New study exposes Monsanto's Bt cotton hype (2/6/2006)

This study into the growing of Bt cotton in India is very revealing, not least because even though it was commissioned by WWF, it was set up with the aim of getting away from the influence of Indian NGOs, who are referred to in the report in rather disparaging terms, and because it takes every opportunity to be positive about Bt cotton where it can.

The study was based on a cotton-growing area of India that was considered largely devoid of the "external influence by any NGO" and where the farmers were considered "progressive". Nonetheless, the study's findings seem to bear out exactly what the NGOs, as opposed to the industry and its supporters, have been saying about Bt cultivation.

Monsanto and its lobbyists claim that Indian farmers are growing Bt cotton on an ever-increasing area because it delivers "consistent benefits in terms of reduced pesticide use and increased income". They quote survey findings they've commissioned showing net profit increases for Bt cotton farmers of 60 per cent compared to those who grow conventional cotton. (Seeds of discontent, Frontline, 14-27 January 2006, K. Venkateshwarlu, Hyderabad)

Indian NGOs, on the other hand, say that the increased cultivation of Bt cotton has been the result of massive hype. And when it comes to issues of profit, the findings of this study largely confirm those of other independent studies. Farmers growing Bt cotton invested relatively more, got less yield and got far less income than non-Bt cotton growers. This despite the fact that the study found that those farmers growing both Bt and non-Bt cotton tended to reserve their best land for the Bt.

BT Versus Non-BT Cotton
A Critical Analysis of On-farm data, Impressions and Opinions "Study in Khammam district, Andhra Pradesh, India, 2005-2006"
C S Pawar

Shree Vivekanand Research and Training Institute (VRTI), Mandvi, Kutch 370 465, Gujarat, India For World Wildlife Fund (WWF) International International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics Patancheru 502 324, Andhra Pradesh, India

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF)... was interested to get an unbiased or rather uninfluenced report on BT cotton - trend in its adoption and change in resource requirements of cotton with BT. They decided to conduct a study in India through a person of wide experience in cotton production system, and this is the report.

In Andhra Pradesh, a compact cotton growing area of Khammam district (50 km radius with Khamman town in the center) with a fringe of Krishna and Guntur districts was chosen. This was largely to avoid external influence by any NGO or organization which is the case for Warangal and Guntur areas that often make the news for one or other happening in cotton cultivation and also for the farmers unrest, cry and suicides. Further, the Khammam farmers are progressive and known for making good assessment of anything they try new in their fields.

The data collected through the season for the full, partial and non-adopters of BT revealed that there was really no benefit to farmers per se by adopting BT cotton (Table 1). Farmers invested relatively more, got less of yield and far less of an income from BT than non-BT cotton crops.

With BT cultivation, some farmers pointed out reduced risk of pesticide to their health and safety to animals and benefit in terms of reduced medical attention. However, there appeared not much change in their general behavior towards pesticide application.

The impression created by the seed companies that BT cotton requires less number of pickings than non-BT did not seem to hold good in this area.

(A) Few farmers... also reported that some labors complained of itching sensation and allergic skin reaction having worked for a long hours in the BT fields.

Total Expenses

Farmers had incurred more expenses for growing BT than non-BT cotton. Farmers who grew both the materials had spent on average Rs. 9448/ac for BT as against Rs. 8401/ac for non-BT crops. Farmers with only BT had spent also relatively more and than the farmers with non-BT. The difference was mainly due to the cost of seed and the pest control.

Under the same farmer management, both BT and non-BT cotton were at par [as regards yield], rather non-BT showing a bit of tilt towards more yield, 826 kg/ac as against 819 kg/ac of BT. Rather, non-BT farmers harvested about 20% more cotton than BT farmers; they obtained average 1013 kg/ac as against 834 kg/ac of cotton by BT farmers.


With non-BT cotton, farmers realized a net income 20-60% more than BT cotton. Farmers with both BT and non-BT realized average net income of Rs. 8183/ac from non-BT as against Rs. 6493 from BT crops. Exclusive non-BT farmers realized far more income from cotton, average Rs. 10383/ac as against Rs. 6437/ac by exclusive BT farmers.

Farmers when asked about the impact on animal health, some reported to have observed cows and bullocks avoiding entering into BT fields, probably for some deterrent effect of BT plants. Farmers of one village pointed out that some sheep and goats that grazed in BT cotton were affected and a few had also succumbed in the earlier year. However, such effects were not confirmed by many others.

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