Bt Cotton in Maharashtra: MEC report PART 3 (13/4/2006)

  1. Overall Economics

The following is the comparison between Bt Cotton and non-Bt Cotton, in terms of the total cost of cultivation recorded for the sample farmers, the yields and the net incomes.


Bt Cotton, per acre

Non-Bt Cotton, per acre

Average Cost of Cultivation, in Rupees



Yield in Quintals (100 kgs=1 quintal)



Average Rate per Quintal, in Rupees



Average Gross Income, in Rupees



Average Net Income, in Rupees

(Gross Income minus Cost of Cultivation)



Source: Primary Survey

As can be seen from the table above, the yields of non-Bt Cotton are marginally lower than Bt Cotton. However, there is a significant difference in the Cost of Cultivation (23.5% lower in non-Bt Cotton) between Bt Cotton and non-Bt Cotton. Non-Bt Cotton has also fetched marginally better prices for the farmers than Bt Cotton. Due to all of this, overall, non-Bt Cotton farmers have obtained more net incomes than Bt Cotton farmers. This is 68% more income for non-Bt Cotton farmers than Bt Cotton farmers.

A closer look at the Cost of Cultivation shows a difference not only in the seed cost between Bt Cotton and non-Bt Cotton, but also in terms of Fertiliser cost (around 21% lower in non-Bt Cotton) and pesticide cost. In fertilizer application, while the average was 2.06 for non-Bt Cotton, for Bt Cotton, an average number of 2.56 applications of fertilizer contributed to the results seen.

Irrigation:Analysis was also done of the Economics for Irrigated and Unirrigated Bt Cotton and non-Bt Cotton farmers separately, to understand the role that irrigation could have played.


Irrigated Bt Cotton, per acre

Irrigated Non-Bt Cotton, per acre

Average Cost of Cultivation, in Rupees



Yield in Quintals (100 kgs=1 quintal)



Average Gross Income, in Rupees



Average Net Income, in Rupees

(Gross Income minus Cost of Cultivation)



Source: Primary Survey

The findings show that when it came to Bt Cotton, irrigation caused an increase of around 40 kilos per acre compared to the general average and the average for unirrigated lands [4.9 quintals/acres], whereas when it came to non-Bt Cotton, the yields of irrigated crop are lower than the general average for non-Bt Cotton. Therefore, the net margins left for the farmer in irrigated Bt Cotton are slightly better than the general sample. It is also interesting to note that when it comes to pesticide use cost on Irrigated Bt Cotton and Unirrigated Bt Cotton, the difference was to the tune of Rs. 427/- per acre, with irrigated Bt Cotton costing Rs. 220/- more than its unirrigated counterparts. A margin of Rs. 300/- was present even in the fertilizer cost, with irrigated non-Bt Cotton costing lesser than irrigated Bt Cotton on this front.

If analysed as per landholding size, the largest landowner category (4 farmers each in each sample of Bt Cotton and non-Bt Cotton), obtained yields higher than the general average in the case of Bt Cotton. While the average yields for Bt Cotton were 4.97 for the entire sample, the average yield of the largest landowners was 5.97 quintals per acre. Similarly, their cost of cultivation was also high at an average of Rs. 7099.75 per acre, compared to Rs. 6270 for the general sample of Bt Cotton farmers. In the case of non-Bt Cotton farmers, the average yield of the 4 largest landowners in the sample [at 4.63 quintals an acre] was marginally lower than the general average for non-Bt Cotton farmers [at 4.70 quintals an acre].

This shows that in the case of Bt Cotton, with changes in management practices [more fertilizers, more irrigation] and with the economic background of the farmer, yield improvements could be seen. In the case of non-Bt Cotton, these made very little difference.


In addition to observations recorded through out the season at the field level and recording data related to costs, yields and market rates, the researchers also asked questions specifically to those farmers who had grown Bt Cotton in the previous years also. About 26 farmers amongst the 165 Bt Cotton farmers studied reported that they had grown Bt Cotton in the previous years.

Out of these 26 farmers only 1 farmer reported “High Bollworm Control” in the earlier year he had cultivated Bt Cotton. The rest said that they experienced only “Partial Control” [96%].

Impact on Soil fertility:As a proxy indicator of the impact of Bt Cotton on soil conditions, all the farmers who had experience of growing Bt Cotton earlier were asked what crops they had grown after harvesting Bt Cotton and whether they had found any difference in yields in those crops, especially if the growing conditions were similar to earlier years.

The crops grown after harvesting Bt Cotton were wheat, soybean, blackgram, jowar, greengram etc.  3 of the 26 farmers reported “Very Low Production” (11.5%), whereas 19 farmers reported “Low Production” on crops grown after harvesting Bt Cotton (73.1%). 4 farmers reported same production as before.

Farmers are also applying three doses of fertilizer [10-26-26 (sufala)] in Bt Cotton fields, whereas on non-Bt Cotton, only one dose of fertilizer is sufficient. Mr. Biku Patil Jagtap, a farmer of Mategaon, said that he never applied micro-nutrients for non-Bt Cotton but he had to apply these micro nutrients like boron, zinc, sulphate, magnesium etc., for the BT crop for good production. He also said that because the seed cost is very high, they do not want to take a chance with the crop and potential reduction in yields. Due to all these, the input cost is increasing in BT cotton, he reported.

Impact on Human Health:36 farmers in the Bt Cotton sample reported that they have experienced various skin problems when handling Bt Cotton. However, the nuances of the same could not be captured other than information that they have itching and rashes on fingers, hands and in some cases, on the whole body.

On Stress Intolerance of Bt Cotton: Many farmers reported that Bt Cotton requires High Inputs, but gives only Low Outputs. They reported high incidence of ‘lalya’ disease and pointed out that Bt Cotton cannot withstand harsh climatic conditions. It is interesting to note that the stress intolerance of Bt Cotton was pointed out both in the case of low rains and excessive rains. Comparatively, most of the non-Bt Cotton farmers (88 of 120 farmers) reported only Partial Reddening of the crop [lower incidence of ‘lalya’ compared to neighboring Bt Cotton fields].


Marketing of Bt Cotton:Majority of the farmers had opted for Bt Cotton based on media advertisements. In Maharashtra, Nana Patekar, the marathi film actor was used by the Bollgard companies to boost their sales. He appeared in TV advertisements in addition to addressing farmers’ meetings in person. It is interesting and important to note that by the end of the season, Nana Patekar had been reported to have apologized for promoting ‘Bollgard’, given the large scale losses reported from across the state. Many farmers in our study have been influenced by several different channels – the media, the dealers and distributors, fellow farmers etc.

Deshonnati:January 5, 2006

“Nana Patekar’s ram ram to Monsanto”

Given that Bt Cotton has become responsible for farmers’ suicides, Nana Patekar announced that he will not support Monsanto anymore and that he will not promote their product, Bollgard Bt Cotton, anymore.  

Promises Made and Not Kept:

Through a variety of means, aggressive marketing was done by the Bt Cotton companies. This included posters, leaflets, freebies, television advertisements etc. In this propaganda, several direct and indirect promises were made to farmers. The company circulated a leaflet displaying photographs and addresses of some farmers. In their write-up they described that some of these farmers experienced upto 21 quintals production of BT cotton while some farmers proclaimed that Bt Cotton does not affect the next season’s crop and that they have taken good yield of wheat and gram from the same field. Some of the farmers are seen to mention that there is no reason to spray pesticides on Bt Cotton.

As part of this study, farmers in the Bt Cotton sample as well as the non-Bt Cotton sample were asked about their expectations from the crop, based on the promises and propaganda by the companies. Promises mainly related to Yields, Bollworm control, Pesticide Use Reduction etc., when it came to Bt Cotton. The following were the responses on this front.


Promise made by Bt Cotton companies

%age Number of Farmers who felt that the promise was not kept


“15 quintals of yield per acre”

[141 of the 165 Bt Cotton farmers were made this promise]



“No bollworm attack on Bt Cotton”

[163 of the 165 Bt Cotton farmers were made this promise]


Pesticide Usage

“No need to use pesticides” [160 farmers]

“Low use of pesticides” [5 farmers]


Based on the performance witnessed this year, 164 of the Bt Cotton farmers said that they will not go in for Bt Cotton next year [99.4% of the total sample].

On Refuge lines being sown: The conditional approval to Bt Cotton includes the mandatory sowing of 5 rows of non-Bt Cotton or 20% of the Bt Cotton area, whichever is smaller as a resistance management strategy.

Only 26 farmers of the 165 Bt Cotton farmers have followed this conditionality. This is only 16% of the total sample.

On Education to be provided by the Bt Cotton companies: Another condition imposed by the GEAC in its permission for commercial cultivation of Bt Cotton was that the companies would provide sufficient education to the farmers on the technology. Only 11 of the 165 farmers reported that they were provided ‘education’ by the company. This constitutes only about 7% of the Bt Cotton sample. None of the farmers reported that the company did any monitoring of the crop during the season.


The study clearly points out that the cultivation of Bt Cotton has not benefited the farmers in terms of the economics. It has not brought down the use of pesticides as promised, nor has it yielded the promised results. Further, new diseases like lalya were found to be higher on Bt Cotton. Farmers also consistently reported the stress intolerance of Bt Cotton.

Farmers had also reported human health problems like skin allergies and had alluded to negative impacts of Bt Cotton on soil. What is worth noting is that the incidence of pests and diseases was higher on Bt Cotton than on Bt Cotton.

Given that there are earlier studies that point out that resource position [landholding, type of soil, irrigation availability etc.] and possible management practices [which could be influenced again by landholdings, family size, education levels etc.] would influence the crop performance and need to be factored in into such comparative analysis, this study has attempted to do that. We found that the average yields on Bt Cotton were marginally higher than the average yields of non-Bt Cotton, even though 20% of non-Bt Cotton farmers had grown their crop on irrigated plots, as opposed to only 11.5% of Bt Cotton farmers. However, this did not provide any benefits to the farmers since Bt Cotton had higher seed cost and more fertilizers and pesticides applied. The net incomes of non-Bt Cotton farmers were at least 68% higher than Bt Cotton farmers. Separately analysed for irrigation, we found that provided with irrigation, Bt Cotton seems to be yield significantly better than its unirrigated counterpart. Not so with non-Bt Cotton. Similarly, large landowners seem to obtain more yields from Bt Cotton than other Bt Cotton growers.

Overall, there were losses incurred by Bt Cotton farmers, especially compared to the promises that were made to them. Their average net income was lower than Rs. 3000/acre, whereas they were expecting around Rs. 24,000/- to Rs. 23,000/- per acre [15 qtls * Rs. 2000/qtl = 30,000 rupees gross income. Costs could average around 6000/- to 7000/- per acre]. Calculated like this, the magnitude of losses for Bt Cotton farmers in Maharashtra in just these four study districts, where around 4.5 lakh acres has been sown with approved Bt Cotton, is to the tune of 1080 crores of rupees. Compared to non-Bt Cotton farmers, the Bt cotton growers in these four districts would have incurred losses worth more than 82 crores of rupees.

As Bt Cotton cultivation increases the cost of cultivation, the indebtedness problem for cotton growers increases too. Faced with losses after investing borrowed monies on their Bt Cotton crop, hundreds of farmers in Vidarbha region have already committed suicides. It looks like this spate of suicides is nowhere near ending either. This whole cycle of imperfect expensive agricultural technologies which bring with them several new problems leading to increased investments, met through more and more high-interest debts in the absence of good institutional support systems stares us in our face yet again, as in the case of pesticides.

Even as this report was being written, the Maharashtra government has announced a compensation package for those Bt Cotton farmers who have been affected by the lalya disease and where farmers have been forced to commit suicides after experiencing huge losses. This is a ludicrous situation, given that the technology has been introduced without scientific and adequate assessment and now, farmers and state governments – instead of the regulators who brought this in and the companies who made profits – are forced to pay a heavy price.

The agriculture department has not stepped in to regulate the marketing even once, even though film stars who have nothing to do with agriculture are being roped in for aggressive marketing by Bt Cotton companies. Incidentally, the famous Marathi actor Mr Nana Patekar who promoted Bt Cotton through a variety of means at the beginning of the season, had to apologise to the Maharashtra farmers at the end of the season, given the extensive failure of the crop. 

Given that most of the cotton crop in Maharashtra is cultivated under rainfed conditions and given the acute stress intolerance of Bt Cotton, it is time that its suitability for the reality of the current growing conditions be assessed. It should be assessed whether Bt Cotton farmers should fall prey to the vagaries of nature much more than other cotton farmers, given that the technology is imperfect. Given that Bt Cotton is also a more resource-intensive crop [the fertilizer use on Bt cotton was found to be higher in this study too], its sustainability should be assessed.

Jan Madhyam:28th September 05

“BT Cotton or TB cotton” (Amrawati) 

Due to heavy rains, thousands of hectares of Bt Cotton of Dhamangaon Railways Taluka of Amrawati district started wilting.  Farmers are anxious from the unexpected phenomenon and started to put in their efforts to reduce crop damage. It is worth noting that Bt Cotton is under the clutch of wilt disease whereas the non-Bt Cotton plant is not affected by the disease.

Deshonatti: 20th September 05

“Bt Cotton has been affected by wilt in Shivpuri (Akola)”

Bt 184 cotton of Shivpuri of Akola district has been affected by the wilt disease. Farmers here have sown Bt Cotton this year hoping to get high yields. However, the Bt Cotton crop has now begun wilting. It is expected that 50% of the production will be affected by the disease.

The vulnerability of Bt Cotton to higher incidence of sucking pests and diseases is already noted by the Maharashtra government’s own report. Some of this is reflected in this study too. However, the government is not ready to make a comprehensive assessment of the technology in the interests of farmers. Also interesting to note is the fact that the government’s own comparative assessment is in favour of organic cotton farming – however, the political will to increase the outreach under organic cotton farming is not visible even as a blind eye is being turned to several regulatory failures being pointed out by civil society groups consistently.

[1]These figures pertain to GEAC-approved Bt Cotton hybrids

[2]The usual estimation of infestation is done as percentage of fruit damage seen, whereas volunteers in this study counted the larvae seen on each plant

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