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Study questions sustainability of Bt cotton

1.Study questions sustainability of Bt cotton in water-starved Vidarbha
2.Maharashtra Govt. and CICR admit Bt cotton's failure

NOTE: The findings in item 1 below on Bt cotton in Vidarbha come from a study that's drawn a lot of criticism for being overly-optimistic about the impact of Bt cotton in India.

Yet even this study has confirmed that Bt cotton is bad news in Vidarbha – the main cotton growing belt of Maharashtra, the State in India where there's been the biggest uptake of Bt cotton by farmers, as well as the biggest crop of farmer suicides.

The study points the finger at the lack of irrigation as the major problem with thirsty Bt cotton. And the overwhelming majority of cotton grown in Maharashtra – over 95% – is unirrigated.

What is most disturbing is that the study's findings are even considered news.    As long ago as 2005, the dire failure of Bt cotton in Maharashtra triggered a wave of farmer suicides so terrible that it was reported right around the world. But that still did not prevent the hyping of Bt cotton to farmers in Vidarbha the following growing season. 

In late November 2006 the renowned Indian development journalist, P Sainath reported on the failure of Bt cotton yet again. And Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti (VJAS), a courageous local grassroots pressure group representing hard pressed farmers in Vidarbha, reported that the majority of farmer suicides there involved Bt cotton. 

In 2007 the failure of Bt cotton in Vidarbha was even confirmed by the (pro-GM) Maharashtra agriculture minister Balasaheb Thorat. 

Yet despite this there have been years of ruthless promotion of Bt cotton to the poor debt burdened farmers of Maharashtra, while the industry has orchestrated seed availability so that non-Bt cotton seeds have been difficult, if not impossible, to access.

The reason is simple. The sale of Bt cotton seeds is highly profitable and India has the largest area under cotton cultivation of any country in the world, and more than a third of that cotton area is concentrated in Maharashtra. 

That's why at one point Mahyco-Monsanto even brought in Bollywood star, Nana Patekar, to promote its sales. Patekar put in appearances not only in TV ads but went around the state addressing farmers' meetings in person. The company has also had a lot of success getting Maharashtra's state government onside, actively promoting and endorsing Bt cotton.

The price paid for this ruthless marketing has been a high one. P Sainath, who was awarded the 2007 Ramon Magsaysay award (often considered Asia's Nobel Prize) for his reporting on rural poverty, has described the impact of multinationals like Monsanto on debt-burdened farmers in Vidarbha as "devastating". 

In an interview in 2006 Sainath spelt the problem out, "Firstly, Bt cotton technologies are themselves suspect in a number of ways. However, promoting them in a dry and unirrigated area like Vidarbha was murderous. It was stupid, it was killing." 
1.Study questions sustainability of Bt cotton in water-starved Vidarbha
The Hindu, June 24 2012

*Lack of irrigation found to be one of the major causes of farmer suicides

Lack of irrigation is one of the major causes leading to cotton farmer suicides in Maharashtra, a new study by the Council of Social Development (CSD) has stated. Titled 'Socio-economic impact assessment of Bt cotton in India,' the study has yet again raised the question of whether the marginal land of Vidarbha is suited for Bt cotton at all.

Commissioned by the Bharat Krishak Samaj, the study points out the dependence of Bt cotton farmers on rainfed agriculture, the increasing irrigation costs and the lack of institutional credit.

The study, in which farmers and farm labourers in Jalgaon and Yawatmal districts were interviewed, says, "70 per cent of the farmers stated that irrigation expenditure was more on Bt cotton than on non-Bt cotton." Though it claims that productivity increased by 4.49 per cent from the pre-Bt to post-Bt period, costs too increased: especially fertilizer costs, which increased from 29 per cent in the pre-Bt period to 71 per cent in the post-Bt period. In all 140 farmers and 40 agricultural labourers were a part of the study.

"Farmers in the central Indian region blamed the suicides mainly on low and erratic nature of rainfall as this was a rainfed region," it states. This adds to many of the recent indicators that question the sustainability of Bt cotton in Vidarbha.

Vinayak Deshpande, member of the Kelkar Committee, appointed by the Maharashtra government to study the agrarian crisis in Vidarbha region and professor at the RTM Nagpur University said productivity of Bt cotton is closely linked to irrigation. "The region faces the largest irrigation backlog in the State, at 57.3 per cent. In physical terms, the irrigation backlog is at 10,76,000 hectares. The cost of this in 2008 was Rs. 10,767 crore," Dr. Deshpande told The Hindu on Thursday.

The irrigation against potential in Vidarbha is only 40 per cent, whereas in the rest of Maharashtra it is more than 70 per cent, he added.

Dr. Deshpande said subsidies for fertilizers and pesticides were also given more in irrigated areas. "High yielding varieties of crops like Bt cotton need more water as well, along with fertilizers. In the end, it is all linked to irrigation," he said.

The government itself has acknowledged that irrigation is mandatory for Bt cotton. Speaking at an event organised by seed giant Monsanto in Pune in March this year, Maharashtra Agricultural Commissioner Umakant Dangat urged farmers to plant Bt cotton only in irrigated areas. "The farmers should use their discretion and plant BT cotton on irrigated land. The amount of water needed is definitely more," he had said.

In the last few months, the water scarcity situation in the State highlighted issue of irrigation backlog, forcing the State government to announce that a white paper on the costs and expenditure of irrigation projects will soon be brought out. Even as that is awaited, Dr. Deshpande states that the priority will be to take up projects in Vidarbha. "Along with big dams, water conservation projects and drip irrigation must be introduced," he said. Though the final report of the committee headed by economist Dr. Vijay Kelkar has not been submitted yet, Dr. Deshpande said these would be recommendations.

Another element in the study states that as opposed to farmers in the rest of the country, a majority of whom had heard of Bt cotton from neighbours and relatives who had benefited, in Maharashtra 79 per cent of the farmers had heard of Bt cotton from seed dealers. In Yavatmal’s Hiwra village, this correspondent was told by cotton farmers that non-Bt cotton seeds were not available. "The cotton prices have gone down. There is no water for the Bt cotton needs. We cannot afford planting Bt anymore. But, we cannot buy non-Bt seeds in the market. The dealers tell us that there is no supply," Sumant Meshram, a farmer said. Pointing at the nearby Pachpahur irrigation project that lies unfinished, another farmer Dharmaji Pendhur says that there is no water for cattle too. "We have to sell our cattle, we cannot afford to keep them anymore," he said.

Kishore Tiwari of the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti (VJAS) said the government was not serious about clearing the irrigation backlog of the State, even as it continued to affect the farmers. "Only two per cent of irrigated land was added in Vidarbha from 2006 to 2011. Obviously Bt cotton is not sustainable in such a scenario. The farmers themselves have realised that now, after so many years. The distress continues as there is no proactive help from the government," he states.

Dr. Deshpande suggests that the Maharashtra government draw up a separate policy for the Vidarbha region. "It needs to be discussed whether Bt crops, which have entered into the market, are suitable for a particular region. We have lagged behind in providing these extension services which monitor agriculture at the micro level. The level of social awareness is not matching the movement of the market," he states. “Is the government able to provide a cushion for its farmers?” he asks.
2.Maharashtra Govt. and CICR Admits Bt.cotton Failure
Nagpur, 21 June 2012

*"Maharashtra Govt. and CICR initiative to test Non-BT cotton seed in Vidarbha" is admission of Bt.cotton failure – Vidarbha Janandolan Samiti

Vidarbha cotton farmers' advocacy group Vidarbha Janandolan Samiti (VJAS) has welcomed the move of Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR) and The Maharashtra government to implement a pilot project titled as the Brazilian model of Non-Bt cotton promotion in eight districts of Vidarbha region to start cultivation of straight varieties of cotton in place of hybrid or Bt (Genetically-Modified) ones, the government appears to be doing a rethink over its policy of promoting Bt cotton which confirm complete failure of Bt.cotton seed technology but such project will be futile when  nearly 90% of the area under cotton in India is under Bt varieties which cover around 12 million hector and any trial 160 acres of land belonging to 160 farmers in this region will be difficult to give desired result hence we demand complete ban Bt cotton cultivation in dry land region of vidarbha  to make compulsory for cotton farmers’ to cultivate non-Bt straight indigenous varieties which are proven for hundreds of years Kishor Tiwari of vidarbha advocacy group Vidarbha Janandolan Samiti (VJAS.) informed today .

“Vidarbha is agrarian crisis is directly linked with as all farmer suicide prone district mono crop  which is predominantly cultivated is Bt cotton since 2005 and now State agriculture commissioner Umakant Dangat officially admitted that  India has the lowest cotton productivity in the world and Maharashtra, the lowest in India and union agriculture  minister Mr Sharad Pawar own admission that Vidarbha dry land farmers are losing more than Rs.2000 crore per year since introduction of Bt cotton seed in vidarbha,    is proven fact that it’s a classic example of promoting wrong technology to wrong class agrarian community as rain sensitive crop has proven killer seed in west vidarbha as 95% farmers opted this technology are dry land farmers," Tiwari added.

“We are shocked to see the statement of the Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR) Director Keshav Kranthi, who was instrumental to launch Desi-Bt cotton seed which left ICAR red-faced when the fact surfaced that it was stolen technology from Monsanto, now claiming that the cost of seeds of straight varieties is much lower than Bt varieties, besides which these varieties become ready for plucking in just 150-160 days whereas Bt varieties take around 180-200 days, which reduces the need for fertilizers, pesticides and other nutrients substantially. And unlike Bt cotton varieties, seeds derived from straight cotton varieties can be used during the next season where as same Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR) and The Maharashtra government to introduce Bt cotton seed resulting nearly 9,000 cotton growing farmers suicide due to Bt cotton failure  since June 2005  hence we demand that Government must come clean on Bt cotton and admit that policy of promoting Bt cotton in the rain-fed areas was wrong, which prompted farmers to commit suicide across the country,” Tiwari said.

‘We need long term planning to develop proven to crop pattern and methodology not trial project of imported technology where as neighboring Andhra Pradesh cotton farmers have adopted NPM [Non Pesticide Management, which doesn't use GM or pesticides in cotton cultivation] practices in nearly 3.5 lakh acres, across different crops. Net returns of farmers are increasing and time has come go back to our traditional sustainable agriculture not MNC base input driven” Tiwari added