1.Report of a Fact Finding Visit to Guntur District, Andhra Pradesh
2.Bt Cotton in Khammam: A fact finding report
These newly available reports on the Bt cotton problems being experienced in Andhra Pradesh show how the desperation induced by the problems of Bt cotton (suicide is mentioned repeatedly by farmers as an obvious way out of their difficulties - see item 2) is itself being exploited by rival Bt cotton companies as a reason for purchasing their products in future.
What these companies seem to be doing is using the farmers' bad experiences with Bt cotton as a spring board for aggressively marketing their particular brand of expensive Bt cotton seeds as the answer to the problems generated by their rivals' products. In this way this year's failure of Bt cotton is itself a means of maximizing Bt seed sales for next year!
This farce has only been made possible because the Indian Government has pinned its colours to the mast of Bt cotton, proclaiming it a breakthough technology.
Their failure to enquire into its real performance or to hold the Bt companies accountable for the consequences of their aggressive marketing, is placing India's famers on a Bt treadmill from which - unless by suicide - they can gain no release.
EXCERPTS (item 2): ...the incidence of Jassids is severe in Bt cotton compared to Non-Bt cotton. There is 50-60% damage in Bt cotton due to jassids. The leaves in Bt cotton have become red and plants are stunted in growth. There are only 15-20 bolls/plant in Bt cotton compared to 40-50 bolls in Non-Bt cotton.
In these various kinds of Bt and non-Bt Cotton, the worst hit cotton plots are Legal Bt cotton fields viz., RCH-2 Bt and Bunny Bt with Jassids and secondary pests like Spodoptera and Sylapta. This clearly shows that minor pests that were not causing major damage have become major due to Bt-Cotton.
...instead of a proper analysis of the situation, the rumors being spread are that RCH-2 Bt Cotton has failed completely and that Bunny Bt Cotton performed better. Next year, many farmers are planning to go for Bunny-Bt Cotton in a big way and the Company has already started advertising about Bunny Bt Cotton in the villages.
When the Fact Finding Team was discussing with a farmer of Bt cotton..., a team of Field Assistants of a Bt Cotton company came to the field. Finally they said to the farmer, "Brother, you spray Tracer once and your crop will yield tremendously. In the next village, there is a Bunny Bt Cotton plot where each plant has 200 bolls. You should also go for Bunny Bt Cotton next year". This is the way by which the ... ground is being laid for the next year to lure farmers towards Bunny Bt cotton.
(item 1): the government has to pro-actively assess the performance of Bt Cotton in comparison to non-Bt Cotton, understand the technology and its full ramifications and support the farmers in making informed choices rather than allow unilateral aggressive propaganda in favour of Bt Cotton.
1.Report of a Fact Finding Visit to Guntur District, Andhra Pradesh
Objective: To look at the performance of Bt Cotton in Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh
Details: The visit was made by Mr Ramprasad (Entomologist) and Ms Kavitha Kuruganti of Centre for Sustainable Agriculture on 22nd and 23rd November, 2005.
Villages visited include Pedapalakalur, Perecherla, Nidumukkala, Endrayi, Tallacheruvu and Achampeta. In addition to farmers in these villages, farmers spoken to include ones from Cherukupalem, Chamarthi, Kothapalli and Mittapalem of Achampeta block. The team also saw field trials of Bt Cotton in Jangamguntlapalem (Krishidhan Seeds) and Kantepudi (Pravardhan Seeds).
Fields of Bunny Bt Cotton, RCH2 Bt Cotton, J K Durga and Bhaskar [non-Bt Cotton], Super Bunny [non-Bt Cotton], illegal Bt Cotton like "Brahma Bt", "Rudra Bt", "Kurnool Bt" and field trials of Pravardhan Seeds and Krishidhan Seeds were visited during the visit.
Findings of the visit:
* Nearly all the farmers met during the visit felt that Bt Cotton fared worse than non-Bt Cotton this year, especially in terms of economics and yields.
* Farmers consistently reported that Bt Cotton is stress-intolerant and could not withstand heavy rains. While some farmers attributed the far-less-than-promised performance to rains, others had already made a comparison with non-Bt Cotton fields which were showing more tolerance to the excessive rains and had observed that Bt Cotton was decidedly worse.
* There were some fields where illegal Bt Cotton was better than approved Bt Cotton, as per the farmers.
* In a village like Nidumukkala, except for some demonstration plots by Bt Cotton companies, the rest of the village has gone in for unapproved Bt Cotton. It was not just monocropping of Bt Cotton, but monocropping of unapproved hybrids here. Farmers are not satisfied with what they are obtaining and many reported that they would go in for a mix of Bt and non-Bt Cotton next year.
* Data from the department indicates that Rasi Seeds had sold around 35000 packets, while Nuziveedu Seeds had sold around 2000 packets of approved Bt Cotton. Most sales were in Piduguralla, Narasaraopeta and Macherla areas. The total cotton area reported by the agriculture department is around 97 thousand hectares in Guntur district this year. While the department has sales figures only for approved Bt Cotton, our own visits to villages indicate that at least 60-80% cotton land in many villages is under Bt Cotton, including unapproved Bt Cotton hybrids. There were some germination failure cases of Bunny Bt Cotton at the beginning of the season and the company had compensated some farmers through seed replacement.
* While the cost per acre for Bt Cotton as well as non-Bt Cotton hovered around Rs. 10,000/acre, the average yields being reported by farmers with Bt Cotton were around 4-7 quintals, while non-Bt Cotton yields are around 7-10 quintals/acre.
* Farmers had sprayed upto 12-13 times on Bt Cotton. For instance, B Prasad Babu of Pedapalakalur had sprayed 13 times and had also applied fertilizers four times. Farmers have also said that fertilizer application for Bt Cotton was higher.
* We came across the case of a farmer whose advertisement appeared in the papers that day, claiming 15 quintals of produce from his Bunny Bt Cotton farm, while the farmer had harvested only 2 quintals uptil then [Mr T Prasanna Kumar, Nidumukkala]. He expects another eight quintals or so only. His cost of cultivation per acre is around 18000/- rupees per acre and his ten quintals of produce might just about fetch a return of Rs. 18000/-. Incidentally, his first two quintals of produce were sold for only Rs. 1500/quintal. This might mean that the farmer the company is showcasing for other farmers in their publicity may not even break even! Only the yield of ten quintals is being talked about the farmer in this case had applied nearly three times the usual fertilizer application on cotton. There were also seven sprays of chemical pesticides on this plot by the time of our visit. Included in his cost of cultivation mentioned here are land lease costs of Rs. 6000/acre
* Other farmers like Manchineni Ram Mohan Rao who had gone in for "Kurnool Bt Cotton" [unapproved Bt Cotton] in the same village had spent upto Rs. 15000/acre, including on 15 sprays of pesticides. So far, he has obtained only 2 quintals per acre and expects only around 5 more. The market rate for cotton is ranging around Rs. 1200/quintal to Rs. 1700/-. In Achampeta, farmers like Ala Koteswara Rao had spent around Rs. 10,000/acre with yields hovering only around 1-2 quintals/acre
* A meeting with a large number of farmers in the outlet of Vinay Sai Traders in Achampeta town found that most farmers have had unsatisfactory experience with Bt Cotton both approved and unapproved. Expenditure per acre was around Rs. 10,000/- to 12,000/- for most farmers here. The number of pesticide sprays was around 7-8. The yields were however in the range of 2-4 quintals only. Non-Bt Cotton farmers with expenses in the same range reported higher yields of upto 6-7 quintals/acre.
* Bt Cotton farmers reported high incidence of sucking pests like aphids, jassids, whitefly and diseases like black arm and leaf spot. There is severe reddening of the crop witnessed in many locations
* Many farmers opined that Bt Cotton's stress intolerance has to be balanced with non-Bt Cotton and its ability to withstand stress. For next year, farmers interviewed are of the opinion that a shift to maize might be better. Many farmers also felt that a mix of Bt Cotton and non-Bt Cotton might ensure better results.
* Bt Cotton's stress intolerance was clear when fields of Bt Cotton and non-Bt Cotton right adjacent to each other were inspected in Achampeta. With the same growing conditions, Bt Cotton's vulnerability to higher incidence of sucking pests and diseases was obvious here.
* The economics of Bt Cotton was more adverse than on non-Bt Cotton. In this district, most farmers had spent more on Bt Cotton in terms of seed cost [for approved Bt Cotton] and on fertilizers. The difference in pesticide sprays between Bt Cotton and non-Bt Cotton was only in the range of 3-4 sprays, that too on inexpensive pesticides. Both Bt cotton growers and non-Bt Cotton growers had to go in for expensive pesticides.
* For thousands of illegal Bt Cotton growers, there are no accountability mechanisms that could hold the sellers liable for the losses incurred.
* Even for the ones who went in for approved Bt Cotton, unless the government makes a better analysis of the technology and its shortcomings, there may not be much reprieve.
In this context, the government has to pro-actively assess the performance of Bt Cotton in comparison to non-Bt Cotton, understand the technology and its full ramifications and support the farmers in making informed choices rather than allow unilateral aggressive propaganda in favour of Bt Cotton.
2.Bt Cotton in Khammam: A fact finding report
Objective: To investigate into the widespread disease and pest damage in Bt Cotton being reported by farmers in Khammam district of Andhra Pradesh.
A team of agriculture scientists from Centre for Sustainable Agriculture [CSA] consisting of Dr. Raghunath (entomologist) and Mr.Zakir Hussain (pathologist) and Mr Ramesh, Field Coordinator of SECURE, a local NGO visited Khammam district of Andhra Pradesh to investigate the performance of Bt cotton this season. This team visited Palvancha (Pattinagar village), Burgumpahad (Lakshmipuram and Sanjeevreddypalem village) and Julurupad (Kommugudem and Karrivaripalem villages) mandals of Khammam district on 18th and 19th of November. The team had discussions with and visited fields of Bt cotton farmers, non-Bt cotton farmers, input-agents and farmers growing illegal Bt cotton.
* This season, there was high rainfall with floods in Khammam district and the incidence of Helicoverpa is less compared to last year.
* Sucking pest incidence was severe in all the cotton fields and secondary pest outbreak is more in these areas. There is outbreak of spodoptera (tobacco caterpillar) and Sylapta derogate (Cotton leaf roller) in Khammam district. These are normally minor pests in cotton but have become major pests this year. In fact the severity of these pests is more in Bt cotton fields compared to Non-Bt cotton fields.
* Coming to sucking pests, the incidence of Jassids is severe in Bt cotton compared to Non-Bt cotton. There is 50-60% damage in Bt cotton due to jassids. The leaves in Bt cotton have become red and plants are stunted in growth. There are only 15-20 bolls/plant in Bt cotton compared to 40-50 bolls in Non-Bt cotton. The Bt cotton fields are stunted in growth and appeared like red bushes with minimum Bolls.
* This year, according to official reports from Department of Agriculture, about 80% of the cotton area has been planted with illegal Bt Cotton and farmers popularly call it as "GUDDA Bt". There are around 20000 acres of area in Khammam district under legal Bt Cotton. The remaining area is under Non-Bt Cotton which includes other commercial Hybrids.
* In these various kinds of Bt and non-Bt Cotton, the worst hit cotton plots are Legal Bt cotton fields viz., RCH-2 Bt and Bunny Bt with Jassids and secondary pests like Spodoptera and Sylapta. This clearly shows that minor pests that were not causing major damage have become major due to Bt-Cotton.
"Bt-Cotton is not suitable to our climatic situations and we became fools by growing Bt cotton this year", says Chilukuri Nageswara Rao a pesticide dealer and commission agent of Lakshmipuram village of Burgumpahad. "Non-Bt is giving more yields and crop is healthy compared to Bt Cotton which has become reddened", says Badeti Radhamma of Nakeerpet of Burgumpahad. Several farmers complained that they incurred severe losses by growing Bt Cotton this year.
"I am ready to commit suicide", an RCH-2 Bt farmer by name Bhukya Mangithya of Kommugudem cried out in frustration. "I have grown Mahyco Bt Cotton last year and I have not made any profit out of it. This year, with a lot of hope I opted for RCH-2 Bt Cotton as suggested by the local commission agents. The result is that I suffered a huge loss and till date, I got only 2 quintals and I may get another 1 quintal extra, per acre. When I took this cotton to the market, the buyers are saying that the cotton quality is poor and I got only Rs.700/quintal. How can I survive with Rs. 1400 this year?". He said that he spent nearly Rs.77000 on the 7 acres on which he has grown Bt Cotton and in return, got only Rs.19600. "I am panicking now, not knowing what to do. My family members have already become agriculture labourers. In this situation, there is no other way except committing suicide", he said.
"Our entire village has opted only for Bt-Cotton this year. Now, we are waiting for any Bt Cotton company representative to come back to us so that we can tie him up in our village" says Vadda Venkata Narayana of Karrivarigudem, a village adjacent to Kommugudem. "We opted for Bt Cotton as commission agents spread the message that Bt Cotton can control pink bollworm also and instead, our fields became red carpets" added Daravath Raamulu of the same village.
When the Fact Finding Team was discussing with a farmer of Bt cotton in Sanjeevreddy palem village of Burgumpahad mandal, a team of Field Assistants of a Bt Cotton company came to the field. Finally they said to the farmer, "Brother, you spray Tracer once and your crop will yield tremendously. In the next village, there is a Bunny Bt Cotton plot where each plant has 200 bolls. You should also go for Bunny Bt Cotton next year". This is the way by which the next year's ground is being laid for the next year to lure farmers towards Bunny Bt cotton.
The FFT also sought to understand why so many farmers have opted for Bt Cotton this year. Some of the points that emerged are:
* It is promoted as a variety instead of a GE crop
* Propaganda by industry that it solves major pest problems like Pink bollworm
* Some are spreading news that Non-Bt Cotton cannot survive between Bt Cotton fields all around. This forces everyone to shift to Bt Cotton
* False message about very high yields of Bt-Cotton in some plots in neighboring villages
* Credit support by commission agents and input agencies for the farmers growing Bt cotton.
Finally, instead of a proper analysis of the situation, the rumors being spread are that RCH-2 Bt Cotton has failed completely and that Bunny Bt Cotton performed better. Next year, many farmers are planning to go for Bunny-Bt Cotton in a big way and the Company has already started advertising about Bunny Bt Cotton in the villages.
It is evident from the fact finding visit that Bt Cotton has badly failed the farmers. Even their cost of cultivation has not been covered this year and many farmers are ready to commit suicides.
The incidence of sucking pests and secondary pests has been damagingly high on Bt Cotton. This is something that needs deep investigations from the government. Farmers have to be advised accordingly, based on these investigations so that they are not lured by aggressive marketing which does not mention all these shortcomings and hazards of Bt Cotton.
This struggle will be as long as the policy environment (of government extension agencies and universities) blindly supports Bt Cotton without making scientific assessments on the need and desirability of bringing in Bt Cotton and its impacts.
It is also clear that Bt Cotton companies have begun their aggressive marketing once again, targeted to maximize sales for next year.
Agriculture cannot be allowed to become a gamble that farmers take, full of unpredictability of success or failure. Bt Cotton certainly is a game of unpredictability, with its established extreme uneven performance across years and its extreme stress intolerance. Farmers have to be protected pro-actively from such technologies.
The government should also make immediate moves to get the companies to pay compensation to all loss-incurring farmers, for bringing in a defective technology and hyping it up as the magical solution for all the problems that farmers are facing.