PV Satheesh on a recent meeting with Bt cotton farmers in South Africa (27/7/2006)

Here is the response of PV Satheesh - the founder of India's widely admired Deccan Development Society - to the new study showing the problematic performance of Bt cotton in China. (see THE "MIRACLE" THAT DIED) http://www.lobbywatch.org/archive2.asp?arcid=6806

PV Satheesh is not just familiar with the problems caused by Bt cotton in India but details here a recent visit he made to the Makhatini area of South Africa, where he met with Bt cotton farmers and discussed their experiences.

As you will see, Satheesh makes several references to the South African farmer, TJ Buthelezi, who was present at one of the meetings with Satheesh and who has a long established relationship with Monsanto and the biotech industry. With their assistance Buthelezi has been brought to Washington, Brussels, Pretoria, St Louis, London, Johannesburg, and Philadelphia to help promote GM foods in general and Bt cotton in particular. Buthelezi was even by US Trade Secretary Robert Zoellick's side when Zoellick formally announced the US WTO case against EU restrictions on GM imports.

In August 2002 Buthelezi turned up at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. He gave interviews and attended at a pro-GM 'farmers' rally covertly organised by Monsanto and a network of pro-GM lobbyists. http://www.freezerbox.com/archive/article.asp?id=254

Aaron deGrassi of the Institute of Development Studies notes how Buthelezi's accounts of his positive experiences with Monsanto's Bt cotton are suspiciously similar to Monsanto press releases.

Critics have coined the nickname 'Bt Buthelezi' to illustrate his 'unconditional support to Bt cotton: during a trip to Monsanto's headquarters in St. Louis, Buthelezi was quoted as saying, "I wouldn't care if it were from the devil himself."' http://www.lobbywatch.org/profile1.asp?PrId=184

For the true story of Bt cotton in Makhatini, see the report: THE SUCCESS STORY THAT NEVER WAS http://www.grain.org/seedling_files/seed-05-04-3.pdf


from PV Satheesh:

I dont know whether to describe [the China study] as heartening news or as sad news. On the one hand, it nails all the hype created by the industry but, on the other hand, this is the kind of story that has made thousands of farmer suicides in India. Unfortunately we are all living in such a totally sold out State that no regulatory frameworks function to protect farmers from these merchants of poison.

We have begun the process of working with a Chinese group of scientists on Bt cottton and we will look for first hand information from there on what is precisely happening and what are their implications.

On Makhatini in South Africa, I have some very revealing first hand experiences. I was there recently as a part of a Global South film on Bt Cotton I am producing with expereince from six Southern countries. I described what I had seen to my friends in GRAIN last week. i reproduce this for you:

We had two field visits, two workshops with farmers, one at Mboza and Ndumo and one workshop-presentation to the Research Station scientists and Extension officers at Mjindi. The workshop at Ndumo was with a set of larger farmers with irrigation facilities. Their acceptance of Bt cotton was very high though none of them was ready to vouch that s/he had really profitted from it. The general tenor was that they would like to get a better market rather than give up Bt. Since cotton was the only produce they were able to sell, they were "happy with it" was the sense one got.

The second meeting at Mboza was far more interesting. More than half of the people were women and included TJ Buthelezi's wife. They were all small farmers. Owners of not more than 4 hectares of land. Here the sense of dissatisfaction was palpable. At the end of the introduction, my presentation and a bit of discussion, the farmers broke up into two groups, one group headed by Mrs Buthelezi. The group meeting minutes were read out afterwards in the plenary.

The Buthelezi [Mrs] group discussion categorically said things like

After six years of Bt cotton, the trend should have been better. But it has worsened the situation.

Probably if any other crop that can be an alternative and has a better market is shown, we will opt out of Bt cotton.

Both the groups were therefore anything but pro Bt cotton. Since Bt cotton was the only kind of cotton they could grow in that area and because Makhatini Cotton was buying it from them readily, they were trapped into the system, to get out of which they were struggling but were finding it very difficult. This came out very strongly from the group recommendations. This forced an enraged Mr Buthelezi to make a strong and passionate argument that farmers must not keep ruing about their situation, but be very positive about things.

It reminded me of our Technocrat President of India who tells everyone who is anti GE or anti mega dams to look at things positively and stop being negative. Or not far into history Marie Antoniotte who asked the farmers "if you have no bread, eat cake".

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