1.Bt cotton doesn't hike yield: experts
Daily News & Analysis, February 27 2008
They trash govt claim crediting it for India's success story, say gene merely helps keep pests at bay
NEW DELHI: Indian agriculture experts have debunked recent claims that Bt cotton has been a boon to Indian farmers.
Bt cotton was introduced in India in 2002 and has found favour with the government as well as Cotton Association of India, which attributed increased output this year to higher productivity of Bt cotton.
According to the latest International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) report, Bt cotton cultivation has helped India increase its production and become the second largest cotton producer, next to China. It said India, which recorded the fastest growth in genetically modified (GM) crop adoption globally, can attain food self-sufficiency once it allows commercialisation of GM crops.
However, Krishan Bir Choudhary, president of Bharatiya Krishak Samaj and former director, National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation (Nafed), junked the claim. 'The rainfall was better. Wherever crops receive enough water, production has been good, and not just for cotton. The Bt gene is meant to prevent bollworm pest and does not boost productivity at all,' said Choudhary.
A Netherlands-based organisation, Friends of the Earth International (FEI), pointed out that most GM cotton outside US is engineered to contain an insecticide that kills selected insect pests. The insecticide is derived from a soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), and the seed is thus called Bt cotton.
'Bt cotton has been heralded in the media as a key factor for the increase of cotton production in Indian agriculture in the past three years, and as an important contribution to the improvement of livelihoods of small farmers in the country,' said FEI.
Mentioning problems of poor performance and higher cost of Bt cotton, it cited an article in Nature Biotechnology, which notes that Bt cotton varieties used in India (which were developed for the short US growing season) lose their insecticidal properties late in India's longer growing season, and that the Bt cotton insecticide is not expressed in 25% of the cotton balls of India's preferred hybrid cotton varieties.
FEI said Bt cotton's role in Indian agriculture has been greatly exaggerated by industry sources and the monsoon and weather factors are the main factors behind the productivity increase, which has boosted not only cotton production but also that of several other crops. Further, Bt cotton has not contributed to helping most small cotton farmers escape the agrarian crisis that continues to threaten their livelihoods, the FEI said.
Daily News & Analysis, February 27 2008
The genetically modified (GM) crops in general and Bt cotton in particular have become a bugbear of sorts. For the last few years a heated debate has been raging about the rights and wrongs of the matter, but no one is wiser at the end of it all. Well-meaning experts are ranged on either side, and they have been arguing their case loudly if not always clearly and convincingly. Unfortunately, a partisan spirit has been the reigning factor. Now the battle has resumed again with regard to Bt cotton.
There are those who think that the GM crops are only a pretext for the big corporations in the business to enslave the poor and uninformed farmers, and that some canny politicians are supporting big business in the matter. The criticism is not completely off the mark, though it is possible that many of them have seen real value in these new technologies. But such fears cannot be used to discredit the very idea of GM crops, even if the evangelists do appear a bit too blinded by claims of the marvels of GM crops.
There are vested interests on both sides. We need then a clear view of the issue. The government should have played the role of a neutral umpire. But there are fears that the Indian government has leaned on the side of the pro-GM lobby, without adequate scientific research to back the liberal use of such seeds.
There does not seem to be an easy way out of the tangle. Take, for example, the latest round of claims and counter-claims about Bt cotton, the only GM crop in India, which has been sown in 6.3 million hectares out of a total acreage of 9.3 million hectares in India. There has been an increase in the production of cotton, and the Geneva-based non-profit International Service for the Acquisition of Agro-Biotech Applications Services (ISAAAS) has attributed this increase to the success of the GM crop. On the other hand, Krishan Bir Chaudhary, president, Bharat Krishak Samaj, counters it by saying that the increase in cotton production is more due to good rainfall in the last few years. A battle seems to be in the offing.
Farmers' suicides in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, which are due to indebtedness caused by high cost Bt cotton have complicated matters in public perception. It has given rise to the fear that Bt cotton could be the culprit behind the suicides. This adds a serious dimension to the subject. It is time that the government steps in with a rigorous enquiry into the matter and clears the air once and for all, before we commit to the use of this technology in other crops.