Ban Bt cotton - letter to Andhra Pradesh's ag minister (8/6/2006)

EXCERPT: On the day of Mrugasira kaarte, day on which millions of your farmer brethren go to their fields to plant new seeds for the new season, please give them new hope Shri Reddygaru, by banning Bt from their fields.

Dear Jonathan,

Below is the letter sent to AP Agriculture Minister in the context of Agriculture Ministers meet from 7 states to discuss and determine the price of Bt Cotton at Hyderabad on 9th June, 2006. We are using this opportunity to highlight our concerns regarding Bt Cotton and the findings of our Study.

with regards
p v satheesh


Honourable Shri Raghuveerareddygaru,

Please let me greet you on behalf of the 40 million and odd farmers of Andhra Pradesh on the auspicious day of Mrugasira Karte the day on which the first rain star takes birth. A day when millions of farmers reach their farm to plant the seed for a new season. A day on which hopes are planted on earth. And a long wait begins for the harvests of the planted seed.

Tomorrow you will be joining Agriculture Ministers from seven cotton growing States of the country in a meeting at Hyderabad to discuss the issue of price of Bt Seeds.

It is but natural that AP is chosen as the place for the agricultural ministers to discuss the price of Bt cotton, because you and your government have put up a historic fight against Monsanto to curb its greed and clip its evil corporate wings. A fight unprecedented in the agricultural history of the modern world. At least in the case of an all-conquering Monsanto which has used corruption, sleaze and threat to make most governments to bow before it.

But you have remained a shining star. Probably a Mrugasira Karte, yourself. We trust, this is because you are a farmer yourself. And in a world swamped by burgers and pizzas, you still eat Ragi Mudda at home, paying tribute to mighty millets in your own way.

It is this personal and politically persona of yourself that inspirers this letter to you. Reddygaru, please read this letter carefully before you attend the Ministers’ meet. Please spare a few minutes for this letter in your punishing schedule.

On the one hand this meeting of Agricultural Ministers is a welcome news in the sense that there is a general understanding among the various Indian states that the enormously usurious rates of Bt seeds are robbing Indian farmers of the very small gains they get by cultivating Bt cotton. But we also think that this is certainly not the only issue that needs to be considered in your conference.

What we urge you to discuss is the issue why Bt cotton should not be banned from Indian soils? What is it that we are going to lose if we do so except for saving the royalty adding upto of billions of rupees that Monsanto collects for its Bt gene and ploughs back into USA? Is it right for us to make the poor Indian farmer pay for the greed of one of the most profit hungry multinational?

When you are sitting for this conference, surely you will have before you a long list of the history of failed Bt cotton in India, particularly in Andhra Pradesh. You are also acutely aware that at least a thousand farmers, if not more, have committed suicide after growing Bt cotton in AP, Maharashtra as well as in Karnataka. These facts are not yet very well known. But when they start emerging, they will be calamitous in their impact.

In Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra at least half a dozen studies done by independent scientists [scientists who have not been bought over by the corporations nor the ones who are serving governments and therefore are under the obligation not to speak out] and development economists have clearly brought out the successive failures of Bt cotton both on the economic front and yield front. You, Shri Raghuveera Reddygaru, are more aware of this than your counterparts from other states. Our own studies have been regularly fed to you and your government, year after year.

But unfortunately, these suicides and failures of Bt cotton will be passed on to an elegant phrase coined by the biotech industry called externalities. Will you be trapped by this elegant prose or are you ready to put your nose into harsh facts, Shri Reddygaru? If you do, let us produce some facts for you that you may not be very familiar with:

There is no scientific proof in this country that mentions that pesticide consumption has reduced in the cotton growing districts after Bt cotton has been introduced.

[If you read the statistics on the USDA website, you will know that in the USA, after a decade of cultivating GM crops on nearly 65% of its farms, pesticide use has not come down even by an ounce. The curve for pesticide use has remained flat for the last ten years]. Please consider this very seriously, since pesticide-reduction is the raison detre for the existence of Bt cotton in this country, according to the MoEF. The studies that we have ourselves conducted as well as the ones we are familiar with, the reduction of pesticides is only very marginal. Just about 6-7%, a fact that not merit the introduction of Bt Cotton.

The accumulating evidences suggest that the pest, Helicoverpa armigera is already building resistance in India. This means that within two to three years farmers must get back more toxic pest sprays than before, or buy Bollgard II [which has been recently introduced in South Africa] seeds which are supposed to have higher pest resistance properties in them. But the catch is that in Australia Bollgard II sells at around $110 [5060 rupees] per hectare, an amount with which Indian farmers can purchase seeds for ten acres of land.

And then the question of Yield. Bt is not a yield spinning mechanism as being promoted by industry. You know it more than anyone else Shri Reddygaru. In your state alone Bt yields have crashed year after year. Two AP governments have advised their farmers against Bt use. You are clearly aware that yield in Bt Cotton depends on the yield potential of the hybrid into which the Bt gene has been introduced.

In other words, if Bt gene is introduced into a low yielding hybrid, the cotton yields will be low. If it is introduced into a high yielding hybrid, the yields will be high. There is no contribution by Bt gene itself to the yield increase in cotton

However there are so many studies which point to the crash of Bt cotton in terms of yield, especially under non irrigated conditions. In Andhra Pradesh, during the 2002-2003 year of dry spell, Bt cotton yields were 35% less than non Bt cotton yields. This has clearly emerged in our study of 2002-2003. Since then we have done regularly scientific studies until 2006. In no year Bt yields were significantly higher than non Bt yields. On those rare years when Bt yielded higher than the same Non Bt hybrids, the difference was hardly 1 to 2 per cent.

But let us caution about far more dangerous facts that are emerging from our studies:

a. There are sufficient advance evidences to say that soils on which Bt cotton is cultivated are becoming reservoirs of pathogens causing root rot disease for subsequent crops such as chillies.

b. The toxicity of Bt plants for small ruminants is proving fatal. In AP itself our own studies have carefully documented such instances since 2004 and have submitted reports to the Department of Animal Husbandry for their action. For a country in which most of the rural poor, especially women, who own a couple of small animals such as goats and many shepherd households raise large herds of sheep and goat, this can be fatal.

c. There are early reports that people who have stored their Bt cotton harvest in their houses have started suffering from breathing allergies and skin rashes. WE MUST SERIOUSLY CONSIDER WHAT EFFECT THIS MIGHT HAVE ON POOR COTTON PICKERS FOR WHOM WORKING ON COTTON FIELDS IS A MAJOR LIVELIHOOD OPTION.

Considering all these facts [and many more which we are willing to submit to you if you want them, both within India and across the world], the question now is not whether we will use Bt cotton at a reduced price?

The question really is, whether in the interest of the economic well being small and poor farmers in India, in the interest of Indian soils, in the interest of the health of the farm labourers, particularly women, in the interest of the shepherding community of this country, ARE WE READY TO BAN BT COTTON?

Mr Minister, millions of Indians in your state have elected you to this august position with a lot of faith and hope. Please keep their interests at your heart. Cutting through the corporate hype, brushing aside the manufactured evidence of the bought up science, confronting the powerful vested interests, please think on behalf of the small farmers who are your major constituency and their bitter experiences with Bt cotton.

We have no doubt that you will concur with us that Bt is best Banned.

On the day of Mrugasira kaarte, day on which millions of your farmer brethren go to their fields to plant new seeds for the new season, please give them new hope Shri Reddygaru, by banning Bt from their fields. Let their soils be saved, let their animals be saved. Let the health of your millions of farmer fraternity be saved.

Please show this initiative with a new courage and determination, as you have always shown in the past.

The state of AP and the Indian nation will be grateful to you for that act.

Wishing you well in your deliberations
[p v satheesh]

Convenor, AP Coalition in Defence of Diversity Convenor, South Against Genetic Engineering

To Sri N.Raghuveera Reddy, Minister For Agriculture and Horticulture, Food, Civil Supplies, Legal Metrology and Consumer Affairs, Block-J,7th Floor, Room No-703, Ph: 040-23451196, Email: [email protected]

Copy to:

1. Dr Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, Chief Minister, 'C' Block, 4th Floor, AP Secretariat Hyderabad, Ph: 23456698,23451805,23455205 Fax: (Off)23452498,23454828 (Res)23410555, Email: [email protected]

2. Dr Poonam Malakondiah, Commissioner for Agriculture & Additional Director of Agriculture, Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh Ph: 23232107 Fax: 24565236 / 23237545 Email: [email protected]


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