Despite the headline about "higher yields" drawing farmers to GM cotton, note that this is really a story about the triumph of hype over reality.
The article tells us that 'the Maharashtra Government is hoping that the Bt cotton's higher yield would rescue the cotton cultivator from the lower returns.'
But the article notes, 'This hope [of higher yields] persists despite a report by the State's Agriculture Commissioner, who evaluated genetically modified cotton's performance in khariff 2002-03... "as per the feedback of field officers, the performance of Bt cotton as compared with other popular hybrid varieties like NCS-145, etc., is not satisfactory. That is, non-Bt was better than Bt."'
With its own Agricultural Commissioner and field officers telling it Bt cotton's performance was unsatisfactory in Maharashtra, the Maharashtra Government should be protecting its impoverished farmers from Bt cotton - just like Andhra Pradesh which has just banned Monsanto from the State following its refusal to compensate farmers for the poor performance of GM cotton.
The problem isn't confined to Andhra and Maharashtra. The All India Coordinated Cotton Improvement Project corroborates, in its 2004-05 annual report, the conclusions of various studies by civil society organisations and independent scientific bodies about the failure of Bt cotton in the 2004 season.
But the Maharashtra Government is pinning its hopes on higher yields from Bt cotton despite even its own evidence that Bt cotton is being outperformed by non-Bt cotton.
The power of hype doesn't only enthral politicians and farmers in India, of course. The seductive impact of biotech's bad idea virus is a world wide phenomenon.
In the U.S., for instance, a University of Iowa study on why farmers are growing GM soya found that while increasing yields was cited by the majority of farmers in the study as the reason for planting GM soya, the research showed they were actually getting lower yields!
iowa is not alone. An annual review of the uptake of GM crops for 1998 reported yield improvements of 12% for farmers in the US growing GM soya, based on their own estimates. But a review of over 8,000 university-based controlled varietal trials involving GM soya in the US for that same year showed almost exactly the opposite - yield reductions averaging 7%.
In other words, there was a nearly 20% gap between perception and reality.
Higher yields draw ryots to genetically modified cotton
The Hindu, June 13 2005
* Despite being a major producer, Maharashtra's productivity is the lowest among major States.
* The cotton farmer stands to lose Rs. 520 a quintal due to the monopoly perchase scheme.
MUMBAI: As farmers will henceforth be paid only the Centre's minimum support price for cotton, instead of the earlier higher rate, under the monopoly purchase scheme here, the Maharashtra Government is hoping that the Bt cotton's higher yield would rescue the cotton cultivator from the lower returns. More they grow per acre would mean more in their pockets.
Despite being a major producer - 34 per cent of country's cotton acreage under rainfed conditions - Maharashtra's productivity is the lowest amongst major States: 62.75 kg of lint per acre compared to Haryana's 161.53 kg, Punjab's 183 kg, and Andhra Pradesh's 144 kg. The increase in the output here has been due to more area brought under cotton cultivation, driven by higher prices offered by the State, not productivity. Now with the advent of Bt cotton, productivity could move up.
Now the logic is that with genetically modified cotton becoming increasingly popular with its perceived higher-per-acre yield the farmers are likely to realise more despite the lower prices. The Government does not intend to pay more than the minimum support price of Rs. 1,980 a quintal against the previous year's Rs. 2,500. The farmer stands to lose Rs. 520 a quintal.
This hope persists despite a report by the State's Agriculture Commissioner, who evaluated genetically modified cotton's performance in khariff 2002-03, saying variation in yields between the Bt and non-Bt varieties ranged between 16.31 and 60.07 per cent but "as per the feedback of field officers, the performance of Bt cotton as compared with other popular hybrid varieties like NCS-145, etc., is not satisfactory. That is, non-Bt was better than Bt."
Bt cotton is fast catching up despite fears in some quarters, including reports of pest attacks on some varieties. Non-officials speak of "a third of cotton acreage" already being under Bt cotton but trade statistics from seed marketers show that of the 68 lakh acres under cotton, a total of 11 lakh acres would opt for Bt cotton this year. Last year, 5.25 lakh acres was under Bt cotton.
The Government is banking on this enlarged shift to Bt cotton, as it would help the farmer bridge the price gap by improved yields. Till the 2004-05 season, the monopoly purchase scheme paid the Centre's minimum support price plus advance bonuses anticipating profits from the sale of cotton converted into bales.
The profits never came, but losses mounted to around Rs. 5,600 cr. The practice of `advance bonus' started in 1994-95.
The government, however, is not actively canvassing the switch from traditional varieties to Bt cotton, apparently not wanting to be seen as promoting Bt cotton. But the view among policy makers is that "when choices get limited, farmers, driven by search for profits, know which way to turn." However, top agriculture officials concede that farmers are being asked to go for other crops, implying that oilseeds and Soya could be a good choice.
Bt cotton got its toehold around the time the monopoly scheme was diluted by allowing the entry of private traders who actually pushed the prices down.
The Government had expected the traders to help ease its responsibility for buying the cotton and that year, the acreage under Bt cotton went up from 30,100 to 54,000. The Government's operations were limited to buying 4.97 lakh quintals against 153 lakh quintals in the previous year.
That grew nearly tenfold to 5,25,000 acres in 2004-05 despite the high seed cost of Rs. 1,600 per acre. According to an ACNielsen-ORG Marg survey cited by Monsanto, the Bollgard variety gave a yield of 7.08 quintals per acre in 2003 against the traditional varieties' 5.60 quintals ”” a 26 per cent improvement in the yield.
A survey sourced to IMRB International by Monsanto for yields in 2004 showed it was higher at 50 per cent. That seems to draw the farmers to Bt cotton.