|Indian cotton production projected to fall/P Sainath on Bt cotton (17/9/2006)|
1.P Sainath on painting a rosy picture
GM WATCH COMMENT: You might think nobody could paint a rosy picture out of what's happening to farmers in Vidarbha, the main cotton growing belt of Maharashtra, where the death toll among debt-burdened farmers, and particularly among Bt cotton farmers, has been breaking all records, with a farmer taking his own life every few hours.
But you'd be wrong.
The article below - 'Cotton production estimates paint rosy picture' - merely uses the suicide epidemic as a peg on which to hang the rosiest of projections - an expected rise of 40% in cotton production with Bt cotton producing 25 to 30% more, with a bit of luck, than "the local no-hybrid variety."
All of which seems nothing but miraculous. Last year, for instance, a comparative study of cotton growing in Maharashtra showed Bt cotton farmers getting 68% lower incomes than non-Bt farmers.
So are things likely to be that much better this year? Not according to Indian government advance estimates of national crop production. As Ashok B Sharma reports in the Financial Express, "The cotton output... is slated to drop to 18 million bales of 170 kg each from 19.5 million bales in the previous year. This is despite a reported increase in land area being brought under Bt cotton cultivation." (item 3)
But perhaps Vidarbha is somehow bucking the national trend?
GM Watch asked P Sainath, who has written extensively on the agrarian crisis in Vidarbha, if he'd seen any evidence to support the rosy picture being painted in the article.
As well as being the Rural Affairs Editor of The Hindu, Palagummi Sainath is the winner of the Prem Bhatia Award for excellence in political reporting and analysis for his "outstanding, indeed exceptional, work on the problems of the poorest of the poor."
Oh, there's been a lot of this stuff. The government of the state is totally plugged into Bt cotton. Some farmers have got a good yield from Bt first harvest, then it begins to slide, then it plummets. The government's own report on that to the National Commission on Farmers shows us that.
Secondly Bt is a very high water intensive strain. Using it in a region that has little or no irrigation is insane. The effects are already showing up (quite a few of the suicides were of farmers who had experimented with Bt and paid the price).
When the price of cotton is plummetting, how does a bigger harvest help, assuming there is one?
Many of the government ministers and legislators are closely interlocked with seed companies and other input dealers. They have every reason to push these illusions - yet go to the official website of the govt. of Maharashtra, and see the admission of over 800 farm suicides in a year.
[for a powerful interview with Sainath about the agrarian crisis plaguing rural India and typified by Vidarbha, see: http://www.tehelka.com/story_main19.asp?filename=Ne090906The_relief_CS.asp ]
2.India : Cotton production estimates paint rosy picture
The projected rise of 40 percent in cotton production to 250 lakh quintals this season has come as a consolation for the farmers of Vidarbha, Marathwada and Khandesh where farmers suicides has been a trend of late.
In fact, President of Maharashtra cotton growers co-operative marketing federation, NP Hirani expected the output to cross projected figures if the large scale plantation of genetically modified (GM) varieties (Bt cotton) works well for the farmers.
He was cautious though as he said that two-three more spells of rainfall was needed to benefit at the optimum level.
If conditions are ideal, an acre under Bt cotton produces 25 to 30 percent more than the local no-hybrid variety.
Even though, Vidarbha region which grows 85 percent of the total cotton produced in Maharashtra is the lowest at irrigation potential with just seven percent, should witness productivity grow by at least 25-30 percent.
The first advance estimate for the current kharif released by the government on Friday shows a dip of 4.7 million tonne in total grain output to 105 million tonne compared with 109.7 million tonne (final estimate) for the same season previous year.
Decline in farm output does not augur well, especially at a time when policy makers are targeting an annual growth of 4% in the agricultural GDP.
The prices of different agriculture commodities are firming up in the domestic market and a fall in farm output can aggravate the situation.
According to the first advance estimate of crop production, a decline in output is projected for major crops like rice, coarse cereals, pulses and oilseeds. The cotton output, too, is slated to drop to 18 million bales of 170 kg each from 19.5 million bales in the previous year. This is despite a reported increase in land area being brought under Bt cotton cultivation.
The rice output is slated to decline to 76 million tonne from 78.04 million tonne in the previous years kharif. The output of coarse cereals is also projected to dip from about 27 million tonne in the previous kharif to 25 million tonne. A sharp drop is projected in case of the kharif groundnut crop from 6.22 million tonne to 4 million tonne.
Sugarcane production has, however, been estimated to increase from 278 million tonne to 283 million tonne. The output of jute and mesta will be stable.
Although the output of kharif pulses has marginally increased to 5 million tonne from 4.66 million tonne in the same season previous year, it is not enough to meet the countrys demand. In the case of rice, however, the situation may be different as there is ample stock in the country. Only a policy for managing rice supply will be needed.
Although the average cumulative monsoon rainfall until September 13 had been good at 98%, the distribution pattern has marked a unique shift from traditional flood-prone areas to drought-prone ones. Traditional drought-prone areas in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh received excess rainfall leading to floods, while flood-prone areas like the Northeast, Bihar and eastern UP received scanty rainfall. This peculiar behaviour of monsoon damaged the overall prospects of kharif crop.