Stop all GM crop trials in Andhra Pradesh (12/7/2007)

Comment from Kavitha Kuruganti, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture:

Today, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture held a Media Briefing to alert the media on the serious inconsistencies and short-sightedness in the understanding and policies being adopted by the state government of Andhra Pradesh when it comes to farming in general and GMOs in particular.

Putting together information based on official reports of the state government related to Bt Cotton and other GE crops, CSA reminded the Chief Minister that AP should not in any situation permit any more GM crop trials in the state. The organisation demanded that AP follow in the footsteps of Orissa and Kerala where the state governments are saying a firm NO to any GM crop trials in those states.

Please find [below] the letter from CSA to the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh in english and telugu. Thank you.

Kavitha Kuruganti
Centre for Sustainable Agriculture
12-13-445, Street # 1, Tarnaka
Secunderabad 500 017;

Phone: +91-9393001550


To Sri Y S Rajasekhar Reddy
Hon'ble Chief Minister
Government of Andhra Pradesh

July 12 2007

Dear Sir

Sub: Genetically Modified crops – field trials & commercial cultivation in AP – Need for an immediate halt

You have come into power in 2004, promising to keep the best interests of farmers in mind, unlike earlier governments which were seeking to ruthlessly eliminate farmers in the quest of their "Vision 2020", aided by foreign bilateral and multilateral agencies. You had promised an important space for farmers in all your programmes and have announced ambitious programmes like Seed Village programme for increasing the farmers' self reliance when it comes to seed, a critical input in farming.

However, we find that you are making fundamentally wrong moves when it comes to GE/GM crops in the state and are showing a serious short-sightedness about technology and its potential impacts on farmers, caught in your own political expediencies. You are not exhibiting any basic understanding related to Indian farming and farmers' livelihoods, any more than your predecessors. We would like to remind you about a few points which are worth taking note of and based on which decisions in favour of farmers are expected from your government.

Honourable CM, As the leader of Opposition in the AP Legislative Assembly you have raised several concerns about the introduction of Bt Cotton and its subsequent failure in the state and it is not out of place to remind you about the same.

1. Your government would remember that it was here that Bt Cotton's first reports of failure were officially confirmed, even in the first year of the GM crop cultivation in 2002-03. In 2004-05, despite huge losses incurred by farmers, your government was unable to get the biotech companies to pay up compensation, despite having a Memorandum of Understanding in place with the company for its seed marketing activity in the state. The lack of accountability on the part of the companies and the fact that the state government discovered itself incapable of fixing liability (because of lack of any legislation with teeth which would give the required authority to the agriculture department) cannot be forgotten here in the context of any other GM crop making an entry into the state. Neither the Seeds Act nor the Seeds Control Order have left any powers with the state government to control GM seed trials.

2. It is in Andhra Pradesh that secret trials of GM seeds were first discovered in 1998 when the state government vehemently objected to such trials. The state government emphasized that Agriculture is a state subject at that point of time. Later, when civil society groups and media reported a similar trial of Bt Okra by Mahyco in 2005 in Narakodur village of Guntur district, the state government once again demanded that no trials be permitted by the Centre without prior information to and consent from the state. Things had not improved since then. We found out through RTI applications that the state is still not aware of trials happening in the state, even though civil society groups like ours are aware of more such trials.

3. It is in AP that the state government and the farmers learnt a tough lesson about monopolistic, exclusive and expensive intellectual property rights that govern GM technology. The state government spent tax-payers' funds to counter the market-greedy multinational company and its Indian counterparts, through the Monopolies & Restrictive Trade Practices Commission. In any case, for the farmer, your government has not brought about any benefits from this fight, since the farmers are being asked to sow two packets of Rs. 750/- each rather than one packet of Rs. 1600/-, at the end of the hyped up struggle. How does the farmer benefit if the per acre seed cost does not change?

Does the government want to resort to the MRTPC each time such anti-farmer pricing is adopted by the companies, which they would inevitably do, given that the government and the agri-research establishment have washed their hands off most crop seeds with the advent of hybrid technologies? Further, how can a technology which is fundamentally faulty and hazardous, provide benefits to farmers or consumers, even if it is given free of cost?

4. In Andhra Pradesh, there is no legal mechanism to oversee GM crop trials or their safety given that no State Biotechnology Coordination Committee, mandated under the Environment Protection Act's 1989 Rules, has been formed. This is one law that could have been used by the state government sensibly. However, you chose not to set up the SBCC and allowed GM crop trials to proliferate all over the state. From 1998 onwards, is there no lesson that the state government has learnt, that it wants to continue violating the law?

5. In Andhra Pradesh, the state government has taken up Integrated Pest Management (IPM) through its agriculture department and its scientists. As per data provided to us, IPM has yielded great results in the state in crops like rice, cotton, vegetables etc. In Cotton, while the average yield per hectare of Bt Cotton is 19.2 quintals, the average yield in the department’s experience of IPM FFSs (Polam Badi) is 21.77 quintals. Despite such results, how can a government which professes to be working in the interests of farmers not have the political will to promote such pest management alternatives and why is it that the government instead wants to hand over the hapless farmers of the state into the hands of unscrupulous commercial interests in the seed and chemical industry? It is here in Andhra Pradesh that on five lakh acres of land, women farmers are taking the lead to show that pest management in farming is possible without pesticides or GE seeds, in a highly impressive programme supported by the Rural Development department. The improvement in the livelihoods of these poor farming households by a shift to NPM is visible and well-recognised.

6. This state has 13.8 million people recorded as agricultural workers in 2001 census – this constitutes 40% of our population. Their very survival will be seriously and immediately jeopardized by the entry of the most popular variety of the GM technology today – crops with the trait of herbicide tolerance, for which field trial applications have been submitted to the GEAC this year by some multinational companies. Herbicide tolerant crops will mean that women especially, who are already marginalized in many spheres and who find (de-) weeding in farming as an employment opportunity, will further be marginalized.

7. It is here in Andhra Pradesh that farmers have experienced the full range of problems with relation to GM crops like Bt Cotton. Firstly, there were crop losses right from 2002-03 without any compensation paid for such losses. These losses were for various reasons. One important reason is the stress intolerance of Bt Cotton, observed and reported by farmers as well as scientists. Bt Cotton has been promoted aggressively in a state where 70% of cotton cultivation is under rainfed conditions. It is only in 2007 that the state agriculture university and the department of agriculture are recommending that Bt Cotton is not suitable in rainfed conditions. In the Vyavasaya Panchamgam of 2007-08, on page 129, ANGRAU (Acharya NG Ranga Agricultural University) has the following to say about Bt Cotton:

· in extreme weather conditions like water scarce situations and with heavy rains, Bt Cotton’s effect is not as expected

· Bt Cotton does not have any tolerance against sucking pests; further, it has been found that incidence of sucking pests is higher on Bt Cotton as per studies

· Studies are also showing that incidence of diseases is higher on Bt Cotton, compared to Non-Bt Cotton

· After adverse conditions, development of tender shoots again in Bt Cotton is much lesser than on Non-Bt Cotton.

If that were so, why are seeds being procured at the personal behest of the agriculture minister? What steps has the department taken to ensure that rainfed cotton farmers do not opt for Bt Cotton? What steps have been taken to ensure seed choices for farmers in a situation when non-Bt Cotton seed is not stocked by dealers anymore?

8. The Agriculture University also points out that Bt Cotton requires more chemical fertilizer use. There is an increased dosage of chemical fertilizer as per recommendations of the university for Bt Cotton. Overall, this would mean an increased demand of chemical fertilizers to the tune of 9600 tonnes of Nitrogen, 4800 tonnes of Phosphorus and 4800 tonnes of Potash to cater to the requirements of Bt Cotton, just as 1/3rd more fertilizers on the usual dosage recommended. Seed dealers when contacted, are recommending more dosages, expectably. This would mean a minimum of 22 crores of rupees more for Bt Cotton farmers at last year’s acreage. In a situation when chemical fertilizer demand against supply is resulting in farmers’ agitations across the country, how does the government propose to raise the additional supply? More importantly, how are the overall energy economics of such increased use of fertilizers compatible with claims about benefits from Bt Cotton? What about the deterioration to natural resources from increased use of such inorganics?

9. Apart from stress intolerance, Bt Cotton has also shown itself to be vulnerable to newer pests and diseases like mealy bug, stem borer, tobacco streak virus, bronze wilt etc. In fact, as per data obtained under Right to Information Act by our organization, any benefits of Bt Cotton over non-Bt Cotton are completely negligible compared to the number of newer and serious problems that emerge from its cultivation. The Andhra Pradesh agriculture commissioner has also officially written to the GEAC that any increases in productivity in cotton in the state are not related to Bt Cotton.

10. It is in Andhra Pradesh that the animal husbandry department has officially acknowledged an unusual toxicity phenomenon with animals grazing in an uncontrolled open fashion on Bt Cotton fields. They have asked farmers not to graze their animals on Bt Cotton fields and what's more, they have even recommended to the agriculture department not to allow any sales of Bt Cotton seeds until the whole phenomenon is studied in a scientific, comprehensive and transparent fashion to understand its links to Bt Cotton and the GM technology employed. If this could happen with a non-food crop, what lies in store for humans related to various GM food crops under trials as well as all fodder sources being converted to GM crops and its implications on farmers can be well imagined. Hundreds of agricultural workers are also reporting allergies from working in Bt Cotton fields in various districts of the state but no government agency has taken cognizance of this problem or investigated it systematically.

11. Andhra Pradesh boasts of a wide variety of brinjal, paddy, bhindi, jowar and maize. All of these are being jeopardized by the stealthy field trials in open air conditions that have been happening in the state it is not out of place to remind the government that most contamination scandals related to GM crops have emerged out of field trials and we are seriously endangering the existing seed stock as well as any trade prospects from the state by allowing GM crop trials in the state.

12. Finally, we would like to bring to your notice that Kerala state government has decided not to allow GM crop trials in the state, keeping in mind the importance of conserving biodiversity from contamination from GMOs. The Chief Minister and the Agriculture Minister have been repeatedly announcing this in the past two weeks. Similarly, Orissa agriculture minister has announced in the state Assembly that the state would not allow any GM crop trials in the state. West Bengal is seeking to amend its Nursery Act 2001, so that the state government could reserve the right to disallow GM crop trials in the state. You would remember that the Chattisgarh agriculture minister personally ordered and ensured the destruction of a Bt Rice trial in Raipur in 2006. Uttaranchal, which is an organic state, has disallowed any GM crop trials in the state. While these states are showing far-sightedness in protecting the interests of farmers and the natural resources in their respective states, the Andhra Pradesh government is yet to show any sustainable vision towards farming in the state. Please remember that when things go wrong, it is the state government which has to bear the brunt of the farmers' ire as well as be directly responsible for upholding the interests of farmers and not the Government of India. Even constitutionally, agriculture is a state subject in India and we urge you to use the powers vested in the state government constitutionally in a responsible manner.

The GEAC, in its 78th meeting held recently has approved various GM crop field trials in the state including for food crops like okra/bhindi. To uphold the interests of farmers and consumers in the state, we demand that the state government ban any GM crop trials in the state.

G V Ramanjaneyulu
Executive Director
CC: Sri Raghuveera Reddy, Hon’ble Agriculture Minister, Govt of Andhra Pradesh


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