Bt cotton article selective, biased and false (13/6/2007)

This is a response from Kavitha Kuruganti of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA), based in Andhra Pradesh in India, to a recent article claiming to both represent the concerns of the CSA over Bt cotton and to critique them.

The article was by C Kameswara Rao of the Bangalore-based Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education (FBAE). Rao based his article on discussions he had when visiting the CSA in company with two other ardent GM supporters - Shanthu Shantharam, also of the FBAE and a former Syngenta and USDA employee; and Ronald Herring, an anthropologist at Cornell.

The FBAE is a controversial organisation. It claims to be a "non-profit", "grassroot", "movement" but in reality has since its inception been initimately tied in to the biotech industry. The President of the FBAE, for instance, is the General Manager of Nunhems Seeds India - a wholly owned subsidiary of Bayer CropScience.

And the main spokespeople of the FBAE have a history of stunningly inaccurate claims about those with concerns about GM.

Given this, it's hardly a surprise that Kavitha was less than impressed with the content of Rao's article, finding its representation of the CSA's position not only selective and biased but in part the product of the "fertile imagination of these (FBAE) guys". In short, Rao and co. are once again guilty of setting up straw men in order to show off their supposed brilliance in attacking them.

Rao's article follows with Kavitha's comments in square brackets [].


*Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education* http://www.fbae.org/index.htm

*Bt COTTON IN WARANGAL DISTRICT, ANDHRA PRADESH, INDIA: 1. THE NGO CHARGE SHEET* http://fbae.org/Channels/Views/bt_cotton_in_warangal_district1.htm

[KAVITHA: the "NGO charge sheet" has been clearly articulated by the NGO in any case, straight to the regulators and others, and does not really require any more interlocution]

C Kameswara Rao

Foundation for Biotechnology Awareness and Education, Bangalore, India [email protected], www.fbae.org, www.fbaeblog.org

* *

Lately, the Warangal District, in the semi-arid Telengana region of the State of Andhra Pradesh (AP), India, has become the epicenter of everything going bad in the cultivation of Bt cotton. Reports of phenomenal failure of Bt cotton, farmer distress, death of sheep, death of cattle and alleged farmer suicides have show cased the Warangal District as an example of all that could go wrong with modern agriculture. Anti-tech activism has extrapolated all this to the other parts, in and out of AP, such as Vidharbha region of Maharashtra. A rational and scientific assessment does not support such an intensely negative outcome from Bt cotton cultivation. To assess the ground realities first hand, Professor Ronald Herring, Cornell University, Ithaca, Dr S Shantharam, Biologistics International, of USA, and I, have visited the Warangal District for about a week in the middle of December 2006.

Before going to Warangal, we visited the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA), Hyderabad/ Secunderabad and the Andhra Pradesh State Seed Certification Agency, Hyderabad, for a first hand assessment of opinions and reports.

*Centre for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA)*

The CSA are the main anti-Bt cotton activists in AP. The two functionaries of CSA we met raised the following issues against Bt cotton:

*a) Economical and technical features not up to the mark:* What is the mark and whose mark? There is certainly no serious deficiency in basic technical features and performance of Bt cotton. Achieving maximum economic benefits from a crop's potential depends upon several local factors, such as the soil type, irrigation facility, weather conditions in a particular season that influence pest pressure, and the awareness of the farmer in adopting appropriate cultivation practices. There has been a phenomenal increase in the acreage under Bt cotton, year after year, even in Warangal District. The Bt cotton acreage increased from 2.27 lakh in 2005 to 8.30 lakh in 2006 in the AP, from 6.23 to 18.40 in Maharashtra, and from 1.27 million to 3.8 million in the country, during the same period. The horror stories of failure of Bt cotton in AP and Maharashtra do not reconcile with statistics from diverse sources.

[KAVITHA: We said that economic and technical features related to Bt Cotton are nowhere near the promises and claims. We certainly know that a crop's performance depends on a complex web of factors and that is precisely why we think that reductionist science will not help in solving farmers’ real life problems. Despite the increases in crop acreage related to Bt Cotton, socio-political issues like "de-skilling" of farmers have been well brought out by (social) scientists like Dr Stone.]

*b) Promises on reduction of pesticide use, yield increase and higher profit not realized:* No evidence was offered other than perceptions and opinions. This is contrary to all reports, and feed back from the farmers, which indicate that Bt cotton, did substantially reduce pesticide use, increased yield by preventing loss due to bollworm, which enhanced profits, all reflected in the increase of acreage.

[KAVITHA: No evidence needs to be given to the visitors. Our data from our studies has already been published.]

*c) There was no environmental and socio-economic impact assessment:* Studies prior to commercialization in India and elsewhere for over a decade, have not indicated any adverse environmental impact. The socio-economic impact is rooted in a tension free cultivation and higher financial returns, which were realized by the farmers to a great extent, when the cultivation conditions and

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