Bt Cotton in Andhra Pradesh

Executive SummaryCotton crop occupies occupies about 10% of the total area in Andhra Pradesh. Warangal has a prominent place in the cotton cultivation in Andhra Pradesh covering 18% of the total state’s cotton acreage. It has acquired a very bad name with more than 200 farmers committing suicides due to heavy pest infestations leading to irrevocable losses. Responding to the crisis in cotton cultivation, some NGOs in Warangal district have initiated alternative pest management approaches (Non Pesticidal methods popularly known as NPM) using cost effective, locally available resources, which proved to be successful on community basis. Under these circumstances, Monsanto Inc through its joint venture Mahyco-Monsanto Biotech Ltd has introduced three Bt cotton hybrids viz., MECH-12, MECH-162 and MECH 184 for commercial cultivation with the approval from Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) of Ministry of Environments and Forests of Government of India in March 2002 despite lot of resistance from different corners such as Environmentalists, NGOs to these Genetically Modified Crops as it is not a sustainable technology and will only increase the costs of cultivation. Bt cotton was given a wide publicity both on visual and print media as great a saviour of cotton farmers from the bollworms. Bollworms are major devastating pests on cotton causing lot of damage to the crops. Advertisements and press releases like "Bollworm resistant Bt varieties could increase the yields by 30 to 40 per cent and require 70 per cent less pesticide" (statement given by Raju Barwale, Managing Director of the company which released the Bt cotton seeds in India -The Biotech Advantage June 12, 2002) naturally attract farmers and tend them to grow Bt cotton. AP Coalition in defence of Diversity in association with Deccan Development Society constituted a scientific team in August 2002 to look in to the performance of the Bt crop and also to verify the truthfulness of the claims made by Monsanto about the Bt cotton. The study team in collaboration with the NGOs identified two villages and tracked its performance vis-à-vis Non-Bt hybrids till end of the crop season. A mid season study was also conducted in the November 2002 covering 11 villages. Later at the end of the cotton season, a large scale survey had been conducted covering 225 farmers who had grown both Bt and Non-Bt hybrids. The results of the survey revealed that Monsanto hybrids were utter failure compared to the Non-Bt hybrids. Despite that fact that, the season 2002-03 was a drought year, farmers could harvest reasonable harvests from Non-Bt hybrids, while loosing heavily from Monsanto Hybrids. In spite of the catastrophic failure, industry continued the false propaganda, through advertisements in the media. During the second year i.e., kharif 2003-04, in order to cover wider area, two more districts were roped in order to have a wider representation from different agro climatic areas of the state. The study was conducted by taking a sample of 164 farmers from three cotton growing districts viz., Warangal, Adilabad and Kurnool. The crop economics data was sourced from all these 164 farmers at fortnightly intervals, so as to capture even the minutest details of the crop economics without any memory bias. The season long study revealed that, * Farmers had to incur an expenditure that was 230% more for Bt seeds than Non Bt hybrids. * Total investments for Bt ware 8% higher than for the cultivation of non-Bt cotton. * The reduction in pesticide consumption by Bt farmers was just 12% * Net profits from Bt was 9% less compared to profits from Non Bt hybrids.* The Benefit cost ratio was in favour of Non Bt hybrids. * For small and medium category of farmers, the yield difference between Bt and non-Bt was negligible.In fact, 2003-04 was a year of timely & good rains, least pest infestations and unusually with good market price for cotton throughout the season, making the cotton farmers a happy lot with bountiful returns. Even under these conditions, the Monsanto Bt hybrids failed miserably in delivering its promises of reduced pesticide usage, and increase in yields.Despite the fact that yield is not an attribute of the Bt gene inserted in to the cotton hybrid, the continued ad propaganda both in the print and visual media about the bumper yields from Bt cotton, backed by the AC Neilson’s study caught a wide spread attraction among the farming community especially who are literate and can influence the decisions of the fellow farmers in their vicinity. As these Monsanto hybrids were given permission for a period of three years for commercial sales, we also thought of continuing he study for one more year and to track the performance of the Monsato hybrids in the third year also, and continued study in three cotton growing areas. The earlier studies revealed that these Monsanto hybrids proved to be fatal for the small and medium farming categories; this year study (2004-05) was mainly focused on the small and medium farmers growing Monsanto hybrids. As more than 60% of the cotton is grown under rainfed conditions, Nalgonda district has been selected for the study by dropping Kurnool district from the study areas. Data collection was done as was done in 2003-04, at fortnightly intervals. The results of the study are as follows:* The Monsanto Bt seed was 3 times costlier than Non-Bt hybrids* Farmers spent 75% more on irrigation and 8% more on fertilizers for growing Monsanto hybrids than the Non-Bt hybrids* The pesticide consumption was just 8% less for Bt hybrids than Non-Bt hybridsyield benefit was just 5% for the Bt hybrids* Monsanto hybrids required 18% more overall investments for their cultivation* While Monsanto hybrids resulted in a net loss of Rs -217/- per acre, the Non-bt hybrids helped farmers with a net benefit of +594/- per acreThe main reason for the lowest net benefit was market glut with cotton crop due to 36% more area brought under cotton cultivation in the year 2004-05 compared to the last year. The season long studies in 2002, 2003 and 2004 proved beyond doubt dismal performance of the Monsanto Bt hybrids. The three hybrids released by Monsanto were accorded permission in 2002 for commercial cultivation for a period of three years, till March 2005. These hybrids proved to be a failure in not just Warangal but across India. Many independent studies done in different states revealed the same.

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