|Bt cotton - to ban or to burn? / Who really gains from reduced Bt cotton seed prices? (20/6/2006)|
1.Rajya Raitha Sangha to burn Bt cotton plantations
Once again the big hype is on for Bt cotton in India with enforced price reductions on the expensive seeds as part of this season's picture, but the seed firms are also trying to cover their backs ahead of the next round of crop failures and financial ruin for poor farmers.
EXCERPTS: The sales season is on in the cotton belts... There have already been four rounds of advertisements that the companies have engaged in - pasting posters one on top of the other has become the norm, on every available surface - electricity poles, tree trunks, walls, buses, big hoardings, milestones and so on.
It was also educative reading about all the instructions and package of practices printed on the packet by Nuziveedu Seeds' products. In case there is bollworm attack, do this. In case there is sucking pests' incidence, do that. In case there is wilt, do the other. All printed in English, for the illiterate cotton farmers!! Is this a company genuinely trying to tell farmers how to grow their cotton or is it the latest way of companies covering their own backs...?
If the crop fails tomorrow..., will they be told that they have not followed the recommended package of practices, when no one bothered to recommend anything in any case? (item 2)
1.India : Rajya Raitha Sangha to burn Bt cotton plantations
Bt cotton plantations will be set afire by the Rajya Raitha Sangha if its sales are not banned by the State and Central Government, Chukki Nanjundaswamy, President of Rajya Raitha Sangha stated.
Chukki said that farmers are complaining of poor quality and low yield which is the reason why his Sangh decided to burn Bt cotton plantation.
Heavy losses suffered due to failure of Bt cotton, led to several farmers from Maharashtra and Karnataka commit suicide burdened by heavy debts and pennury.
They will start awareness campaign to protect bio-agriculture method and try to save farmers interest, informed Chukki Nanjundaswamy.
2.Bt Cotton Pricing Issue: Is AP Government's fight genuine?
The AP [Andhra Pradesh] government is boasting about its victory in the MRTPC case against Mahyco-Monsanto Biotech Limited on the royalty and pricing issue related to Bt Cotton ['Bollgard' trade name]. Right now, Bt Cotton is being sold in Andhra Pradesh and two other states of Maharashtra and Gujarat reportedly at Rs. 750/- per packet of 450 gms of Bt Cotton and 120 gms of Non-Bt Cotton. Madhya Pradesh was forced to follow suit, when farmers from Khandwa put pressure on the state Agriculture Minister. The AP governmentís move has been hailed as a historic fight against multinational companies and their control over Indian seed industry. The government is projecting this as a pro-farmer move pro-actively taken up from their side.
However, consider the following to understand the true picture of what is happening with Bt Cotton and prices in Andhra Pradesh:
The government moved the MRTP Commission arguing that out of a packet of Bt Cotton sold at Rs. 1650/- or Rs. 1818/-, Rs. 1250/- was going as royalty charges to the licensed company called Mahyco-Monsanto Biotech. In other countries like China and the USA, the royalty collected is far lower than this. When the MRTPC case was going on, the company announced that the royalty would be brought down to Rs. 900/- per packet - accordingly, the prices were announced at around Rs. 1250/- to Rs. 1350/- per packet. But if we were to go by the MRTPCís interim orders of using the royalty charged in China as the benchmark, the prices should have come down to Rs. 450/- or so. Why did the government issue an Order asking for prices to be fixed at Rs. 750/- then? Is it defying the very orders that it sought from MRTPC? How much profit would that mean for Nuziveedu Seeds which is going to be the best gainer from this move and which is also known to be pro-Congress in many ways. It is a known fact that Nuziveedu Seeds was the one which helped the AP government and its agriculture department in its argumentation in front of the MRTPC? Nuziveedu is clearly the gainer given that other Bt Cotton firms do not have a market advantage in AP. It will pay only China-level royalty charges to the licensor but still charge its own premium from farmers.
You would remember that during the MRTPC case, Monsanto put in an affidavit saying that it has nothing to do with the case, since MMB was the one sub-licensing the Bollgard technology. This game of having different avatars is a convenient trick for the companies, as we all understand. However, all the packets of Bt Cotton seeds clearly mention that the technology has been sub-licensed by Monsanto [MMB does not figure on the packets]
What is very noteworthy is the fact that all these packets specify that each packet is recommended for sowing in half an acre only. What does this mean then? That farmers will, even in a reduced price situation, have to pay Rs. 1500/- an acre for seed. That companies, which cannot make their profits by selling low volume-high value seed will instead make their profits on increased volumes per acre? How has the burden on each farmer, per acre of cotton cultivation, decreased?
More importantly, what was the government of Andhra Pradesh doing all these four years when packets of 450 gms of Bt Cotton along with 120 gms of non-Bt Cotton were being sold? Why are the University recommendations being promoted now? What have the agronomic trials of all these hybrids under the supervision of DBT, GEAC and ICAR revealed during the trials period about seed rate? Or were no such lessons learnt during that period? What connection does it have with particular companies trying to make their profits mostly in Andhra Pradesh?
What was also apparent during visits to seed vendors is that farmers are not aware of these changed 'recommended package of practices' and were still buying one packet per acre as in the earlier years. If the crop fails tomorrow and does not match up to the promised performance, will they be told that they have not followed the recommended package of practices, when no one bothered to recommend anything in any case?
It was also educative reading about all the instructions and package of practices printed on the packet by Nuziveedu Seeds' products. In case there is bollworm attack, do this. In case there is sucking pests' incidence, do that. In case there is wilt, do the other. All printed in English, for the illiterate cotton farmers!! Is this a company genuinely trying to tell farmers how to grow their cotton or is it the latest way of companies covering their own backs in case problems are pointed out during the season? We challenge Nuziveedu Seeds, based on their research, to also write on the packets the probability of incidence of all these different pests and diseases in a given set of growing conditions.
The sales season is on in the cotton belts of the state and farmers are slowly deciding upon the hybrids that they would sow. There have already been four rounds of advertisements that the companies have engaged in - pasting posters one on top of the other has become the norm, on every available surface - electricity poles, tree trunks, walls, buses, big hoardings, milestones and so on.
Several groups have also demanded way back in March 2006 that the government put accountability systems in place while allotting marketing licenses - for instance, bank guarantees to be obtained from seed companies in proportion to the number of packets they intend to sell so that farmers can be paid compensation in case of failure from such guarantees. However, no such recommendation has been taken on board.
Let us hope that the cotton farmer, who is very used to changing seeds to a new brand every year, makes the right decision and let us hope that the government shares some of its knowledge on Bt Cotton, its required seed rates etc., to the farmers in time.
3.From Samuel Sundar Singh
Sir, in the light of reduced Bt cotton seed prices, this article looks into the over all ramifications and I did not dwell in the technical aspects of the issues.
It seems apparent that the agricultural ministers believe that they are doing well to the farming community by reducing the seeds by half of its earlier year price. But I am afraid the ministers are doing more harm than good to the innocuous farmers. With the repeated failures of Bt cotton, the government should have put an indefinite ban Bt cotton, but by reducing the price and creating a fertile market, the governments has emboldened the seed companies.
In the event of reduced seed prices, can the governments effectively plug the entry of spurious seeds in the market? Now that the seed flood gates are open, the chances get bleaker making the farmer all the more vulnerable.
The governments seem to be oblivious of the utter failure of Bt cotton and the consequent suicides in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Maharastra. And now the current move by the governments to reduce the prices is nothing short of a catastrophe.
Will the reduction in price of seeds guarantee any increase in yield? Going by previous year experiences, irrespective of the cost of the seed, performance of Bt has been abysmally low. And now that the prices being slashed the poor farmer in a mad rush to get better yields, unmindful of his past bitter experiences will purchase seeds double the quantity or even three times, thereby rendering the farmers all the more prone to debt-trap.
The governments are just looking at the reduced seed cost and not considering the prices of other exorbitant input costs. It has been established in different various studies that pesticides use began right from the 45th day and will continue till the end of the crop. With more acreage coming under cotton cultivation, the usage of pesticide will invariably rise. In effect farmers will spend more on pesticides and other inputs on his multiple fields, directly contributing to the flourishing of pesticides companies. Now how is the farmerís interest protected?
In the light of the reported cases of cattle mortality and with vast acres of Bt cotton which will be brought under cultivation, the life of cattle and livestock will be at stake and in effect the very livelihood of the farmer. This year onwards I guess the cattle will have no other option but to eat the residues of Bt cotton, because there will be hardly any other crop than Bt cotton. And the threat of Bt cotton on environment and human and soil health is looming large.
After the failure of Bt cotton over the years, the farmers resolved not to go for Bt cotton and get settled with food crops, which could have put an end to further destruction of Indian agriculture. But suddenly this bait of reduced Bt cotton seed made the farmers its prey once again. Unfortunately the farmer has always been at the receiving end.
Having assumed that this year the crop with increased use of pesticides will give better yields, the chances of selling it in the market is again bleak because of glut in the market. Who will save the farmers then? This will be the last nail in the coffin.
I fear, with the reduced Bt cotton seed prices, States may again witness a spate of suicides and by then it will be high time for the States to come to the rescue of farmers.
Submitted by: Samuel