The Indian trade policy analyst, Devinder Sharma, exposes below the nonsense perpetuated in a recent USDA Foreign Agricultural Service report which has attracted a flurry of excited headlines:

India may pass US with BT cotton
Truth about Trade, USA - Apr 20, 2005

India set to overtake US in cotton farming, CA - Apr 20, 2005

Biotech cotton production may beat US, India - Apr 20, 2005

Cotton farm: India set to overtake US
Economic Times, India - Apr 19, 2005

Biotech Cotton May Drive India Ahead Of US - USDA, UK - Apr 19, 2005

The USDA report claims cotton crop yields have steadily increased in India since 2002 due largely to the adoption of Bt cotton.

But this, as Devinder points out, just doesn't make sense: "Bt cotton occupies only 1.3 million acres in India in 2004. This is only a fraction of the over 22.5 million acres being planted with cotton."

In other words, for Bt cotton to be the key factor lifting Indian cotton production, the yield increases with Bt cotton would have to be absolutely astronomical - many times greater than anything even Monsanto has claimed. Instead of which, of course, there have been a deluge of complaints over the last 3 years about the performance of Bt cotton!

As P V Satheesh, Director of the Deccan Development Society, recently commented in a compelling presentation on the history of Bt Cotton in Andhra Pradesh:

"what is the story that the farmers in AP are telling us with regard to Mahyco-Monsanto Bt hybrids? It is a story of terrible loss, deep pain, and cold anger, leading to explosive violence and even death... Hundreds of farmers, who have testified in the study as well as in the film, have repeatedly told us how [Monsanto's Bt cotton] cultivation had ruined them totally."

1.Devinder Sharma on USDA hype and Bt cotton
2.India may pass US with BT cotton

1.Devinder Sharma on USDA hype and Bt cotton

The interesting part is (which USDA also acknolwedges): "In 2005 cotton plantings are 'likely to decline' in India." Earlier, a Bloomberg report (Mar 8, 2005) had said: "Cotton farmers in China, the world's largest consumer of the fibre, may plant as much as 17 per cent less because lower prices have cut profits from growing the crop." It quoted a US government agricultural attache.

Isn't it interesting. If the cotton production goes up, the USDA does not see beyond Bt cotton to be the reason. But if the farmers plant less cotton, USDA will give us all kinds of explanations!

In India and China, 2004 was an exceptionally good year for cotton. The weather remained perfect during the growing season. As a result of which attacks by pests were very low. The increase in production, however, brought misery to cotton growers. They couldn't realise the optimum price.

In India, cotton farmers demonstrated at a number of places against distress sale. They got about 20 per cent less for their produce. In China, as the Bloomberg report indicated, farmers got low prices
despite bumper production.

The cotton area in China and India is therefore likely to fall this year.

Bt cotton occupies only 1.3 million acres in India in 2004. This is only a fraction of the over 22.5 million acres being planted with cotton. In China, Bt cotton now occupies some 1.25 million acres, which again is a fraction of the total acreage. Incidentally, Bt cotton does not increase the crop yield. All it does is to reduce the dependence on pesticides in some areas. Both pesticides and Bt only reduce crop losses.

If Bt cotton increased yield, as the USDA suggests, than how come the use of pesticides on the remaining acreage under cotton is not considered as also responsible for increasing crop yields? After all, roughly 55 per cent of the total pesticides used in India are applied on cotton alone. Why don't scientists say that pesticides also increases yields?

Interestingly, Bt cotton had failed misterably in large parts of India. Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, which cultivated nearly 70 per cent of the crop in the first three years of commercialisation have already informed the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) of its failure. In China too, Bt cotton sowing had initially saved farmers some 28 kg of pesticides per hectare. Within two years, pesticides use had increased to 14 kg. This was the figure available till 2002. In the next two years -- 2003 and 2004 -- going by the same yardstick (since no official studies are available), pesticides use is almost back to the earlier figure of 28 kg per hectare.

Why are the farmers then buying Bt cotton?

Well, why did the farmers earlier buy all kinds of chemical pesticides? Isn't it surprising that even though farmers knew that pesticides were harmful, they went on purchasing and applying still more potent chemicals. They even used them in all kinds of combinations and cocktails.

Why blame the farmers? Didn't the educated and the elite continued to smoke cigarettes even though they knew that smoking was harmful. Wasn't it prescribed in bold letters on the cigarette packs that smoking is harmful for health? And yet, cigarette smoking was on an upswing. If it were not for the state intervention in clamping bans on smoking in public places, cigarette sales would have still multiplied.

Bt cotton sales are picking up the same way. It is the market, stupid. This is how the markets can lure you to sure death. Millions have been attracted to the propaganda of the markets in the past and millions will be driven by it in future. What is not being realised is that the same pesticides that were promoted by the USDA and the agricultural scientists during the past three decades, has taken a human toll of at least 600,000 people from pesticides poisoning. How? Well, the WHO tells us that some 20,000 people die every year from pesticide poisoning. Multiply that figure with 30 years (this is on a conservative scale, green revolution began around 1966-67), and you get the
staggering death toll. Isn't that mass murder?

How could the USDA promote a technology all these years that killed 600,000 people worldwide?

Much of these pesticides were applied on cotton. Bt technology too is primarily commercialised for cotton. But by the time the world realises the grave mistake in promoting Bt cotton (for the sake of commercial profits of a handful of private companies), the farmers would have paid a price, as they did earlier with chemicals.

What is the way out?

Ask the farmers. The USDA needs to look closely at a remarkable turnaround brought about by a tiny village in the heart of the killing fields of Andhra Pradesh in India. This village has stopped using chemical pesticides and has therefore no need for Bt cotton, and therefore is not worried about pests. Isn't that the way forward?

To learn more about that village, click on

May wiser sense prevail.

Devinder Sharma
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

2.India may pass US with BT cotton
20 April 2005

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - India is poised to overtake the United States in annual cotton production if India's cotton yield improvements remain on an upward track, the U.S. Agriculture Department said on Monday.

China is the world's largest cotton producer, now followed by the United States and India.

In a special report on India's cotton production, the USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service examined how cotton crop yields have steadily increased in India since 2002 due largely to the adoption of genetically modified cotton.

Both the United States and India are forecast to produce record cotton crops in the 2004/05 marketing year with 23.1 million and 18 million bales respectively, the USDA said.

India's forecast production of 18 million bales will surpass the United States' 10-year average production of 17.9 million bales, it said.

"If India yields continue to improve at the same rate as it has in the last two years, using average area, India cotton production could surpass the United States as the second-largest cotton producer in the world behind China," the USDA said.

Cotton crop yield in India jumped 26 percent in 2003/04 from the previous year. "Likewise, forecast yields in 2004/05 continued an upward trend increasing 13 percent over the previous year's record and 39 percent above the 10-year average," the USDA said.

Better yields have been driven by Indian farmers' growing use of Bt cotton, which reduces losses to bollworm infestations. In the United States, about three-fourths of all cotton planted is with gene-altered varieties.

In 2005, cotton plantings are "likely to decline" in India because of crop-switching to more profitable crops such as oilseeds, the USDA said. It did not elaborate. The USDA will not issue projections for world cotton production in marketing year 2005/06 for several more weeks.

The USDA published its report on the Internet at

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