India loses faith in GM cotton: Guardian

Maharashtra state government orders German seed company to compensate farmers as cotton hybrids fail to deliver

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/may/15/india-gm-cotton-bayer?newsfeed=true

  • Julien Bouissou
india cotton

White revolution … but the promise of GM cotton in India has not been realised. Photograph: Sam Panthaky /AFP

Ten years after it was introduced to India, genetically modified cotton is not living up to its promise. It is vulnerable to new diseases and yields are not as great as expected.

The government of Andhra Pradesh announced that for almost two-thirds of land under cultivation, the 2011 harvest was down by half on the previous year. In a departure, the government of Maharashtra state, and a court in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh, have ordered the German seed company Bayer CropScience to pay more than $1.1m in compensation to more than 1,000 farmers for cotton hybrids that did not deliver the promised yields.

Bayer CropScience has denied any responsibility and blamed “inadequate crop management and adverse environmental conditions”. It is preparing an appeal.

Since the introduction of GM cotton in 2002, harvests in India have doubled and the country ranks as the world’s second-largest producer. But the “white revolution” prompts distrust. Opponents of GM crops claim the increased yields of the early 2000s were due to better irrigation and favourable weather. Over the past six years average yields per hectare have barely changed, despite a fourfold increase in the use of GM cotton.

In 2011, the head of the Central Institute for Cotton Research, Keshav Raj Kranthi, issued a warning on hybrid cotton’s increased vulnerability to bacteria.

“Productivity in north India is likely to decline because of the declining potential of hybrids; the emerging problem of leaf curl virus on the new susceptible Bt-hybrids; a high level of susceptibility to sucking pests (straight varieties were resistant),” Kranthi explained in a paper published in June 2011. He also pointed out that GM varieties consume more water and nutrients, leading to soil depletion. This in turn means that fertilisers are needed to achieve optimal yields.

Fertilisers, insecticides and GM seed all come at a cost. Farmers must borrow money, often from local loan-sharks or the seed and fertiliser merchants themselves. Unfavourable weather conditions or a tiny drop in the world price of cotton can sometimes spell disaster. In 2006, in the Vidarbha area, some farmers unable to repay their debts committed suicide by swallowing pesticide.

GM cotton is a new technology that demands a certain know-how to yield good results. Each of the 780 varieties available on the Indian market corresponds to a particular type of soil and different fertiliser requirements. To prevent diseases or insects developing resistance to GM varieties, local seed must be planted in just the right proportions.

“Small farmers have no idea what they’re buying and even less idea how to grow these new varieties. Their traditional know-how is disappearing,” says Sridhar Radhakrishnan, of the Coalition for a GM-Free India.

If the crops fail the Indian government has made no legal provision for farmers to obtain compensation. The nine states using Bt seed should pass laws so that if “something goes wrong […] if farmers suffer, there has to be provision where the company pays compensation”, theagriculture minister, Sharad Pawar, told parliament in March.

Ten years after the introduction of GM cotton, local seed varieties have virtually disappeared. The GM-seed market, launched with a massive advertising campaign, is now worth an estimated $364m. The seed companies have promised to introduce new varieties, which offer even greater resistance, while consuming less water and fertiliser. Their opponents are calling for a moratorium on GM cotton in India.

Reaping gold through cotton, and newsprint: P. SAINATH

http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/article3401466.ece?homepage=true

A facsimile of The Times of India’s August 28, 2011 page with the ‘marketing feature’ on Bt Cotton.

A facsimile of The Times of India’s August 28, 2011 page with the ‘marketing feature’ on Bt Cotton.

The same full page appeared twice in three years, the first time as news, the second time as an advertisement

“Not a single person from the two villages has committed suicide.”

Three and a half years ago, at a time when the controversy over the use of genetically modified seeds was raging across India, a newspaper story painted a heartening picture of the technology’s success. “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 [of Bhambraja and Antargaon] in the past three-four years.” (Times of India, October 31, 2008).

So heartening was this account that nine months ago, the same story was run again in the same newspaper, word for word. (Times of India, August 28, 2011). Never mind that the villagers themselves had a different story to tell.

“There have been 14 suicides in our village,” a crowd of agitated farmers in Bhambraja told shocked members of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture in March this year. “Most of them after Bt came here.” The Hinduwas able to verify nine that had occurred between 2003 and 2009. Activist groups count five more since then. All after 2002, the year the TOI story says farmers here switched to Bt. Prospering on agriculture? The villagers told the visibly shaken MPs: “Sir, lots of land is lying fallow. Many have lost faith in farming.” Some have shifted to soybean where “at least the losses are less.”

Over a hundred people, including landed farmers, have migrated from this ‘model farming village’ showcasing Mahyco-Monsanto Biotech’s Bt Cotton. “Many more will leave because agriculture is dying,” Suresh Ramdas Bhondre had predicted during our first visit to Bhambraja last September.

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, 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.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture appeared unimpressed by the ad barrage, which also seemed timed for the committee’s deliberations on allowing genetically modified food crops. Disturbed by reports of mounting farm suicides and acute distress in Vidarbha, committee members, who belong to different parties, decided to visit the region.

Bhambraja, touted as a model for Mahyco-Monsanto’s miracle Bt, was an obvious destination for the committee headed by veteran parliamentarian Basudeb Acharia. Another was Maregaon-Soneburdi. But the MPs struck no gold in either village. Only distress arising from the miracle’s collapse and a raft of other, government failures.

The issues (and the claims made by the TOI in its stories) have come alive yet again with the debate sparked off by the completion of 10 years of Bt cotton in India in 2012. The “Reaping Gold through Bt Cotton” that appeared on August 28 last year, presented itself as “A consumer connect initiative.” In other words, a paid-for advertisement. The bylines, however, were those of professional reporters and photographers of the Times of India. More oddly, the story-turned-ad had already appeared, word-for-word, in the Times of India, Nagpur on October 31, 2008. The repetition was noticed and ridiculed by critics. The August 28, 2011 version itself acknowledged this unedited ‘reprint’ lightly. What appeared in 2008, though, was not marked as an advertisement. What both versions do acknowledge is: “The trip to Yavatmal was arranged by Mahyco-Monsanto Biotech.”

The company refers to the 2008 feature as “a full-page news report” filed by the TOI. “The 2008 coverage was a result of the media visit and was based on the editorial discretion of the journalists involved. We only arranged transport to-and-from the fields,” a Mahyco Monsanto Biotech India spokesperson told The Hindu last week. “The 2011 report was an unedited reprint of the 2008 coverage as a marketing feature.” The 2008 “full-page news report” appeared in the Nagpur edition. The 2011 “marketing feature” appeared in multiple editions (which you can click to online under ‘special reports’) but not in Nagpur, where it would surely have caused astonishment.

So the same full-page appeared twice in three years, the first time as news, the second time as an advertisement. The first time done by the staff reporter and photographer of a newspaper. The second time exhumed by the advertising department. The first time as a story trip ‘arranged by Mahyco-Monsanto.’ The second time as an advertisement arranged by Mahyco-Monsanto. The first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

The company spokesperson claimed high standards of transparency in that “…we insisted that the publication add the source and dateline as follows: ‘This is a reprint of a story from the Times of India, Nagpur edition, October 31, 2008.’ But the spokesperson’s e-mail reply to The Hindu‘s questions is silent on the timing of the advertisements. “In 2011, we conducted a communications initiative for a limited duration aimed at raising awareness on the role of cotton seeds and plant biotechnologies in agriculture.” Though The Hindu raised the query, there is no mention of why the ads were run during the Parliament session when the BRAI Bill was to have come up, but didn’t.

But there’s more. Some of the glowing photographs accompanying the TOI coverage of the Bt miracle were not taken in Bhambraja or Antargaon, villagers allege. “This picture is not from Bhambraja, though the people in it are” says farmer Babanrao Gawande from that village.

Phantom miracle

The Times of India story had a champion educated farmer in Nandu Raut who is also an LIC agent. His earnings shot up with the Bt miracle. “I made about Rs.2 lakhs the previous year,” Nandu Raut told me last September. “About Rs.1.6 lakh came from the LIC policies I sold.” In short, he earned from selling LIC policies four times what he earned from farming. He has seven and a half acres and a four-member family.

But the TOI story has him earning “Rs.20,000 more per acre (emphasis added) due to savings in pesticide.” Since he grew cotton on four acres, that was a “saving” of Rs. 80,000 “on pesticide.” Quite a feat. As many in Bhambraja say angrily: “Show us one farmer here earning Rs.20,000 per acre at all, let alone that much more per acre.” A data sheet from a village-wide survey signed by Mr. Raut (in The Hindu‘s possession) also tells a very different story on his earnings.

The ridicule that Bhambraja and Maregaon farmers pour on the Bt ‘miracle’ gains credence from the Union Agriculture Minister’s figures. “Vidarbha produces about 1.2 quintals [cotton lint] per hectare on average,” Sharad Pawar told Parliament on December 19, 2011. That is a shockingly low figure. Twice that figure would still be low. The farmer sells his crop as raw cotton. One-hundred kg of raw cotton gives 35 kg of lint and 65 kg of cotton seed (of which up to two kg is lost in ginning). And Mr. Pawar’s figure translates to just 3.5 quintals of raw cotton per hectare. Or merely 1.4 quintals per acre. Mr. Pawar also assumed farmers were getting a high price of Rs.4,200 per quintal. He conceded that this was close to “the cost of cultivation… and that is why I think such a serious situation is developing there.” If Mr. Pawar’s figure was right, it means Nandu Raut’s gross income could not have exceeded Rs.5,900 per acre. Deduct his input costs — of which 1.5 packets of seed alone accounts for around Rs.1,400 — and he’s left with almost nothing. Yet, the TOI has him earning “Rs.20,000 more per acre.”

Asked if they stood by these extraordinary claims, the Mahyco-Monsanto spokesperson said, “We stand by the quotes of our MMB India colleague, as published in the news report.” Ironically, that single-paragraph quote, in the full-page-news story-turned-ad, makes no mention of the Rs.20,000-plus per acre earnings or any other figure. It merely speaks of Bt creating “increased income of cotton growers…” and of growth in Bt acreage. It does not mention per acre yields. And says nothing about zero suicides in the two villages. So the company carefully avoids direct endorsement of the TOI’s claims, but uses them in a marketing feature where they are the main points.

The MMB spokesperson’s position on these claims is that “the journalists spoke directly with farmers on their personal experiences during the visits, resulting in various news reports, including the farmer quotes.”

The born-again story-turned-ad also has Nandu Raut reaping yields of “about 20 quintals per acre with Bollgard II,” nearly 14 times the Agriculture Minister’s average of 1.4 quintals per acre. Mr. Pawar felt that Vidarbha’s rainfed irrigation led to low yields, as cotton needs “two to three waterings.” He was silent on why Maharashtra, ruled by an NCP-Congress alliance, promotes Bt Cotton in almost entirely rainfed regions. The Maharashtra State Seed Corporation (Mahabeej) distributes the very seeds the State’s Agriculture Commissioner found to be unsuited for rainfed regions seven years ago. Going by the TOI, Nandu is rolling in cash. Going by the Minister, he barely stays afloat.

Mahyco-Monsanto Biotech’s ad barrage the same week in 2011 drew other fire. Following a complaint, one of the ads (also appearing in another Delhi newspaper) claiming huge monetary benefits to Indian farmers landed before the Advertising Standards Council of India. ASCI “concluded that the claims made in the advertisement and cited in the complaint, were not substantiated.” The MMB spokesperson said the company “took cognizance of the points made by ASCI and revised the advertisement promptly…. ASCI has, on record, acknowledged MMB India’s modification of the advertisement…”

We met Nandu again as the Standing Committee MPs left his village in March. “If you ask me today,” he said, “I would say don’t use Bt here, in unirrigated places like this. Things are now bad.” He had not raised a word during the meeting with the MPs, saying he had arrived too late to do so.

“We have thrown away the moneylender. No one needs him anymore,” The Times of India news report-turned-ad quotes farmer Mangoo Chavan as saying. That’s in Antargaon, the other village the newspaper found to be basking in Bt-induced prosperity. A study of the 365 farm households in Bhambraja and the nearly 150 in Antargaon by the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti (VJAS) shows otherwise. “Almost all farmers with bank accounts are in critical default and 60 per cent of farmers are also in debt to private moneylenders,” says VJAS chief Kishor Tiwari.

The Maharashtra government tried hard to divert the MPs away from the ‘model village’ of Bhambraja (and Maregaon) to places where the government felt in control. However, Committee Chairperson Basudeb Acharia and his colleagues stood firm. Encouraged by the MPs visit, people in both places spoke their minds and hearts. Maharashtra’s record of over 50,000 farm suicides between 1995 and 2010 is the worst in the country as the data of the National Crime Records Bureau show. And Vidarbha has long led the State in such deaths. Yet, the farmers also spoke of vast, policy-linked issues driving agrarian distress here.

None of the farmers reduced the issue of the suicides or the crisis to being only the outcome of Bt Cotton. But they punctured many myths about its miracles, costs and ‘savings.’ Some of their comments came as news to the MPs. And not as paid news or a marketing feature, either.

Bt cotton thrives at cost of child labour

http://www.deccanherald.com/content/247091/bt-cotton-thrives-cost-child.html

Jyotsna Singh, New Delhi, May 4 2012, DHNS:
The problems and issues related to Bt cotton production in India have been well-documented. But, what is less known is the relationship between Bt cotton seed farming and child labour. A study  ‘Dirty Cotton’ by a team of researchers from Jawaharlal Nehru University and research agency Global March has established this link.

“Cross-pollination for production of Bt cotton seed is manual work and needs a large labour supply. As child labour is cheap, more children are brought into this business,” said Dr Bupinder Zutshi, assistant professor, centre for the study of regional development, JNU, who led the study.

Bt cotton is genetically modified variety of cotton, meant to increase yield of cotton. But the seed yielded by the crop cannot be used for sowing in the next season. The option that the farmers have is to either buy seed from the manufacturing company, or go for manual cross-pollination in which male flower is rubbed against female flower for production of cotton.

“The government has put ceiling on sale of seeds and the farmers go for manual cross-pollination. As the farmers do not earn enough profit from Bt cotton cultivation, they go for child labour,” said Dr Zutshi.

About 33 per cent farmers surveyed in the study had taken loans with the average outstanding amount per farmer at Rs 15,890.

The report mentions that in Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh, the worst states in the cultivation season of 2009-10, around 3,81,500 children below the age of 18 years were found engaged as labourers in cotton seed farms.

The authors found that profits earned from turning cotton into the final product is 850 per cent. The share of child labour in this is merely 0.8 per cent. For cotton seed production, the corresponding figures are 550 per cent and 2.5 per cent.

The report also questions the myth that children with ‘nimble fingers’ can better perform the delicate task of cross-pollination in Bt cotton seed cultivation.

According to the report, owing to the pressure by civil society regarding child labour Bt cotton seed production has relocated to impoverished and inaccessible areas to make use of cheap tribal labour, migrant labour and trafficked children from adjacent areas.

“Nearby tribal areas of Rajasthan like Dungarpur and Udaipur send children as contract labourers,” said Dr Zutshi.

Effect of Bt-Transgenic Cotton on Soil Biological Health

http://www.indianjournals.com/ijor.aspx?target=ijor:abr&volume=14&issue=1&article=002

Tarafdar Jagadish C.*, Rathore Indira, Shiva Vandana1 Central Arid Zone Research Institute, Jodhpur, Rajasthan-342 003 (India)  1Navadanya, A-60, Hauz Khas, New Delhi 110 016, India  *email: jctarafdar@yahoo.in; tarafdar@cazri.res.in

Bt cotton are plants that have been genetically modified to express the insecticidal proteins Cry 1 Acfrom subspecies of the bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (Bt), to control bollworm pest that feed on cotton. There is a persistent environmental concern that transgenic Bt-crops carry genes that have indirect undesirable effect to natural and agroecosystem function. We investigated the effect of Bt-cotton (with Cry 1 Ac gene) on several microbial and biochemical indicators in fields under sub-humid tropical condition. Twenty five fields were selected in the Vidarbha region, India, where Bt-cotton has been growing at least three consecutive years and side by side field of non-transgenic cotton is growing under clay to clay loam soil. Soil from a control (no-crop) treatment was also included from each area to compare the extent of adverse effect of Bt, if any. Samples were analyzed for actinobacteria, fungi and nitrifiers population, biomass carbon (MBC), biomass nitrogen (MBN), biomass phosphorus (MBP) and soil enzyme activities. The result revealed a significant decline in actinobacteria (17%), bacterial (14%) count as well as acid phosphatase (27%), phytase (18%), nitrogenase (23%) and dehydrogenase (12%) activities in Bt cotton compared with non-Bt cotton fields. Fungal and nitrifier counts, and esterase and alkaline phosphatase activities were not affected by the introduction of Bt-cotton in fields. However, significant decline between 8 and 9% in MBC and MBN was noticed.

 

Mahyco’s clarification on the story ‘A Decade of Bt Hype’ carried on Agrarian Crisis

 

April 18, 2012

To,

The Editor,

Indian Agrarian Crisis

Secunderabad.

This is with reference to your story titled ‘A decade of Bt hype’ that published in your site http://agrariancrisis.in  on April 17, 2012.

We would like to bring to your notice that the first paragraph of your story mentions that Mahyco is an Indian subsidiary of Monsanto which is factually incorrect. Mahyco is not an Indian subsidiary of Monsanto. Monsanto only has a minority stake of 26% in Mahyco. We feel that an error of this nature are detrimental to Mahyco’s business as it is a reputed Indian company.

I am sure you will appreciate the sensitivity involved and publish the correction at the earliest.

Thanks and regards,

Suryakant Mishra

Head – PR,

Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company Limited (Mahyco)

Dear Dr. G. V. Ramanjaneyulu,

Please find below the response from Mahyco for your story on ‘A decade of Bt hype’ published in your site.

Hope you will be able to carry the same at the earliest.

Thanks and regards,

Farooque

The PRactice

+91-9323671307

——————-

 

Farooque Shaikh 

T : +91 22 30008371-99 M: +91-9323671307   www.the-practice.net

A decade of Bt hype

K P Prabhakaran Nair

17 April 2012

In August 2002, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (rechristened Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee) was manipulated by Monsanto and its Indian subsidiary Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company, albeit through the back door, with clandestine support from vested interests in the scientific community and open support of a vocal Rajya Sabha Member. The GEAC then granted approval for the commercial cultivation of the first “Bollgard” I cotton in India, the very first genetically engineered crop in the country.

At the time I wrote an article, “Bt Cotton – Boon or Bane?” (The Hindu Business Line), which elicited spectacular enthusiasm from the reading public in India and also overseas.Sudliche Zuzammenarbeit, Berlin, a highly respected and vocal global advocacy forum, requested permission to translate the article into German and publish the same in their highly respected and well read magazine. 

At the time, I had strongly argued that the Bt cotton in India was bound to fail. A decade later, my prediction has come true. My main scientific reasoning was that the recombinant technology that was used is a technique where there is much that is not clearly understood, because it is at the very periphery of science, and results from such a technique in plant breeding is loaded with uncertainties and danger.

But half baked science, as is its wont, finds its own lobbyists for personal and pecuniary reasons. The so-called “green revolution” is another classic example in India. I had warned, even in 1980, during an international congress in Hamburg, Germany, that India’s green revolution would fall on its face. The degraded soils, dried aquifers, highly polluted ground water (loaded with so much of nitrate, making it totally non potable) and the vanishing bio-diversity due to continuous monoculture of rice-wheat with “imported” high yielding varieties (HYVs), is testimony to this.  

Add to this the cancer spread in Gurdaspur district, where uncontrolled pesticide use, an adjunct of the green revolution,  has spread the disease scare like a tornado. Go to Punjab, “cradle” of India’s green revolution, or Haryana or western Uttar Pradesh, and you will understand what I mean. Sure we produced more food grains for a while, but at what environmental and human cost?

The innumerable farmers’ suicide due to unsustainable input costs leading to bankruptcy is another feather in the green revolution lobbyists’ cap!  And now the very same messiah, who in the first instance peddled this scientifically unsound strategy, is speaking of an “ever green revolution” and God knows what is meant! This is not the central theme of this article, but the Bt cotton and the Bt hype seems to have come full circle.  

Let us first see how the “science” behind Bt technology has failed. When you transpose an alien gene (in this case from a soil habiting bacterium, Bacillus thurengiensis or Bt) into a plant cell, targeting a specific pest, in this case the dreaded American Bollworm (the most devastating cotton pest), it is expected that the protein configuration which acts as a “poison” when in the gut of the sucking insect/boll worm, stays stable. But, it simply will not.

That, in simple language, is the prime reason that while resistance to the American boll worm started faltering after three to four cotton crop seasons, other pests like the mealy bugs began to appear. And nobody ever thought of what happens to the soil in which millions of other bacteria thrive, many quite beneficial to the host plant. Without going into the intricacies of microbial science, I can say that what happens is “soil fatigue”.

This is an important reason why the so-called green revolution faltered after about a decade of its “unstoppable” spread in India. The carbon profile of Indian soils, reservoir of soil fertility, dipped so low due to indiscriminate and unbridled use of chemical fertilizers that the soils simply could not sustain crops any more. Yields declined or plateau-ed. This is also the reason why the “promoters” of Bt technology are scrambling to come out with “newer” versions of the original. So, we have “Bollgard” II, and God knows where the “development” of newer versions will stop.

We can take an analogy from automobile technology. Though the ‘internal combustion engine’ is the “basic” foundation of a four wheeler, the exterior “dressing” that the automaker keeps heaping on “newer” models, keeps customers glued to the four wheelers. Voila! There we have an automobile revolution, like the Bt cotton “revolution”. In Beijing nearly 1500 autos are added on to the roads daily. Delhi is not far behind with 1000! That is the reason we have “newer” and “newer” models every other year. We can stretch the example even to a PC (personal computer).  

As we attempt to understand the analogy better, we realize that when the “resistance” to bollworm breaks down, it will be the mealy bugs, and when that resistance also breaks down, it will be another pest. The pest gets smarter than the plant. This is the inevitable price we pay in biological science like this.

Take the case of the “miracle” dwarf varieties of wheat or rice introduced into India during the heydays of the green revolution. Where are they now? All have been wiped out. For wheat, “Brown Rust” is the most classic example.

This is the rub. And, in the process, we totally eliminate the native cotton varieties which have stood the test of time, and stood the ravages of pests and diseases, though producing less lint. In one stroke, Monsanto has succeeded in reducing vastly, if not totally eliminating, many of India’s robust native cotton varieties. India has been the loser, while Monsanto and its peddlers have been the gainers.

As of now, Bt cotton covers around 90% of the total cotton cropped area. In 2011-12, the productivity of Bt cotton is 485 kg lint per hectare. It was 560 kg lint per hectare in 2007. The danger signal has already been flashed. In other words, there is an annual reduction of more than 5% in lint yield. Will Monsanto answer please?

What we forget is that wherever yield “increase” was reported, it was under “high intensive” agriculture – ample supply of water, fertilizers, and supplemental insecticidal sprays to protect the crop against bollworm. Remove this cover, you have the crop faltering. This is the tragedy of the Vidarbha cotton farmer. Bt Cotton, when grown in rainfed areas, has miserably failed. The most telling example is from Andhra Pradesh. Of the total cotton cropped area of 47 lakh acres, in 33.73 lakh acres the crop totally failed, and remember, almost the whole area is rainfed.

Go to Vidarbha, Maharashtra’s “cotton belt”. The maximum farmers’ suicides are of cotton farmers. Why? They were financially broke after taking huge loans from unscrupulous moneylenders to prop up an unsustainable “high input technology” – exorbitantly costly seeds (when Bollgard I was introduced in India, it was sold at an unheard of price of Rs 1950 per 500 gram, while this author noted while in China the same year, Monsanto was selling the same quantity for just US $ 2, or Rs 100 at the prevalent exchange rate. This speaks volumes about the kind of financial fleecing this MNC and its Indian subsidiary have inflicted on Indian cotton farmers.

This raises an important question. Should we totally dispense with this dubious technology promoted by an alien MNC? Many ask why the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), which has the mandate to steer India’s agricultural research, is not taking up the issue? ICAR itself embarked on a project like this, and a major scientific fraud that resulted.

It is my considered opinion that Bt technology, as of now, is just half baked science. That Bt cotton will need no more insecticidal sprays has been rubbished even in USA, the home of this dubious technology.

China is slowly but surely steering away from Bt cotton. It is not the increase in cotton yield per se that leads to widespread use. It is the promise by the MNC that farmers will no more need to protect their cotton crop with insecticidal sprays.

The larger question we, as conscientious Indians, have to ask is, should we succumb to the same lure as before, and pay a far greater price, in terms of environmental integrity in the years to come, and make Indian cotton farmers slaves to agribusiness giants, or choose other alternatives? There are quite a number available. The only roadblock is we are not intent on learning.

The author is a Kerala-based international agricultural scientist, and formerly Professor, National Science Foundation; The Royal Society, Belgium; & Senior Fellow, Alexander von Humboldt Fellow, Federal Republic of Germany