Study finds higher yields, lower costs with organic cotton in India (28/9/2006)

With India's indebted cotton farmers taking their own lives in ever increasing numbers after being ruined by expensive Bt seeds and other input costs, here's an eye catching study on organic cotton production in India.

Over a period of two years, an Indo-Swiss research team collected and compared agronomic data on 60 organic and conventional farms.

They found the organic producers benefitted from:
* 40% lower costs for inputs
* 13-20% lower variable production costs
* a far lower need to take up loans
* total labour inputs that were not significantly higher
* and 4-6% higher average cotton yields

There were, of course, some problems to be overcome but there is now a rapidly expanding international market for organic cotton - with even the likes of Wal-Mart and Levis getting in on the act.

And this research comes on the heels of the still more striking findings of a study undertaken by the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture in India which found Bt cotton cultivation lead to 690% higher costs for pest management when compared to growing conventional cotton varieties with the help of bio-pesticides and natural control agents.

And then there's the remarkable success of the Punukula village initiative in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, which has been so overwhelmingly successful in enabling the growing of cotton without Bt seeds or any pesticides that it is now being taken as a model to hundreds of other villages in the state.

Andhra Pradesh is, of course, the same state in which farmers went on the rampage in fury at the disappointing results they had from GM cotton and where 3 varieties of Monsanto's Bt cotton had to be banned they were so problematic.

The Indian government has an increasingly clear choice. It can get behind such approaches and help farmers escape the debt-trap and end the burgeoning scandal of farm suicides, or it can continue to cosy up to Bush and Monsanto and hype expensive GM crops to its farmers.

Economic viability of organic cotton
The Hindu, 28 September 2006

OVER THE last decades, many conventional farmers have been facing declining cotton yields despite increasing application of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Organic farming could be a way out of this situation, provided it effectively improves the ecological and socio-economic sustainability of cotton production.

To investigate the economic viability of organic cotton farming and its impact on farmers, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the WWF Switzerland mandated the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) conducted a detailed study of the Maikaal bioRe project in central India.

Over a period of two years, an Indo-Swiss research team collected and compared agronomic data of 60 organic and conventional farms.

According to the study conducted by the team the total labour inputs are not significantly higher in organic cotton fields.

Pest management

The research team noted that the variable production costs were 13-20 per cent lower in organic cotton.

This is mainly due to 40 per cent lower costs for inputs (seeds, manures, pest management items). The requirement for taking up loans is thus far less in organic farms.

While organic farmers invested more time in weeding, they required less time for pest management.

Although it is generally assumed that yields in organic farming are lower, average cotton yields in the monitored organic fields were even 4-6 per cent higher in the two years of observation.

While progress in organic production methods allowed achieving cotton yields that were on a par with those in conventional farms, yields of most rotation crops were still lower.

Biggest obstacle

According to the results, the biggest obstacle in converting to organic cotton farming is the initial drop in yields, resulting in lower incomes during the first 1-3 years of conversion.

To further improve the performance of cotton based organic farming systems, efforts in developing production methods and in improving marketing options are needed, especially for the crops grown in rotation with cotton.

International Competence Centre for Organic Agriculture (ICCOA) Bangalore


Back to the Archive