate increase in availability of water, worse soil, high credit costs and the absence of effective state interventions have made cotton farming less remunerative.
Still, as Dorli’s tryst with Bt indicates, Bt cotton has brought some benefits even in suicide-prone Vidarbha.
Profits increased after Bt’s introduction as yields nearly doubled compared with earlier varieties in the initial years, said Dorlikar, who also works as the field coordinator for a Secunderabad-based non-governmental organization, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA) that promotes alternative farming practices and is opposed to GM crops such as Bt cotton.
The biggest change in the past decade has been the reduced use of bollworm pesticides, which farmers were spraying indiscriminately earlier, said Atul Sharma, entomologist and dean of extension, Shiksha Mandal, Wardha. Bollworm attack has fallen partly because of Bt and partly because of more innovative pesticides.
“Bt is an effective tool to control pesticide use but activists are unwilling to acknowledge that,” said Sharma.
The battle against Bt cotton in India is a part of a larger battle between the biotech lobby and an international alliance of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), some of which have an interest in promoting organic non-GM alternatives, according to Cornell University political scientist Ronald Herring, who has extensively researched the politics related to GM crops.
Despite lacking evidence for systematic conclusions, a small number of anti-GM activists have succeeded in shaping policy debates across the world although a large number of cotton farmers are against their agenda and numerous scientific studies attest to Bt’s performance, said Herring, over email. He added that the standing committee report is not unique in bypassing scientific evidence; politicians in other countries have done likewise.
Claims that Bt cotton is causing farmers to commit suicide or cattle are dying after ingesting Bt cotton plant parts serve to raise attention and mobilize opinion against GM crops, Herring has argued in his writings.
The spurt in farmer suicides in Vidarbha occurred in the late nineties, preceding Bt, but haven’t stopped since then. National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data shows average suicides per year in Maharashtra between 2006 and 2010, when the Bt adoption rate in the state rose from 22% to 96%, was 3,701. The average was marginally higher at 3,828 in the preceding five years when Bt cotton was either absent or accounted for a small fraction of the crop.
Vidarbha suffers from two key natural disadvantages: Soils are shallow and rains are erratic, making farming a risky business. Cotton, considered a hardy crop, is among the few that can survive these conditions.
The lack of state support, either through investments in micro-irrigation projects or in effective extension support to farmers, has compounded Vidarbha’s woes. Bank credit continues to be scarce, forcing farmers to take loans at exorbitant rates from moneylenders, exacerbating the risks.
Indebtedness to moneylenders seems to be a common thread in the suicides of Donoda village, in Yavatmal district. Around 60km from Dorli, the village is infamous for farmer suicides, with 12 between 1998 and 2008.
The impact of Bt has been more mixed in Donoda, compared to Dorli.
“We gave up cultivating cotton for soyabean four years back as it was no longer remunerative,” saidRambhau Shamraoji Patil, a 70-year-old farmer whose son committed suicide in 2005. Daughter-in-law Bharti, in her mid-thirties, manages the seven-acre farm and also works as a farm labourer.
Patil said his decision has little to do with Bt cotton seeds, and the family is unlikely to grow cotton even with non-Bt varieties.
Another widow from the same village, 42-year-old Godavari Bhoyr, who has been managing the family land since her husband committed suicide in 2001, seems to have had a brighter experience with Bt. Bhoyr said yields and profits have improved since the mid-2000s, after she started growing Bt cotton and used more fertilizer.
Still, Bhoyr continues to depend on relatives and moneylenders for most of her loans. So does Bharti, at rates of interest that vary 20-30% per year.
“The banks neither give us adequate loans, nor do they give loans on time,” said Deepak Kadam, Donada’s sarpanch (village headman).
Kadam said profits have declined over the past couple of years as costs of key inputs such as labour and fertilizers have shot up while the procurement price has not kept pace.
“The government has failed to support us either with adequate prices or by ensuring credit,” said Kadam.
It is wrong to blame just seed companies or Bt, said Dorlikar. “The real problem is the lack of guidance for farmers, who tend to over-spend on inputs, and end up in debt.”
Extension workers who are supposed to fill that role are often poorly trained, and their numbers are often inadequate to cover a majority of farmers.
Most farmers instead depend on input dealers for advice. They tend to mis-sell products such as insecticides and herbicides, said Sharma.
The distress in Vidarbha is also due to the withdrawal of the state from its role supporting agriculture, said Vijay Jawandhia, Wardha-based farmer leader and a founding member of Shetkari Sanghathana, one of Maharashtra’s most prominent farmer groups.
“Even in the so-called developed economies, farmers survive because of huge state support,” said Jawandhia. “How do you expect farmers to survive with declining state support in these rain-fed regions then?” The state has never bothered to formulate special policies for rain-fed regions or invest in research to develop technologies appropriate for these regions, although more than half of the country’s agricultural lands are rain-fed, said Jawandhia.
Rain-fed regions such as Vidarbha need innovative strategies to use straight varieties, which are more appropriate, said Kranthi. CICR is currently testing a model of high-density farming of straight varieties, the so-called Brazilian model, which aims to compensate their lower yield by planting more of them on a plot. Kranthi promises a “revolution” in rain-fed cotton farms if the experiment succeeds. The excessive focus on Bt has detracted attention from other issues in cotton farming so far, said Bhausaheb Barate, head of Wardha’s agricultural department, who is helping Kranthi test the high-density model.

Constructing Facts: Bt Cotton Narratives in India

A group of researchers and industry writers have constructed a narrative of technological triumph for Bt  cotton in India, based on an empirical record of superior performance compared to conventional seed. Counterclaims of Bt cotton failure are attributed to mutually reinforcing interactions among non-governmental organisations which avoid rigorous comparisons. However, researchers and the biotechnology industry are also engaged in a similar authentication loop for generating, validating, and
publicising such facts. With Bt cotton, the convention of routinely ignoring the effects of selection bias and cultivation bias benefits researchers, journals and the industry, but keeps us from drawing meaningful conclusions about the relative performance of the
technology. But as poor as the case for isolating the technology impact of Bt cotton in India has been, it is useful in helping us understand the social conventions for creating one’s “own facts”.

MPs’ report refutes TOI’s BT Cotton stories

Buried in a parliamentary committee report is a refutation by villagers of TOI’s controversial stories on BT cotton’s virtues, published in 2008 and reprinted in the paper as paid news in 2011.


PARANJOY GUHA THAKURTA revisits the saga

Saturday, Sep 01–report-refutes-TOI-s-BT-Cotton-stories/6226-1-1-1-true.html

Allegations leveled by Palagummi Sainath, Rural Affairs Editor of The Hindu newspaper that its competing daily, theTimes of India, published an article at the behest of Mahyco-Monsanto Biotech without disclosing this fact to its readers and subsequently gained financially from its publication, have been endorsed by a committee of Parliamentarians in a recently-published report. Whereas the report, prepared by a panel of MPs belonging to different political parties, does not mention the ToI by name but merely describes it as a “national daily”, the inferences are all too apparent.


The 37th report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture tabled in both houses of Parliament on 9 August 2012 runs into 506 pages, including scientific and technical studies, and international conventions and protocols that have been annexed. Among the 50 individuals and representatives of various organizations and government ministries who deposed before the committee, the last-named is P. Sainath.


In his introduction to the report, Committee Chairman Basudeb Acharia says the panel of MPs sought to take into account the “serious differences of opinion among various stakeholders and controversies surrounding the cultivation of transgenic crops”.


Here is a verbatim account of what the report stated on pages 346, 347 and 348:


“While interacting with the villagers, the committee got first hand information about the plight of the farmers of Maregaon. The farmers very candidly blamed the policies of the government which they felt was responsible for their plight. In particular, their ire was targeted towards Bt cotton. The committee (members) were informed that with the inception of Bt cotton, input costs had gone high resulting in farmers falling into the debt trap. Further, the falling price of cotton in the international market resulted in farmers not getting remunerative price for their produce. They also stated that in the absence of a buffer zone, those wanting to cultivate non-Bt cotton were not able to do so. Bt cotton was pushing the farmers into the vicious cycle of debt and being unable to repay the debt due to decreasing earning farmers were under severe stress and developing a feeling of loss of their self-respect which was ultimately pushing them to commit suicide. ..


“The committee (members) also interacted with a couple of widows who in the aftermath of their husband’s suicide were hard pressed to make both … ends meet. The villagers implored upon the committee to voice their request to the concerned central authorities to ban farming of Bt cotton in the country. They also voiced their unhappiness with the relief offered to them via the Prime Minister’s Relief Package especially in terms of milch animals. They were given exotic breeds like Jersey and Holstein who were unable to adjust to the local environmental conditions and as a result died. They wanted indigenous breeds instead.


“During the course of their interaction, farmers from the village of Bhambraja requested the committee (members) to visit their village as well. The committee acceded to their request and visited Bhambraja village in Yavatmal district on 2 March 2012. This village has witnessed 14 cases of suicide by farmers post Bt cotton, i.e. from 2002. They also rubbished the claims of their village being a model village for Bt cotton as reported on 28 August, 2011 in the edition of a national daily under the caption ‘Reaping Gold through BT Cotton’ and other articles.”


At a time when the debate on the desirability or otherwise of the use of Bt cotton in India had intensified, on 31 October 2008, the Nagpur edition of theToI published an article that painted a rather glowing picture of Bt cotton growing farmers in two villages in Maharashtra’s Yavatmal district in the state’s economically backward Vidharba region. The ToI article had the following to state about the residents of these two villages, Bhambraja and Antargaon: “There are no suicides here and people are prospering on agriculture. The switchover from the conventional cotton to Bollgard or Bt cotton here has led to a social and economic transformation in the villages in the past three-four years.”


Almost three years later, on 28 August 2011, this report was reprinted in various editions of the ToI (not in its Nagpur edition) as part of a full-page paid advertisement. This unusual practice did not go unnoticed. Writing for The Hoot on 6 September 2011, Manu Moudgil looked at what may have motivated MMB to get the story republished as an advertisement almost three years after the initial story was printed. Moudgil’s article entitled ‘Got a plant, will republish for a fee’ argued that in 2008, when the story was first published as a news report, as well as in 2011 when it appeared as a ‘Consumer Connect Initiative’, MMB had been on the receiving end of severe criticism. In 2008, the allegation was that the prices of Bt cotton seeds were too high and that consecutive failure of Bt cotton crops were contributing to farmers committing suicide while in 2011, its was being alleged that the company was involved in “anti farmer” and “monopolistic” practices.


Wrote Moudgil, “Also, the news report says ‘The trip to Yavatmal was arranged by Mahyco Monsanto Biotech’,  the company which has been selling Bt Cotton seeds to farmers since 2002. Around the same time in 2008…similar news reports appeared in the Economic Times and news feeds of UNI and PTI which indicates that the company had arranged the trip for a group of journalists to farms of Yavatmal district. The reason for such a PR (public relations) exercise seemed to be the flak it had been receiving from civil society groups in 2008 which blamed the high price of Bt cotton seeds and consecutive Bt crop failures for farmer suicides.


“So, why did the company get the extolling story republished after three years without any updates? Again, the trigger seems to be the bad press it has got recently.


“The fact that the original story was also fraught with errors is another important issue. The story has a blurb on the top saying: ‘Yavatmal district is known as the suicide capital of the state, but two villages — Bhambraja and Antargaon — are an aberration for the better. Not a single person from the two villages has committed suicide’. Yavatmal has 2,117 villages of which 1,845 are habited as per the information available on the website maintained by the district administration.”


Bhambraja now figures, as mentioned at the beginning of this story, in the Standing Committee’s report.


On 10 May 2012, Sainath repeated some of these facts in an Op-Ed article in The Hindu provocatively titled “Reaping gold with cotton, and newsprint”. The article quoted farmers of Bhambraja village telling members of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture who visited them: “There have been 14 suicides in our village…Most of them after Bt (cotton) came here.”


Sainath wrote: “The 2008 full-page panegyric in the ToI on Monsanto’s Bt cotton rose from the dead soon after the government failed to introduce the Biotech Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill in Parliament in August 2011. The failure to table the Bill — crucial to the future profits of the agri-biotech industry — sparked frenzied lobbying to have it brought in soon. The full-page (advertisement), titled ‘Reaping Gold through Bt Cotton’ on August 28 was followed by a flurry of advertisements from Mahyco-Monsanto Biotech (India) Ltd., in the ToI (and some other papers), starting the very next day. These appeared on August 29, 30, 31, September 1 and 3. The Bill finally wasn’t introduced either in the monsoon or winter session — though listed for business in both — with Parliament bogged down in other issues. Somebody did reap gold, though, with newsprint if not with Bt cotton.”


Responding to Sainath’s questions, an editorial spokesman for ToI claimed: “The reports (of 2008) were written very honestly and in good faith…”


He added that the reports were the outcome of “a field visit organised by Monsanto for journalists from Nagpur.” The spokesman held that “as is the practice on such paid trips, the report mentioned” that it was arranged by the concerned company. He said he was “clueless” as to how the same story appeared in the newspaper’s Mumbai edition nearly three years later as part of the “Consumer Connect Initiative” section, a euphemism for a sponsored advertising feature. On the article getting reprinted, the ToI spokesman claimed: “It must have been picked up by Response” — referring to the newspaper’s advertising division. He also stated that he had no idea about the full page advertisement that appeared in August 2011 being “followed by several advertisements”.


The day the PSC report was tabled in Parliament, The Hindu reported that “the Maharashtra government has cancelled the licence of …(Mahyco) to sell 12 varieties of Bt cotton hybrids for allegedly giving false information to agriculture department officials on seed supply for this kharif season.” The company denied receiving “any official communication from the government pertaining to the matter of its licence to sell Bt. cotton seeds in the state”.


When contacted by The Hoot, Sainath stated in an emailed response: “Several members of the Parliament Standing Committee who came to Yavatmal district were people from rural or farming backgrounds —  and not about to be hoodwinked by anybody. They brushed aside attempts by the government of Maharashtra to divert them from visits to the villages that had been set up as models and miracles (for instance, in Times of India story-turned-ad). They spoke directly to the farmers in the two villages (including in the ‘miracle’ village of Bhambraja) and not via the media. They found what we had found when we did the May 10 report in The Hindu that shredded the claims of the story ‘Reaping Gold through Bt cotton’ which had appeared in theTimes. Indeed, the villagers gathered in large numbers to tell them how dishonest the images being peddled of their situation were.”


Relevant links:

Times of India, 28 August 2011:


The Hoot, Manu Moudgil, 6 September 2011:


The Hindu, P. Sainath, 10 May 2012: The Hindu : Opinion / Op-Ed : Reaping gold through cotton, and newsprint


The HinduToI’s reply, 10 May 2012:


The Hoot, Geeta Seshu, 10 May 2012:

Report of Parlimentary Standing Commmittee on Agriculture, 9 August 2012:


Bt cotton had no significant benefits for the farmers: Report

Neha Saigal

A Parliamentary committee report highlights the gaps in the regulatory mechanism for GM crops in India

By Neha Saigal

The voices of opposition to Genetically Modified (GM) crops worldwide reflected in India since the approvals for field trials of Bt cotton were given by the regulatory system in the late 1990s. They only grew louder and more prominent when the regulatory body in India, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) took the unthoughtful decision to commercialise Bt brinjal. These voices were not just of the usual suspects – the civil society – but those of farmers, scientists and politicians. Apart from the democratic decision taken by the then Minister of Environment and Forest Jairam Ramesh, to place a moratorium on Bt brinjal, this opposition also caught the attention of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture to take up an in-depth analysis on the controversies surrounding the cultivation of transgenic crops in India.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee and the GM Debate 
It took the Committee two and a half years, and a flawless process of intensive interactions with various stakeholders ranging from representatives of central government departments, state governments, farmer unions and individual farmers, civil society organisations, scientists and seed industry. The result is a comprehensive and exhaustive report titled “Cultivation of Genetically Modified Food Crops – Prospects and Effects.”

The report which was produced by the committee headed by Basudev Acharia of CPM, is historic in a way as it was adopted unanimously by all the 31 members, cutting across party lines. This also includes 11 MPs from the ruling party, Indian National Congress. The report has tried to cover almost all aspects of the GM debate happening in the country. It addresses the fundamental questions around GM crops including their impact on human health and environment and whether they play a role in ensuring food security and livelihood security for those involved in farming, especially the small and marginal farmer who form 85% of our farmers. It goes in-depth into the experiences with Bt cotton, the first and only GM crop approved in our country. Given the fact that there have been widespread complaints against the current regulatory system for GM crops, it has also analysed condition of our regulatory system to assess its robustness.

In the light of its widespread deliberations and on ground assessments, the report concludes that there have been no significant socio-economic benefits to the farmers from the introduction of Bt cotton but on the other hand it has extensively benefited the industry. It strongly recommends to re-look at the current regulatory system (GEAC) for GM crops, due to the inefficiency to regulate technology as risky as GMOs and the continued evidence of their nexus with the biotech seed industry. The report also validates many of the cases of field trial violations and contamination that Greenpeace and other civil society members have brought to light over the last 10 years and recommends that open field trials under any garb should not be permitted. It is to be noted that open air field trials of Monsanto’s GM maize are currently underway in Punjab and Haryana.

GM Regulation in India- A story of shame 
While every recommendation by the Committee is ground breaking for the GM debate in India and possibly around the world, the thing that strikes me most and also should be a wakeup call for the government, is the serious gaps in the regulatory mechanism for GM crops in the country. The regulatory process is what will instil confidence in the people about any technology, especially one that is controversial as GM in food and farming. The report has evidently exposed the actions of the GEAC, which has failed in its mandate to ensure the safety of the environment, human health, food and feed of the country. The actions of the GEAC convey its strong inclination to benefit the industry, one of the instances that the committee points out to substantiate it is the inaction to the concerns raised on anti-biotic resistant genes put in GM crops, including Bt cotton and Bt brinjal, even after accepting that there is a risk in using them. This only goes to show that the GEAC behaves like a vendor for the Department of Biotechnology and the Biotechnology Industry and not a regulator who the public can trust.

Since the inadequacies in the GEAC lead current regulatory system were evident during the Bt brinjal debate, one would expect that the new regulatory mechanism that is proposed by the Union Government would take into account these flaws. But the proposed Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) Bill is much worse. The BRAI Bill that the Ministry of Science and Technology has been pushing since the last two years, among its many flaws, lacks an independent long-term bio safety testing, need assessment of products of modern biotechnology, transparency, public participation in decision making and deterrent liability mechanisms to prevent callous acts of the developers of such risky technologies. It basically acts as a single window clearance system that will lower the bar for GM crop approvals. It also fails to keep up the countries’ commitment to international treaties like the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD), Cartagena Protocol on Bio safety and the Nagoya Protocol which we are signatory to. This is also pointed out by the Committee, that while we are signatories to these conventions and treaties dealing with Genetically Modified Organisms, we do not have the necessary expertise, infrastructure to ensure our compliance. The Committee feels very strongly that the current BRAI proposals to regulate biotechnology is too small a focus in the vast canvas of biodiversity, environment, human and livestock health and other such related issues. They have therefore, recommended an all encompassing Bio-Safety Protection Authority instead.

Our GM regulation a cause of Embarrassment at CBD 
The Committee report comes at a time when India will be hosting the Convention on Biological Diversity at Hyderabad in October 2012, this also happens to be the year of the 20th anniversary of Rio Earth Summit. An existing regulatory system which has been found wanting in intention and action and a proposed one which is lousier, puts India in a very unenviable position as a host country for a global convention which calls for utmost precaution while dealing with genetically modified organisms. It’s high time that the Indian Government gets its act together. The first step would be a democratic process consulting various stakeholders to shape up a bio safety protection act which will have the precautionary approach as its guiding principle.

Neha Saigal is a campaigner for sustainable agriculture with Greenpeace India.

Cotton brings doom to tribal farmers

S. Harpal Singh

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A Gond farmer tills a piece of unfit rocky land on Talamadugu hills in Adilabad district. Photo: S. Harpal Singh
The Hindu A Gond farmer tills a piece of unfit rocky land on Talamadugu hills in Adilabad district. Photo: S. Harpal Singh

Desperation seems to have caught up with the normally imperturbable tribal farmers of Adilabad which is evident from the abnormally large number of suicides by them since 2011. As many as 27 of them, all cotton farmers including a woman, from the aboriginal Gond, Naikpod, Mannepu and the Lambada plains tribe, figure in the list of 101 cotton farmers who have committed suicide since January 2011.

Giving up life, for whatever reason, was hitherto an unknown phenomenon in the primitive tribal communities which, paradoxically, have deprivation for a way of life. The gamut of Bt cotton, however, has dislocated their way of dealing with failures and like the trend in other communities, tribals are increasingly preferring the ‘easy way’ out.

In 2010, only one Gond cotton farmer had committed suicide owing to debts. There was a drastic increase in the extent of land under cotton cultivation and the incidence of suicides in the agency in the following year.

Statistics reveal that all the tribal farmers who have committed suicide, actually tilled their own lands. Only Butti Posham, a Mannepu from Nennel, had cultivated cotton in 20 acres of leased land while Pendur Suresh of Neredigonda had tilled five acres of illegally occupied forest land. Though the Gonds and other tribal people have been cultivating forest and hilly land since time immemorial, the change in crop seems to have brought doom to their door step. They cultivate cotton in every available piece of land without bothering about the compatibility of the crop with the soil.

“Not all soils will aid better yields of cotton. Hilly areas are not at all suited to this crop,” opines B. Muralidhar, Assistant Agriculture Officer, Adilabad, as he seeks to explain the cause for lower yields. “Cotton requires enormous investment which is recoverable only if the yield is good. The productivity of the lands in question cannot be increased up to desired level even if maximum quantity of artificial fertilisers are used,” he explains. The scale of bank finance for cotton being on the higher side, many tribal farmers have drawn larger amounts as crop loans. Like their counterparts in other areas, these farmers are also ending up in the debt trap.

Mahyco may lose license to sell Bt seeds in Maharashtra

Agriculture seed major Mahyco, which has been accused of black marketing its seeds and distributing it without informing the State Government, could well stand to lose its license to sell seeds in Maharashtra.

Maharashtra’s Minister for Agriculture, Mr Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil, told Business Line that the State Government was left with no other option but to cancel the company’s licence, given the nature of the complaint. He charged that the company was involved in black marketing of Bt (Bacillus Theringuesis) cotton seeds and added that an FIR was lodged against certain company officials.

A few arrests have already been made, he said. The matter was discussed in the Assembly.

The minister further noted that the company allegedly was indulging in this “illegal business” for sometime and that the State Government “could not tolerate it any further”. A final decision regarding the cancellation of license is to be taken on July 18, when the company would be given a hearing at the Agriculture Commissioner office, he added.

The matter came to light in May, when cotton farmers in Beed district were forced to pay significantly higher prices for Bt cotton seeds. MLA Mr Uttamrao Dhikale of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena brought this matter to the attention of the House.

Mr Dhikale, moving a calling attention notice, pointed out that Beed is a major cotton producing district. For the Kharif season, over 47,700 packets (of 450 gms each) of Mahyco 7341 Kanak variety (Bt cotton) was distributed amongst 11 distributors in the district.

However, these distributors did not supply the seeds to the sub-distributors, as is the norm. Instead, they raised bogus bills on the farmers’ name and sold the seeds at a higher price to others, Mr Dhikale added. The MLA has urged the government to initiate a CID probe into the matter.

Replying to the notice, in a written statement, the Agriculture Minister, Mr Patil, said that 10 distributors had resold the seeds directly to the farmers, without informing the Agriculture Department officials. He told the Assembly that it was now clear that Mahyco had resold the seeds with an intention to commit crime. Accordingly, a complaint has been filed at the city police station at Beed.