Bt Cotton Fails Yet Again in India - farmers go on rampage (21/10/2004)

Centre for Sustainable Agriculture
<csa@csa-india.org> :

Bt Cotton Fails Yet Again: An Independent Assessment of Bt Cotton, after farmers facing severe losses went on a rampage in Warangal district

Warangal, October 21 2004: Warangal has recently seen hundreds of outraged farmers going on a rampage and demanding just compensation for the failure of Bt Cotton that they had sown. The agitated farmers have staged a sit-in and damaged the shops. The District Collector has asked the company to visit the fields to estimate the losses and make arrangements to pay compensation. The Minister for Agriculture, Government of Andhra Pradesh, constituted fifty study teams to look into the failure and make recommendations.

To make an independent assessment, scientists from Centre from Sustainable Agriculture, Dr. Ramanjaneyulu and Mr. Ali, along with Mr. Sarampalli Malla Reddy, Secretary AP Rythu Sangam, Dr. Venugopal, Entomology Department, Acharya NG Ranga Agricultural University, Dr. Abdul Qayum, Consultant with MARI and DDS, Mr. Kiran Sakkari, Permaculture Association of India and Mr. Krishna Reddy, AP Rythu Sangam Warangal unit, visited villages in Geesukonda Mandal of Warangal district on 19th October, 2004. The following are the findings.

In Rattiram Tanda, a small hamlet of Kommala village, various Bt cotton hybrids are being grown in more than 100 acres. The villagers purchased the Bt cotton hybrids from Warangal market hoping to tackle the dreaded Bollworm. But shattering their hopes the Bt hybrids failed. Mr. Veeraswamy, has grown Bt MECH-12. The plants are small, with only few bolls. Insects are eating away the bolls, despite the so-called new technology. More than 30% of the plants in the field have dried up. When split open, wilt symptoms are clearly seen. The story is repeated with Ms. Vankloth Vijaya who grew Bt RCH-2 of Raasi seeds, or Vankloth Balaraju who grew Bt MECH-184. Till now farmers have spent around 8 thousand rupees on pesticides like Avaunt and Tracer besides Rs. 1600 on seeds. When the suffering farmers contacted the dealers, they were told that the dealers were not responsible and were asked to meet the scientists of the Agricultural Research Station, Warangal. The company team never visited and advised the farmers.

In Elukurthi Haveli, Mr. Yadava Reddy has grown Bt RCH-2. The crop has not performed as expected. The plants suffered wilt. The bolls are infested with bollworms.

In Konayamakula Mr. Narasinga Rao has grown Bt MECH-12 and has a similar experience to narrate.

The wilt symptoms in Bt cotton started appearing in the initial year itself. The company and the government had turned a deaf ear to the apprehensions raised by several investigating teams closely following the Bt cotton performance. The scientists said that the weather fluctuations have caused the damage. It is surprising to see that all other cotton hybrids in the neighboring fields are better, given the same weather conditions. What is more striking is that wherever gap filling was done with non-bt cotton hybrids, the plants are healthy. Monsanto-Mahyco has issued a press statement, following the agitation by the farmers that Bt cotton in several parts of the state had problems like cercospora leaf spot and pointed out that its Bt varieties are only resistant to bollworm and therefore, they are not responsible for the failure. All other hybrids failing in the state is a false statement put out by the company since this year is witnessing a bumper crop in cotton (even the government says so). For the farmer, a seed should be able to meet various requirements including yields and quality of cotton, while this expensive variety promises only bollworm resistance. Marketing of Bt Cotton by the company was also done by promising higher yields. Therefore, both on what the company had promised and on what it had not given to farmers, it had failed the struggling farmers of the state miserably.

On the other hand, in several villages where farmers adopted non-pesticidal management of insect pests, the crop is in very good condition and the successful experiences are already appearing in the media. Punukula in Khammam district is one such village where farmers are growing cotton (including popular hybrids) without resorting to pesticides. This is being done in more than 600 acres. In Warangal district also farmers in Jatok tanda, Gudi tanda, KK tanda etc. in Parvathagiri mandal as well as Nelapogula and Neermala villages in Jangaon, with the help of organisations like MARI and CROPS, are successfully using non-pesticidal options in their cotton cultivation. The cotton crop is in very good condition here too.

It is reported that Bt Cotton farmers in Warangal faced losses in majority of the areas where it is being grown. Similar is the case with farmers from others districts like Kurnool, Mahaboobnagar, Karimnagar, Adilabad and several other districts. Given that more than 2 lakh acres of Bt Cotton is reportedly sown in the state of Andhra Pradesh, the losses to the farmers are unimaginable. In Chinna Nekkonda village of Warangal district, a Bt cotton farmer has committed suicide yesterday and the distress is growing among the farmers. Before these unwanted incidents spread, the state government should:

* intervene, assess the damage and make arrangements to immediately pay compensation to the Bt Cotton farmers

* get the GEAC and the district level monitoring committees to gather field level data first hand instead of relying on the data being provided by the companies who have a stake in projecting a positive picture

* hold the companies accountable for the damage caused

* should stop the sale and cultivation of Bt Cotton in Andhra Pradesh given the continuous failed performance and increasing distress caused to farmers because of the technology

* support non-pesticidal and non-GE alternatives immediately and scale up several positive experiences present across the state.

This preliminary investigation also pointed out that certain negative characteristics (like vulnerability to wilt) which are not present in the regular hybrid varieties (as witnessed from neighboring fields around Bt Cotton fields) have begun emerging in the Bt hybrids. This once again reinforces that approval for commercial cultivation has been given without comprehensive assessments.

This is the right time for the government to act – otherwise, there will be yet another big crisis in the farming community.

Bt Cotton fails yet again and meets the ire of farmers in Andhra Pradesh

(a summary of the events centred around Bt Cotton in the state of AP, compiled from media reports)

Hyderabad, October 20, 2004: Just days after the Commissioner, Agriculture in the Government of Andhra Pradesh made positive remarks about Bt Cotton in the state (October 4, 2004, The Hindu Business Line "Bt Cotton crop likely to create problem of plenty in AP"), farmers went on a rampage in Warangal district fearing that they might have been sold spurious seeds by the local traders. What has triggered the panic is the failure of Bt Cotton in yet another season

Bt Cotton was given a three-year conditional clearance for commercial cultivation in six states of India in March 2002 (for the Bollguard Bt Cotton variety of Monsanto-Mahyco) and later in April 2004 (for the Raasi variety). Out of these three years, civil society and media reports as well as official reports in 2002-03 pointed to a serious failure of Bt Cotton in various parts of the country, including in various parts of Andhra Pradesh. In 2003-04 also, some NGOs which sustained their documentation efforts of Bt Cotton performance reported that it had failed cotton farmers a second year in a row. A study by AP Coalition in Defence of Diversity pointed out that 71 percent of farmers who cultivated Bt Cotton suffered losses while only 18 percent of the non-Bt farmers reported losses.

The 2004-05 season is nowhere near ending and the latest incidents in Warangal district point to the fact that the technology has failed yet again, third year in a row. Civil society has always been warning that after the hardships left by pesticides on cotton farmers, Bt Cotton as an alternative technology would only be the proverbial last straw. However, the government went ahead with its approvals, under pressure from the industry without assessing safer alternatives (like non-pesticidal management of crops) or assessing the new technology for all potential problems.

It is estimated that out of 160 thousand hectares sown in Warangal district with cotton, around 25 thousand hectares are under Bt Cotton (the sales of 450 gm packets of Bt Cotton touched the 25000 mark this year, as per media reports). Starting from 12th October, farmers started their protests across the district of Warangal where they raided shops and imprisoned seed company employees and are demanding compensation ranging from Rs. 10,000/- to Rs. 25,000/- per acre for the losses incurred.

On 12th October hundreds of farmers turned up on the streets of Warangal town where the seed and pesticide dealer shops are located. They were demanding at least ten thousand rupees per acre as compensation for the losses they incurred by growing Mech Bt 12 and Mech Bt 184 varieties. They raided Vasavi Fertilisers and Seeds shop, from which they had bought the expensive Bt Cotton seeds. The dealer tried to assure them that he would get the company officials to come to the villages and assess the damage, and get them to pay compensation if needed. The farmers were not ready to accept this. They staged a sit-in on the highway holding up a long chain of traffic. The farmers wanted the officials to visit their village and see the damage for themselves. A group of officials and the seeds dealer went to the village along with the farmers and checked the cotton crop there. Later, the Deputy Director of Agriculture, Warangal district assured the farmers that there would be an inquiry and after submitting the report to the government, any compensation to be paid would be arranged.

An assurance from the district officials that a wider field investigation would be taken up calmed the farmers. Following this, on Wednesday, agriculture department officials and Mahyco Company Area Manager and other officials went to Mogilicherla village where more than 500 acres of Bt Cotton had been sown. Here, the farmers like farmers in other parts of Warangal had spent Rs. 1650/- on procuring seeds (450 gms of Bollguard Bt Cotton – Mech Bt 12) and had sown the seed. They found that the crop grew well but did not flower well or yield more than ten bolls. Representatives of Mahyco company who had come to the village to inspect the fields by themselves were imprisoned by the farmers for more than three hours in the village, demanding immediate payment of compensation. The employees were freed when they assured the farmers that they would bring senior officials of the company to the village on the 14th.

On the 14th of October, hundreds of more farmers once again raided seed shops in Warangal town demanding compensation and accountability from the company, the dealers and the government. They came with Bt Cotton plants which did not yield either flowers or bolls on their fields. Farmers from various blocks like Atmakur, Sangem, Jafargad, Parvathagiri, Parakala, Geesukonda, Hanmakonda, Dharmasagar, Mogullapalli etc., soon joined the agitating farmers in huge numbers. They attacked the shop of Vasavi Seeds and Fertilisers, the supplier of Bollguard seeds to them. By this time, all the seed, pesticide and fertilizer dealers in Warangal town had closed their shutters down and ran away from the scene, fearing the wrath of the farmers. A Committee was formed with one representative each from each village, along with some local officials (who came to placate the farmers) to look into the matter by visiting the fields. After this, the farmers withdrew their protest for the day. The District Collector had meanwhile sent word to the company representatives to hear their explanation. The Collector is making preparations to send teams consisting of the company representatives, officials and the farmer representatives to all the villages from where reports of losses were obtained, as per media reports. Meanwhile all Bt Cotton farmers who have incurred losses due to the failure of crop have been asked to register their name and other details with the concerned agriculture department officials.

Even as this compilation of media reports was being prepared, there was news of a suicide committed by a Bt Cotton farmer in Warangal district who killed himself unable to bear the heavy losses incurred. Last year too saw a Bt Cotton farmer commit suicide. The disastrous story of pesticides looks all set to be repeated in the case of Bt Cotton too

(all data collected from: The Hindu, The Hindu Business Line, Eenadu telugu daily Warangal edition, Vaartha telugu daily Warangal edition, Andhra Jyothi telugu daily Warangal edition on October 13, 14 and 15, 2004)

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