Did Bt Cotton Save Farmers in Warangal?

Executive summary

Bt cotton sold in Andhra Pradesh as “Bollgard” was marketed by Mahyco-Monsanto, a joint venture of a Jalna based Indian Seed Company Mahyco and Monsanto, a multinational seed and agrochemical company. Bt cotton, India’s first GM crop, got the nod for its commercial cultivation in south India, in the month of March 2002. It was sown approximately in 9500 acres (one acre of land ~ 2500 m2) in the state of Andhra Pradesh, which stands third in cotton cultivation in the country, with an area of 8,87,000 ha under cotton. The State also stands first in pesticide use on cotton crop.

The Warangal district of Andhra Pradesh, a major cotton district, was the centre of negative attention as over 150 farmers, unable to come out of the debt trap they had entered into by following cotton cultivation, found no better alternative to suicide. In spite of this, about 10-20% more land was brought under cotton cultivation the very next year. In the wake of this situation, the approval given in March 2002 by the Government of India’s Genetic Engineering Approval Committee [GEAC], for commercial cultivation of Bt cotton naturally received very high attention in Andhra Pradesh.

Following the GEAC approval, approximately 1200 farmers of Warangal district planted Bt cotton over 1500 acres in Kharif 2002-03. Since such a commercial scale cultivation of Bt cotton was taking place for the first time in the State, the Andhra Pradesh Coalition in Defence of Diversity, a coalition of over 140 civil society groups in the State, decided to commission a scientific study on the results of Bt. Two agricultural scientists, Dr Abdul Qayum, formerly Joint Director of Agriculture, Andhra Pradesh, and Kiran Sakkari, who had worked with ICRISAT for three years, led the scientific study.

Simultaneously, the Community Media Trust, a remarkable media group of rural women farmers, based in Village Pastapur of Medak District, were entrusted with the responsibility of a systematic documentation of the experiences of a few selected
Bt farmers at regular monthly intervals, from August-2002 till the end of the crop season i.e., March 2003.

The results of the study indicate that the cost of cultivation for Bt cotton was Rs.1092 more than that for non-Bt cotton because there was only a meager reduction in the pesticides consumption on Bt crop. On an average, there was a significant reduction (35%) in the total yield of Bt cotton, while there was a net loss of Rs 1295/ in Bt cultivation in comparison with non-Bt cotton, where the net profit was Rs 5368/-. Around 78 per cent of the farmers, who had cultivated Bollgard this year, said they would not go for Bt the next year. The survey also reveals that 71 per cent of the Bt farmers incurred loss at the end of the season, whereas only 18 per cent of the non-Bt farmers had to face this unfortunate situation.

The study also points to the deep disappointment of farmers over the performance of Bt cotton, and that too in the very first year of its commercial cultivation. Many farmers who have grown this crop are angry about its paltry performance and express their great anguish over the hype created among the farming community, by way of overt propaganda, that Bt is a miracle seed that can resist the pest, and thereby improve the yield. It has not only shattered the hopes of scores of farmers,
but has also thrown them deeper into a biological trap.


The study was planned to serve the following objectives.
1. To document the experiences of Bt cotton farmers in the Warangal district of Andhra Pradesh.
2. To map the economics of Bt cotton cultivation vis à vis popular cotton hybrids.
3. To document the perceptions and future plans of multiple stakeholders with regard to Bt vis a vis popular hybrids.

The study has been conducted in three different patterns. The details are as follows;
1. A season-long research was initiated in two villages of the District where 22 farmers had planted Bt. Two farmers were selected randomly from each village, and throughout the crop season, these farmers were interviewed every month.

Simultaneously, their experiences about the performance of the crop were captured on video by the Community Media Trust of Pastapur village. The video documentation started in the month of August-2002 and continued till the end of the crop season i.e., till April-2003.
2. A mid-season exploratory study involving 21 farmers spread across 11 villages in the district was conducted to assess the performance of the crop across the district (in November 2002).
* The midseason exploratory study selected and visited 21 farmers cultivating Bt cotton in Kharif 2002 from 11 villages, and representing a variety of ecosystems in the district. The study team visited the fields and interviewed the farmers (individually and in groups). While these 21 farmers remained primary respondents, focus group discussions were also held in their villages on their experiences with Bt cotton cultivation. In each of these focus groups there were approximately 15-20 farmers. Thus the total number offarmers who were consulted on the issue of Bt through the Exploratory Study, was more than 200.
* The study team had discussions with different stakeholders in the district involving farmers, scientists, the market committee Secretary, and the
Manager of a Ginning Mill, on the performance of the crop till mid November 2002, during the midseason study.
3. In April 2003, at the end of the cropping season, an extensive survey was conducted by randomly selecting 225 farmers out of around 1200 farmers who had taken up the cultivation of Bt cotton in Warangal district. They constituted about 20% of all Bt farmers in the District.

Of the 225 farmers surveyed, 86 farmers [38.2%], had land holdings up to 5 acres, 84 [37.4%] had 5-10 acres, and the remaining 55 [24.4%] had more
than 10 acres of land.

Key Findings
1. Pest intensity
* The initial sucking pests like aphids and jassids were absent in both the Bt and non-Bt during the first 30 to 35 days after germination, since all the
hybrid seed sold in the market is pre-treated with Imidachloprid. However, from early October, when the crop was about 80 to 90 days old, moderate
to heavy infestation of aphids and white flies was reported throughout the area, more prominently on Bt than on non Bt crop.
* Even the dreaded pest Helicoverpa armigera was at the lowest level till early to late October. From November 2003 onwards, the bollworm infestation
increased. Later, from December onwards, pink bollworm infestation was more predominant both in Bt and in non-Bt crops.
2. Comparativ Comparative e performance of Bt and Non-Bt
a. Bt flowered earlier than non-Bt
b. Bt plant was shorter, had lesser branches, thereby reducing its yield.
c. Bt had smaller boll size
d. Bt showed higher characteristics of premature drying and boll shedding
e. Bt was less tolerant to abiotic stress
f. Bt had 10% less of American bollworm infestation compared to non-Bt and 10% more sucking pest attacks compared to non-Bt
g. Bt had less number of cotton pickings compared to Non-Bt.
h. Bt had twice as many seeds as non Bt, thus reducing the quantity of lint
3. Economics of Bt & Non Bt
* Cultivation costs of Bt cotton was Rs.1092 more than that of Non Bt cotton.
* Seeds of Bt cotton were nearly Rs.1100 more expensive than Non Bt.
* Bt farmers had to spend just a shade less, Rs.70 per acre in comparison with Non Bt farmers on plant protection, the raison d’etre for Bt cotton
* The average yield for Bt farmers was 4.5 quintals per acre, which was 2.4 quintals less than that of Non Bt farmers who got a yield of nearly 7 quintals
per acre.
* The market price for Bt cotton was around Rs.2080 a quintal, which was roughly Rs.100 less than the price fetched by non-Bt hybrids.
* All these factors together resulted in Bt farmers netting a return that was nearly Rs.6663/- less than that of Non-Bt farmers. While Bt farmers had
a net loss of Rs.1295/- per acre, non-Bt farmers earned a profit of Rs.5368/- per acre.
* While 71% of Bt farmers reported losses, only 18% of non-Bt farmers reported
* In terms of profits, while 29% of Bt farmers reported profits, 82% of non-Bt farmers had gained profit.

Biosafety Concerns
* The refugia followed by farmers were not monitored by any regulatory authority. Mahyco Monsanto had completely abdicated their responsibility for this. This raises serious concerns about the possibility of genetic pollution since the Bt
cotton pollens can transfer themselves to cotton in adjacent fields.
* Similarly the regulatory authority totally failed to monitor or control the mixing of Bt and non Bt cotton at the market yard. To offset their loss due to reduction in the price of the seed Bt cotton, almost all farmers resorted to mixing of Bt and non-Bt seed cotton before marketing. This has raised severe anxieties about the entrance of GM crops into the food chain, since cottonseed is used as feed for cattle [which can enter the human food chain through milk]. Further, cotton oil is used in cooking.

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