New studies contradict FAO report and show GM cotton fails to benefit farmers (16/6/2004)

"the FAO report ignores what is actually happening on the ground, as Bt cotton fails to deliver benefits to small-scale farmers around the world"

For the full GRAIN study referred to below: http://www.grain.org/briefings/?id=184

NB GRAIN has developed a website on Bt cotton that provides a more balanced picture of farmer experiences - http://www.grain.org/research/btcotton.cfm

New studies contradict FAO report and show that genetically engineered Bt cotton fails to benefit farmers

Communication from The Deccan Development Society, Andhra Pradesh (AP) Coalition in Defence of Diversity and GRAIN

On May 17th the FAO released a report, Agricultural Biotechnology, Meeting the needs of the poor?, painting a positive picture of GM crops and recommending that more resources be put towards the development of GM technologies for developing countries. The centre-piece of the report is its analysis of farmer experiences with Bt cotton around the world, which the FAO uses to claim "that resource-poor smallholders in developing countries can gain significant benefits from the adoption of transgenic crops in terms of higher and more stable effective yields, lower pesticide costs and reduced health risks from chemical pesticide exposure." But the FAO report ignores what is actually happening on the ground, as Bt cotton fails to deliver benefits to small-scale farmers around the world. Today, two new studies on Bt cotton in India and West Africa by the Andhra Pradesh (AP) Coalition in Defence of Diversity and GRAIN provide more evidence of Bt cotton's failure in the fields and of the FAO's failure to defend the interests of small-scale farmers. They come at a time when FAO’s Director General received a letter signed by over 1500 organisations and individuals, expressing their outrage and disagreement with the FAO report.

The report by the AP Coalition, entitled "Did Bt cotton fail AP again in 2003-2004?" surveyed 164 small-scale Bt cotton farmers from three districts of Andhra Pradesh during the 2003-2004 season. It found that while Bt cotton marginally reduced pesticide use and increased yields, the overall profits for farmers growing Bt cotton were 9% lower. This directly contradicts the data circulating from a study carried out by AC Nielsen on behalf of Monsanto, which claims that farmer profits increased by 92%, and it points to how unreliable industry data can be. The Monsanto survey, conducted by a marketing agency, contacted farmers through questionnaires just once after their crop period. Since the great majority of Indian farmers never keep account of what they have spent on their agriculture, such a one-off questionnaire based study can always be misleading. The AP Coalition study, in contrast, worked with farmers continuously, contacting them every 15 days and always keeping close to the realities of the situation. It is therefore alarming that the FAO report would base its enthusiastic portrayal of Bt cotton in India exclusively on data collected by Monsanto during its 2001 field trials. The report simply ignored the many subsequent official and independent studies of farmer experiences with Bt cotton that overwhelmingly demonstrate the failure of Bt cotton in India.

The FAO's assessment of Bt cotton is littered with this kind of selective use of information. It's look at farmer experiences with Bt cotton in South Africa is based on a single study of the Makhatini Flats area conducted by researchers from Reading University (UK), which relies on farm record data supplied by Vunisa Cotton, the area's sole cotton merchant and supplier of cotton inputs. No mention is made of the drought problems that have plagued cotton farmers in the area over the past three years and that have sparked serious debt problems for small Bt cotton farmers. According to a study by South African NGO Biowatch, the debt problem is so severe that Vunisa Cotton and the Landbank (the company financing Bt cotton) have withdrawn from the Bt cotton scheme because farmers cannot repay their debts. The FAO report also fails to mention Bt cotton's disastrous introduction in Indonesia, where farmers, angered by Bt cotton's failure to live up to its promises, forced Monsanto to quickly pull Bt cotton off the market. In two years of planting in Indonesia, Bt cotton increased pesticide use and left farmers in a spiral of debt.

The rock bottom-point of the FAO's look into Bt cotton is its suggestion that West African cotton farmers will lose hundreds of millions of dollars in potential profits if they don't adopt Bt cotton. This suggestion is based on a single study that uses an artificially low price for Bt cotton seeds (at least four times less than what it should be) and the same narrow set of data used in the FAO report. GRAIN's new report on Bt cotton's potential introduction in West Africa provides an entirely different picture.

The GRAIN report, entitled "GM Cotton set to invade West Africa: Time to act!", finds that Bt cotton will not significantly reduce pesticide use nor provide any economic advantages to farmers in the region. Local cotton farmers, scientists and NGOs consulted for the study say it would be far more effective for public institutions to focus on supporting pesticide reduction programmes that have already proven successful and that do not depend on foreign technologies. Curiously, the FAO report is totally silent on the Farmer Field School projects for cotton that the FAO is currently supporting in West Africa. The latest results from the FAO's Integrated Pest and Production Management project in Mali show that, by using local resources and knowledge, cotton farmers were able to reduce their pesticide use by 70%, while increasing their yields by 25% and their revenues by 49%. No costly and risky foreign technology required!

GRAIN has developed a website on Bt cotton that provides a more balanced picture of farmer experiences ( http://www.grain.org/research/btcotton.cfm). Both the Bt cotton reports from the AP Coalition and GRAIN are available on this website. The report from the AP Coalition is also available on the website of the Deccan Development Society (www.ddsindia.com) The GRAIN website also offers a compendium of resources on Bt cotton, some of which are listed below. Those seeking to voice their discontent over the FAO report can still sign-on to the open letter to FAOs Director General endorsed by GRAIN and over 1500 other organizations and individuals, available on the GRAIN website (www.grain.org).

Going Further:

GRAIN "GM Cotton set to invade West Africa: Time to act!", June 11, 2004: http://www.grain.org/briefings/?id=184

Abdul Qayum and Kiran Sakkhari, Did Bt cotton fail AP again in 2003-2004? A season long study of Bt Cotton in Andhra Pradesh, AP Coalition in Defence of Diversity, Deccan Development Society, and Permaculture Association of India, June 10, 2004 : http://www.grain.org/research/btcotton.cfm?links or http://www.ddsindia.com

FAO Declares War on Farmers not on Hunger (An open letter to Mr. Jacques Diouf, Director General of FAO), New from GRAIN, May 28 2004: http://www.grain.org/nfg/?id=180

FAO, "The State of Food and Agriculture 2003-2004. Agricultural Biotechnology: Meeting the Needs of the Poor?" May 2004: http://www.fao.org/docrep/006/Y5160E/Y5160E00.HTM

The following are available from the GRAIN Bt cotton website ( http://www.grain.org/research/btcotton.cfm):

Results from the IPPM-Mali (FAO) cotton programme for 2003-2004 (Résultats pour l'année 2003-2004 du Programme GIPD - Mali (FAO) The 375 cotton farmers participating in this integrated pest managmenet and production program reduced insecticide use by 68%, while increasing yields and revenues. Article is only available in French http://www.grain.org/research/btcotton.cfm?links

"No Difference Between Bt, Non-Bt Cotton Output," The Financial Express (New Delhi) , June 10, 2004 : http://www.grain.org/research/btcotton.cfm?links

AC Nielsen, "Performance of Bollgard Cotton in 2003", study of Bt cotton in India commissioned by Monsanto, March, 2004: http://www.grain.org/research/btcotton.cfm?links

Bt Cotton Performance Reports from India, 2002, National Monitoring Committee and respective state governments, http://www.grain.org/research/btcotton.cfm?links

Lim Li Ching, "Broken Promises" Institute of Science in Society, May 2004: http://www.grain.org/research/btcotton.cfm?links (Summarises farmers experiences with Bt cotton in Indonesia and India)

Dr. Charles M. Benbrook, "GMOs, Pesticide Use, and Alternatives: Lessons from the U.S. Experience," June 2003 : http://www.grain.org/research/btcotton.cfm?links

Elfrieda Pschorn-Strauss, "Bt Cotton and Small-scale Farmers in Makhathini – A Story of Debt, Dependency, and Dicey Economics" Biowatch South Africa, April, 2003: http://www.grain.org/research/btcotton.cfm?links (A full report on the failure of Bt cotton in South Africa will soon be released by Biowatch ( http://www.biowatch.org.za/)

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