India's record GM hype (12/8/2005)

1.Comment from Devinder Sharma of the Forum for Biotechnology & Food Security
2.Comment from PV Satheesh of the Deccan Devlopment Society
3.India seen heading for a record cotton crop - Reuters


Nowhere is the gap between the hype and the reality of GM crops more contrasting than in India.

Recently SciDev (the development website for the journals Science and Nature) reported how a study by Indian government scientists had found that "Indian varieties of cotton that have been genetically modified to resist an important insect pest are 'inadequate'."

The SciDev article also noted that, "The findings back farmers' claims that the pest, known as the bollworm, is able to survive on Bt cotton varieties, modified to resist it." (Indian GM cotton is 'inadequate'; enquiry demanded)

Compare and contrast that with this just published Reuters-India article, "Cotton output in India, the world's third-largest producer, is expected to reach a record 25 million bales this year, thanks to good weather, higher land under the crop and more usuage of genetically modified seeds." (item 3)

So how come a crop that Indian government research shows to be "inadequate" and that has even triggered riots among farmers because of its poor performance is credited with giving India a bumper harvest?

I decided to send a copy of the Reuters piece to some of those who have been following Bt cotton's performance since its introduction to India. Below are their responses.

PV Satheesh (item 2) takes apart Reuters' figures. The Reuters' piece claims:

"The share of transgenic cotton has been estimated at about 90 percent of total plantings in Gujarat, India's largest cotton producer, nearly 75 percent in the neighbouring western state of Maharashtra and some 60 percent in northern India."

But Satheesh shows that if those figures were true then that area of planting would give a figure 3 times higher than the entire area given by the Ministry of Agriculture in its official statistics for Bt cotton cultivation in the whole of India!!!

Kavitha Kuruganti of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture in Andhra Pradesh tells us that figures for GM cotton cultivation may be inflated in any case. Some of the varieties being grown by farmers who say they are cultivating Bt cotton are actually clandestine types sold as GM cotton but which may not even contain the Bt gene! This kind of Bt cotton is apparently greatly increasing, presumably i response to the impact of the industry's hype.

Kavitha also points out that while Reuters claims Bt cotton growing has doubled this year and constitutes nearly 75 percent of the cotton cultivation in the state of Maharashtra, an article by Gargi Parsai in The Hindu (July 19th 2005) gives a very different picture.

From the figures given in that article it appears that the Maharashtra cotton cultivation figures, far from doubling, are down this year from last and the Bt component is just over 11% (as against 75%!!).

Jonathan Matthews

1.From Devinder Sharma of the Forum for Biotechnology & Food Security

Dear Jonathan,

This is merely an industry hype. A quote from a vice president of an export company, Gujarat Ambuja Exports (an outfit of Gujarat Ambuja, a cement producing company), is not a credible source.

Interestingly, only a few months back, the USDA had predicted that the cotton plantings would fall in India because of the bumper crop harvested in 2004 !!

Last year witnessed a bumper harvest because of an excellent weather for cotton. Crop yields of non-Bt were also very high. But the industry (as well as the USDA) had ascribed the higher production to Bt cotton !!!

This year, it is just the beginning of the cotton season. Let us wait and see what happens to the crop by the time the harvesting begins in October.

Best wishes
Devinder Sharma

2.From PV Satheesh of the Deccan Devlopment Society

Dear Jonathan

A quick response to your query.

One could smell a fraud in this even when you read the first few sentences. But one had to wade through a whole range of statistics, which is not easily available in India. At least not for village based activists like me.

However a tenacious four hours in front of my computer and visits to various websites and bouncing the questions to a number of friends finally gave me some clues. We will further investigate it but here are the first sets of information.

The website of the Directorate of Cotton Development, Ministry of Agriculture, GOI, the authentic official website of the Government of India, [which incidentally is itself very gung ho about the "sustainability" of Bt cotton cultivation in India] puts the total area under Bt cotton cultivation in 2005 in the entire country at 1.3 million Ha (hectares).

Says the website:
"During 2002-03 Bt cotton was cultivated over an area of 72682 acres which increased to 213098 acres during 2003-04 and 1,300,000 ha during 2004-05."

The Central Institute for Cotton Research [CICR], which is a NARS centre for Cotton Research, the authentic GOI institution the total cotton acreage in 2005 in Gujarat is 1.95 million Ha while Maharashtra is growing cotton in 3.4 million Ha.

If we believe the Reuters report which says that Gujarat grows Bt in 90% of its cotton area, the Bt in Gujarat should account for a total of 1.75 million Ha and Maharashtra [at 75%] should make up another 2.5 million Ha. Between the two they should account for nearly 4.25 million Ha. which would be nearly three times the total Bt cotton acreage in entire India!

What can we say about these media stooges of the Industry! I think the intention in hyping up the figures so abominably is to persuade everyone to start believing in the juggernautism of the biotech industry and decide to "surrender" to it the way the industry has declared in its war cry.

The biotech industry is employing two weapons currently. One weapon is to genetically contaminate all agriculture so that non-GM crops will have no future. On a parallel mode, they also would like to use their embedded pink press to contaminate people's minds so that perception builds up about the inevitability of GE.

My friend Devinder Sharma tells me that the source for this Reuters report is the Vice President of a major Bt cotton exporting company in Gujarat. This VP does need to hype up his figures. But why doesn't the media check its figures? Is there a design in it? Curiously the reporter who is credited with this story also had written another story in June this year wherein he had repeated the same figures : 90% of all Gujarat growing Bt cotton.

Suspicions rise, don't they?

3.India seen heading for a record cotton crop
By Atul Prakash

BOMBAY (Reuters) - Cotton output in India, the world's third-largest producer, is expected to reach a record 25 million bales this year, thanks to good weather, higher land under the crop and more usuage of genetically modified seeds.

India had produced about 23.5 million bales of 170 kg each in 2004, the best ever.

"The crop condition is excellent," said Ashok Kapur, a trader based in the northern state of Punjab. "We are witnessing hot and dry weather conditions, coupled with western winds. Such a situation is very good for the crop which is flowering now."

Traders said delayed rains at the time of sowing in June in certain areas and recent floods in parts of western India damaged crops to some extent, but overall condition was good.

Monsoon showers in early August after a dry spell improved crop prospects. If more rains come at the end of this month, crop yields would get a further boost, traders said.

"Rains were well timed and just as required," said R. K. Baldua, vice president of Gujarat Ambuja Exports Ltd., a leading producer of cotton in the western state of Gujarat.

India has the world's largest area under cotton and this has risen by 5 to 7 percent this year from about 9 million hectares last year, as many farmers shifted from paddy and tobacco, anticipating higher returns, traders said.

Yields were expected to be better this year with the growing popularity of genetically modified cotton, which was introduced in the country in 2002.

The share of transgenic cotton has been estimated at about 90 percent of total plantings in Gujarat, India's largest cotton producer, nearly 75 percent in the neighbouring western state of Maharashtra and some 60 percent in northern India.

Overall coverage under the genetically modified cotton has more than doubled this year from the previous year following the launch of new varieties and improved supply of hybrid seeds.

"The impact of GMO seeds is bound to come on cotton. Yields will definitely rise," said Baldua.


Domestic cotton prices are expected to fall to near 10-year lows after the start of cotton pluckings in October as a likely bumper crop will dampen sentiment, traders said.

Prices of Shankar cotton have been little changed at about 16,500 rupees a candy of 356 kg in the past month, but could drop by 1,000 rupees with the harvesting of the new crop, they said.

"But prices may not fall beyond that level as the government may start buying cotton to lift prices and exports may rise," said I.J. Dhuria, a general manager with Punjab-based Vardhman Spinning and General Mills Ltd.

Prices would also get support from a rise in cotton consumption by mills as many companies have increased their production capacities, traders said.

Traders said India's cotton exports could rise to about 1.5 million bales in the marketing year to September 2006 to countries such as China, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia from nearly 1 million this year.


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