A compelling presentation on Bt Cotton in Andhra Pradesh by P V Satheesh, Director of the Deccan Development Society.
EXCERPTS: "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 the Bollgard cultivation had ruined them totally. In the face of this reality, the claim by Mahyco Monsanto [that farmers in Andhra Pradesh had gained five fold from Bollgard] is an example of dark humour and can easily earn them the Lie of the Century award."
THE STUDY AND THE FILM
Three years ago, almost to the day, when the Deccan Development Society[DDS] and the AP Coalition in Defence of Diversity[APCDD] began their research on Bt Cotton in Andhra Pradesh with a particular focus on the cotton district of Warangal, we had no idea what we were walking into. There was a bulldozing hype surrounding Bt Cotton that had bedazzled the politicians and policy makers. A huge scientific lobby was painting Bt cotton as a panacea for farmers and the environment. Corporate money and muscle wielded a power of such magnitude that even the media had been muzzled to a considerable extent. Huge money had poured into creating a dazzling aura around Bt cotton through a blitz of advertisements. It was an unspoken axiom that there was no science other than biotechnology and anything that challenged it was anti-science. The civil society in Andhra Pradesh, by and large, had very little clue about what genetic engineering was all about.
In this atmosphere, anyone who tried to find out the honest truth was labeled as a backward person and an avoidable hurdle in the path of modernity. The APCDD and the DDS braved this hostile environment and embarked on a quest for truth. Two courageous scientists Dr Abdul Qayum, and Mr Kiran Sakkhari, took up cudgels on our behalf, and went about the job of unravelling the agro-socio-economic mystery of Bt cotton.
They selected a transparent and open methodology, stayed close to the farmers, and gathered information from them on a fortnightly basis. Their data collectors were village based grassroots researchers with a deep understanding of agriculture. No other research group on Bt cotton in this country had done season-long studies, and a job as thorough as this. Most groups came once a while after hearing of the cotton disaster, collected data at that point of time and went back. No one stayed continuously with farmers and farming communities to record their changing perceptions about Bt cotton. This makes the present study a unique one.
At the end of the first season, when we reported to the world the total disaster of Bt cotton in Andhra Pradesh, one of the most famous apologists for Genetic Engineering, Dr Kameswara Rao, went philosophical in his article One Swallow Does Not Make A Summer. The learned doctor pontificated to the lesser mortals: It is only fair to wait till the end of the three-year period to declare Bt cotton as a success or failure. In the meanwhile, it is certainly reasonable to assess the prospects, in a non-judgmental way, using the commercial results and certainly not field trial data, which have served their purpose in gaining the approval of the GEAC. If we wait till the end of the three-year period, the farmers themselves will come out with their assessment of the benefits of Bt cotton. If the farmer is not convinced, no amount of effort through articles in Science and Nature or the whole world body of crop biotechnologists and governments can make the farmer adopt this technology.
We have waited till the end of the three years. Now the truth is out. And with it the jury too. The jury is not composed of outsiders, but the farmers themselves as the venerable Doctor had prescribed. And 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.
The study Bt Cotton in Andhra Pradesh: a three year assessment is a dispassionate report that captures farmers’ engagement with Bt cotton, their resultant economics and the ultimate desperation. On the other hand, an associated film Bt Cotton in AP; a three year fraud, brilliantly captures the mood and feelings of the farmers as they are led up the garden path by the false promises of a ruthless industry. Both these are historic documents in analysing the impact of Bt cotton in India.
The Monsanto Corporation makes a claim that Bt Cotton returns socio economic benefits to smallholder farmers globally. [See Monsanto Website] ,To evaluate this claim,, the study justifiably wanted to see how small farmers, especially under the rainfed conditions benefited from this scientific miracle. It therefore kept its focus on this section of farmers.
And now, what does the study reveal?
* Mahyco-Monsanto Bt cotton, Bollgard, has failed miserably for small farmers in Andhra Pradesh, India, in terms of yields.
While the three year average yield from Bollgard cotton for small farmers, has remained at around 650 kgs per acre, the yield for small farmers under rainfed conditions in 2005 from Bt is just about 535 kgs. The same farmers got 150 kgs more yield from growing non Bt hybrids under the same conditions as Bt. Therefore non-Bt has surpassed Bt in terms of yield by nearly 30% with 10% less expense. Therefore Bt has failed the farmers twice over in terms of yield.
* Bollgard Cotton did not reduce pesticide use.
Actually the volume of pesticide use by Bt farmers and Non Bt farmers was so thin that it was untraceable. Bt farmers on an average bought and used Rs. 2571 worth of pesticide while the non Bt farmers bought and used Rs.2766 worth of pesticides over three years. The difference is barely around 7% of the pest management costs and an invisible 2% of their total cultivation costs.
* Bollgard did not bring profit to farmers
The three year average tells us that the non-Bt farmers earned 60% more than Bt farmers. In actual fact, in place of profit, Bt cotton, especially the Mahyco Monsanto varieties, brought untold miseries to farmers culminating in violent street protests and the burning of seed outlets in the city of Warangal. Farmers tied up Mahyco Monsanto representatives in their villages and the police had to go and rescue the hapless salesmen.
* Bollgard did not reduce the cost of cultivation
Looking back, it is evident that farmers had to spend not only 3-4 times more for the Mahyco-Monsanto’s proprietary Bollgard seeds but had to take extra care to manure, irrigate and look after their precious Bt crop. Many farmers, especially in the rainfed areas, spent at least a couple of thousand rupees more per acre in comparison to their non Bt hybrids. On an average, the Bt farmers had incurred 12% more costs in cultivating their Bt crops in comparison with their non Bt fraternity.
* Bollgard did not generate healthier environment.
Our researchers felt that a special kind of root rot was being spread by Bollgard cotton. Farmers came out with complaints that they were not able to grow other crops after Bt because it had infected their soil very badly. As against this,the soil in which the farmers grew non-Bt hybrids was extremely friendly to other crops. This is an early warning and needs active research by soil scientists immediately.
On all counts, the Mahyco-Monsanto Bt hybrids had failed the farming community in Andhra Pradesh. But with an unimaginable audacity, the industry commissioned a study to a market research agency [recall that in 2004 also the company had commissioned the study to another market research agency and not to scientists or development economists] and with its now well known data manipulation tactics, claimed that the AP farmers had gained five fold from Bollgard, compared to their non Bt hybrids. Hundreds of farmers, who have testified in the study as well as in the film, have repeatedly told us how the Bollgard cultivation had ruined them totally. In the face of this reality, the claim by Mahyco Monsanto is an example of dark humour and can easily earn them the Lie of the Century award.
Farmers in Warangal were so vexed with this corporate distortion of their misery that they held hostage the Mahyco Monsanto representative in their village, took to the streets in a violent protest in the city of Warangal, and burnt and destroyed seed stores that stocked Bollgard. Newspapers in the district continuously reported the total ruin of tens of thousands of acres that had planted Bollgard cotton.
But the company-sponsored reports did not reflect any of this reality. They continued to play the company tunes and blow up their miniscule, manipulated successes. Bureaucrats were bought over, official enquiries were distorted, false data was fed to media and an unreal world under the corporate command was created.
It is this atmosphere of total surrender to the industry that makes attempts like the current study very important. They not only uphold the dignity of independent scientific enquiry but also herald the liberation of the scientific community from the chains of corporate sponsored tainted- research. They also reflect the true reality of the concerns of the farming communities and prevent these concerns from being bulldozed by the corporate power, which in league with arrogant pseudo science, populate the lobbies of corrupt political power.
I once again thank the two courageous researchers Dr Abdul Qayum and Mr Kiran Sakkhari, who put their hearts and souls in finding out the truth about Bt cotton from the fields and farms of small and hapless farmers in various parts of Andhra Pradesh.
By now they have made their mark worldwide as exceptional researchers who have the mettle in their soul to swim against fashionable currents. My deepest gratitude goes to them. Ms Venkata Lakshmi of the Permaculture Association of India, who co-researched the study grew in stature as a researcher over the last two years. Her patient interaction with farmers unearthed priceless perceptions. I thank her and wish her a great future in this line of research.
The civil society groups in these three districts especially, CROPS, JAGRUTI, MARI, PEACE, PRAGATI, PRATIBHA, SARVODAYA, SEED, SEVA, SPACE, SSS, SUN(P) and CSTD have been the backbone of the study. I express my earnest appreciation for their collaboration in the study. My very special thanks are due to Mr Murali of MARI, Warangal and Mr Damodar, the Warangal District Convenor of APCDD, who offered unstinted support and guidance to the study at every stage. The team of data writers [mentioned at the end of this study] from all the collaborating NGOs, who stayed in their villages meeting farmers at regular intervals to collect and collate their data, deserve a huge, huge thanks.
My colleague Giridhar, Joint Director, DDS patiently provided the logistic support all through the years and made the study possible.
The women filmmakers of DDS Community Media Trust have once again made an extraordinary film called Bt Cotton in Warangal: A three year fraud. Their previous film Why are Warangal Farmers Angry with Bt Cotton made in 2003has now been translated into French, Spanish, Thai and German besides English and is making waves around the world. It has also been shown in film festivals, national and internationl. They have continued their strides to bring out a new perspective on Bt cotton this year. To make this film, they have travelled to Warangal month after month, braving the scorching sun, carrying their equipment, walking miles into farmers’ fields, talking to farmers, especially women, creating a camaraderie and generating brilliant interviews. They have filmed the death of Bt cotton at every stage and analysed the reasons with farmers. The last year of their filming was led by Eedulapally Manjula and was supported by Matoor Shakuntala, Nagwar Kavita, Ippapalle Mollamma, Humnapur Laxmamma, Borancha Sangamma and Pastapur Chinna Narsamma. Being small and marginal farmers themselves, the media women of CMT have sensitively captured the images and voices of the Bt farmers in crisis. The brilliance and invaluableness of their effort cannot be adequately described. I reserve my deepest appreciation for them.
And finally my heart and gratitude go out to those hundreds of farmers who spent their precious time with us in offering us information and their perceptions on the performance of Bt cotton on their fields. Most of them were small farmers who had seen Bt cotton as the light at the end of the tunnel of darkness they had traversed in pesticide dominated cotton cultivation. But it was not to be. The light that shone was an artificial glow produced by the industry’s hype. When they came out of the tunnel and saw denser darkness surrounding them, they lost all hope in life. It is this sense of total loss that they have shared with us. We hope somewhere this report will have some impact in doing justice for these farmers and liberate them from the clutches of the predatory industrial agriculture.
P V Satheesh April 12, 2005
Convenor, AP Coalition in Defence of Diversity
Director, Deccan Development Society
Monsanto's "lie of the century" - PV Satheesh
A compelling presentation on Bt Cotton in Andhra Pradesh by P V Satheesh, Director of the Deccan Development Society.