Recently excerpts from a long-term study on Bt cotton in South Africa were published. They showed:

*Out of 3,000 farmers who originally grew Bt cotton, only 700 continue to do so (an 80% dropout rate). One of the farmers was quoted as saying, 'Four years ago we were told we would make lots of money but we work harder and make nothing.'

*Farmers who grew Bt cotton are now in an average of $1,300 debt as a result.

The following letter was published in South Africa's Business Report of Sunday, 3 July in response to a letter published the previous Sunday that came from TJ Buthelezi, amongst others. Buthelezi has been flown around the world by Monsanto to promote its Bt cotton. Critics have coined the nickname 'Bt Buthelezi' to illustrate his unconditional support to Bt cotton: during a trip to Monsanto's headquarters in St. Louis, Buthelezi was quoted as saying, I wouldn't care if it were from the devil himself.'


In response to the letter published on 26 June 2005 in Business Report, and an identical letter circulated widely on behalf of the same farmers by Hans Lombard, a public relations consultant to the biotechnology industry, we would like to reiterate the findings of our research that genetically engineered Bt cotton has not created a flourishing cotton farming community in Makhathini as presented to the world, and has not been able to help them overcome the challenges that African cotton farmers face.

The letter refers to a study done by the University of Reading and University of Pretoria which demonstrated the purported benefits of Bt cotton for Makhatini farmers. However, a recent review published by these same authors, in the March 2005 edition of AgBiotechNet, confirms that the situation was not sustainable and acknowledges the problems of drawing conclusions from one season - a point that raises questions about the findings of the original study.

In India, similar trends are emerging; in May 2005, the Indian regulatory authority withheld licenses for the commercial cultivation of three varieties of Bt cotton in Andra Pradesh, following the release of studies showing their dismal performance over the past three years and severe social and economic impacts. In China, zero yield gain has been reported for Bt cotton although pesticides have been reduced, primarily because of an over-use of pesticides by Chinese farmers prior to Bt cotton.

Biowatch research results were presented to Makhatini farmers at a research feedback meeting on 17 September 2004. The farmers that attended this meeting agreed with our research findings. Cleary there are different opinions amongst Makhatini farmers and the situation is more complex than that presented.

It should be noted that Biowatch has not yet published the results of its five-year research project, and that the research referred to by the authors of the letter reflects only extracts of Biowatch's research. Biowatch's final word on the matter will be encapsulated in research that will be published in a peer-reviewed journal later this year.

Leslie Liddell
Biowatch SA