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`Its high input costs have increased farmers' indebtedness'
|The hybrid Bt.cotton|
MUMBAI: A new study on the introduction of Bt cotton in Vidarbha reveals that it has failed in the region. Suman Sahai, Director of Gene Campaign, told journalists on Wednesday that despite specific knowledge that Bt cotton would not work in rainfed areas, the government had introduced it in Vidarbha. The result was that in an area with a history of indebtedness, the high input costs of Bt cotton had increased indebtedness. The study had shown that 70 per cent of small farmers had already lost their landholdings as collateral for loans that they could never repay.
The Gene Campaign study, which will be ready in four to five weeks, consisted of a technology adoption study to look at how Bt cotton was adopted in Vidarbha. It is based on interviews with around 500 cotton farmers from Amravati and Yavatmal districts. Preliminary data shows that farmers who had adopted Bt cotton had a net lower income than non-Bt cotton farmers.
Dr. Sahai said that Bt cotton did better in irrigated areas and that it was a mistake to introduce it in an area like Vidarbha. It did not perform well in the region because inputs costs were high, including the cost of the seeds, there was an abundance of spurious seeds and the technology had been adopted without any preparation of the farmers for the complex management practices that were needed. Seed dealers, she said, encouraged farmers to buy far more fertilizer and pesticide than was needed, thereby raising their input costs. They promised farmers that they would get between 12 to 15 quintals per acre when the actual production was in the range of three to five quintals per acre. At the same time cotton prices came down with the import of Chinese cotton. The study reveals that on average, farmers who adopted Bt cotton lost Rs. 1,725 per acre. "Such economics cannot work," she said.
The study revealed that many farmers adopted Bt cotton because they believed it was a "government seed" and did not know that it was privately produced and marketed. They also accepted it because the government was actively promoting the technology. While local officials, like the Agriculture Commissioner of Amravati, were aware of the failure of Bt cotton, the state agriculture department continued to promote it. "The role of the government has been irresponsible and damaging," said Dr. Sahai.
Dr. Sahai also pointed that Bt was a limited time technology. In the United States, where it has been introduced 10 years ago, it had already developed resistance. This was also happening in China. In India, she said, "we are seeing resistance earlier because of rampant proliferation of illegal seeds and the wrong techniques being used."
The Bt technology was not need driven but supply driven, said Dr. Sahai.
She stressed that cotton farmers had not demanded it and that in any case, the expression of the Bt cotton gene worked for only 90 days while Indian cotton took 160 days to mature. In other words, during the crucial period when the crop needed protection from pests, it remained unprotected.
The study had also collected anecdotal evidence about other side effects of Bt cotton on plants and animals.
For instance, cattle deaths had been reported in areas where they grazed in harvested Bt cotton fields, women working in cotton fields had complained of rashes, and there were reports that mango trees were not flowering.
Despite such reports, the government had not conducted tests to establish whether any of this could be attributed to the introduction of Bt cotton. The impact of cotton oil, extracted from Bt cotton, on human and animal health had also not been considered.
Dr. Sahai said it was essential to conduct safety tests and also put in place a regulatory system before any new technology is introduced.