More on Study Confirming Failure of Bt Cotton (28/5/2005)

Amidst ludicrous claims of amazing bumper harvests due to Monsanto's Bt cotton, the reality of GM cotton in the developing world is slowly emerging.

First there was Indonesia - the results were so disastrous, Monsanto had to pull its GM seed out of the country,despite all the time and effort spoent bribing Indonesian officials to get it in.

Then there was India where one variety of Monsanto's GM cotton performed so badly it has now been banned form the whole of South India, and the only other two varieties grown in the past 3 years have been banned from Andhra Pradesh.

But there was always South Africa - Monsanto's showcase. farmers have been plucked from there, wuined and dined by Monsanto and given the company's scripts to read on platforms around the world.

These farmers even star in a Monsanto movie that has been shown to UN delegates and others. 'Voices from Africa' is ostensibly the work of the Monsanto front group, CORE. But the actual director and script-writer has worked on previous Monsanto projects and the sizeable benefits claimed for GM cotton in South Africa have now been exposed as fanciful.

A just-published five year study has shown that small-scale South African cotton farmers have not benefited from GM cotton and that the impression that they have is due to Monsanto's media hype.

Yesterday we brought you the press release. Below's the article summarising the results, plus an introduction from Gaia.

And don't forget another damning report, on the biotechnology industry's showcase projects in Africa, from Aaron deGrassi, a researcher in the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, UK, came to very similar conclusions.

Subject: South African Study Confirms Failure of Bt Cotton
From: Gaia <[email protected]>

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

In addition to several comprehensive reports in India detailing how Bt cotton has been a total failure, a five-year study from South Africa also shows how GM cotton has destroyed small farmers.

The Biowatch South Africa study looks at the small farmers of the Makhathini Flats in Kwazulu-Natal, the same farmers that were widely promoted by Monsanto as a huge GM success story in Africa.

But a close and long-term look at the data shows how Monsanto’s claims were premature at best, or deliberately misleading at worst.

The findings include:

-Out of 3,000 farmers who originally grew Bt cotton, only 700 continue to do so (an 80% dropout rate), which does not suggest that the crop has been a success.

-Farmers who grew Bt cotton are now in an average of $1,300 debt as a result.

-There has been no reduction in the use of pesticides. Now stink bugs have emerged as a major problem, as in other parts of the world where Bt cotton is grown.

-Farmers are made to sign contracts that they cannot read (either because they speak only Zulu, or are illiterate,) and do not understand their implications. Few know that they are supposed to plant refugia in order to slow down the rate of pests developing resistance to the crop.

One farmer says it all: "Four years ago we were told we would make lots of money but we work harder and make nothing."

Best wishes,

Bt cotton in South Africa: the case of the Makhathini farmers
Article from Seedling (GRAIN). Date: April 2005
Elfrieda Pschorn-Strauss (* <> )

This article summarises the results of five years of research undertaken by Biowatch South Africa on the socio-economic impact of Bt cotton on small-scale farmers in South Africa. It forms part of a comprehensive research paper on the topic that will be published later this year.

(This paper has been written by Elfrieda Pschorn-Strauss, a researcher with Biowatch South Africa. The research has been done with the assistance of Lawrence Mkhaliphi, Charles Louw, Wendy Forse and Gwendolyn Wellmann.)

In 2003, the chairman of the Ubongwa Farmers Union [1 <> ] in Makhathini, stood side-by-side with the US trade representative, Robert Zoellick. They announced together that the US would take the European Union (EU) to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to challenge its stand on genetic modification (GM). The clear message to both the EU and Africa was that the US was standing by the African farmer by giving it access to GM technologies, whereas the EU was not.

The Bt cotton farmers of the Makhathini Flats, in northern KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, had become a centrepiece of the GM industry 's global promotion of GM crops as a solution to poverty and hunger. Why? A previous study, focussing on the agricultural economics of Bt cotton and published three years previously, had proclaimed huge yield increases for Bt cotton farmers in the Makhathini floodplains. [2 <> ] This study had a profound impact around the world. Bt cotton was heralded as an African success story by the biotech industry. Numerous delegations of African scientists, policy makers, farmer representatives and journalists, were brought to South Africa to meet with selected farmers in Makhathini and to showcase the benefits of GM crops for African farmers, all kindly funded by the GM industry and the US government. [3 <> ]

Even the FAO used this study as a basis for its widely criticised SOFA report [4 <> ] in 2004.

Yet, it is now widely recognised that there is massive variability in the growing of Bt cotton; single surveys of farmers provide variable answers, each growing season provides very different results in the growing of Bt cotton. All in all, this initial economic study was a bit premature [5 <> ] and the publicity generated from it, plainly misleading.

It is not only in South Africa that the GM industry has been proclaiming the benefits of Bt cotton. For example, in India, Monsanto led a massive media campaign of showing the wonderful benefits of Bt cotton, which, it turns out, have proved to be extremely misleading (see Box: Bt Cotton in Andhra Pradesh - a three year assessment below).

Therefore, we have a few widely publicised studies proclaiming the benefits of Bt cotton for small farmers, including higher yields and reduced pesticide use. However, the growing evidence of farmers’ experiences points to a darker reality, as shown by this article in South Africa. Bt cotton has not proved to be sustainable in terms of reducing pesticide use nor in terms of improving income for farmers. In many areas insect resistance management plans are not known by farmers and therefore not followed. Secondary pests are becoming a major problem and in some areas, such as in India, Bt cotton simply did not perform. Far from addressing the problems faced by small farmers, reports from the field show that Bt cotton exacerbates their poverty. Alternative methods for reducing pesticide use in cotton are not promoted even though it has proven to be very successful. [6 <> ] Bt cotton is just a distraction that maintains the pesticide industry and lures countries of the South into accepting GM.

For it is clear that Bt cotton is also a Trojan Horse. By having one GM crop in place, it is then possible and far easier to grow other GM crops; the necessary le


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