Bug makes meal of Punjab cotton, whither Bt magic? (4/9/2007)

1.Bug makes meal of Punjab cotton, whither Bt magic?
2.Bt Cotton An Economic Drain In Punjab


1.Bug makes meal of Punjab cotton, whither Bt magic?
The Economic Times, 2 Sep 2007

CHANDIGARH: The magic of Bt cotton in southern Punjab has vanished. Weary and stressed farmers - who are said to have sprayed pesticides worth over Rs 500 crore (over $120 million) this season to save their cotton crop from the mealy bug - are headed for major losses this time around.

Just a few months ago, in the February assembly elections in Punjab, the victory of the Congress in assembly seats from the once Akali Dal stronghold of Malwa - the cotton growing belt of south Punjab - was credited to the two years of success of the genetically modified Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) cotton crop with its bumper yields and returns.

But in the first cotton season after the Akalis took over in Punjab, the mealy bug - a kind of insect - has wreaked devastation in Malwa's fields.

"Nobody knows clearly about this insect that is destroying our crops. After two bumper seasons, we are heading straight for a major loss. The farmers are in a crisis," stated Bachan Singh showing his 'mealy bug'-infested cotton crop in his fields near Sardulgarh, 250 km from here.

Farmers refer to the mealy bug as "chitti bhoondi" (white insect) in local parlance.

Hundreds of farmers in this belt of Punjab and even in neighbouring Pakistan could have never imagined that Bt cotton could be hit by a virus. The white-colour bug, considered deadlier than the American bollworm, is now threatening the cotton crop in Punjab and elsewhere. At least 25 per cent of the crop is already destroyed.

The concern is genuine. Based on the success of Bt cotton in the last two years, the area under cotton cultivation increased from 570,000 hectares to 648,000 hectares.

Companies that helped farmers introduce Bt cotton are themselves at a loss over the turn of events.

Global crop protection chemicals major, Dupont, has admitted that there is currently "no perfect solution" to deal with the new bugs attacking Bt cotton crops across the country.

"The introduction of Bt cotton was a technological advancement and has benefited Indian farmers in a big way. The shift from conventional cotton varieties has saved farmers an estimated Rs 400 crore on pesticide sprays. But it is true that new technologies give rise to a new set of problems, including pest shifts," Dupont's South Asia business manager Ram Mudholkar said here.

Mudholkar said though there were insecticides, including Dupont's own Methomyl, that could be used to tackle the problem, farmers needed to be adequately educated on how to apply these products.

"There is currently no very good solution to the mealy bug affecting Bt cotton crops in Punjab and elsewhere," he said.

Environmental NGO Kheti Virasat Mission, which advocates natural farming, environmental health and conservation of natural resources, is already concerned over pesticides worth Rs 500 crore being sprayed in the Malwa belt.

"There are already abundant stories of cancer cases being rampant due to the excessive use of pesticides. Spraying more pesticides to control the mealy bug will make matters worse," one activist said.

The NGO's executive director Umendra Dutt has expressed concern about the fate of Bt cotton in a recent article.

"A major portion of the profit which the farmer hoped to reap from his cotton crop has already gone into pockets of pesticide companies, making the farmer once again the ultimate loser," he wrote.

"First, he purchased expensive Bollgard Bt seeds, believing in their resistance towards pests, and after the mealy bug made a meal of the Bt cotton, the farmer made a huge investment in pesticides.

"The seed companies had already cornered the lion's share of the cotton crop by selling the farmers expensive seed and now it is the turn of pesticide companies to squeeze the farmers. Our farmer is surrounded by merchants of Venice; there are Shylocks all around him," Dutt wrote.

Dutt added that mobile vans carrying big banners of pesticide companies were criss-crossing villages to educate farmers about the mealy bug attack. "But educating farmers is a money minting exercise for the pesticide companies," he added.

Agriculture officials in Bathinda say that pesticides sprayed in recent weeks have not rid the crop of the mealy bug. The Punjab government has sent a report to the central govenrment saying the mealy bug problem was there but was "under control".


2.Bt Cotton An Economic Drain In Punjab
By K.Jayaram
Countercurrents.org, 31 August 2007

The much hyped Bt Cotton and increased yields, reduced plant protection costs were fall flat with the Mealy bug infestation on Bt Cotton in Punjab. There is a huge economic drain from Punjab due to cultivation of Bt Cotton. The honeymoon of Bt Cotton was over and trouble started now.

I met some pesticide dealers, farmers and the employee of a Pesticide Company (Nagarjuna chemicals) during my last visit to Punjab to collect the data on pesticide sales. I got some interesting data on pesticide sales in this year. Mealy bug attack on Bt Cotton in Punjab is responsible for increased sales in pesticides. Profenofos is the largest beneficiary out of this mealybug incidence. Mealybug incidence is common in all the Bt Cotton varieties and most devastation was observed in the Bt Cotton varieties brought from Gujarat.

Profenofos, Acephate, Acitimoprid, Imidocloprid, DDVP etc are using to control the Mealybug but Profenofos is recommended by PAU and department of Agriculture. In Punjab there are 12,729 villages and 10,249 fertilizer and pesticide shops, village and chemical input shops ratio is 1.22. There are around 17 pesticide companies marketing their products in Punjab. The maximum share was contributed Novartis and Insecticied India limited.

I met a pesticide dealer in Jaithu (Jaithu serves for 19 villages and around 20 dealers). According to him he sold 10,000lts of Profenofos which costs about Rs.45, 00000/-. The net profit for the dealer is Rs11, 50,000/- (this is only on Profenofos). On each leter of pesticide there is a margin of Rs115/- for the dealer (company price is Rs.335/- per lt and dealer price is Rs.450/-). According to this dealer Novartis is not able to supply the demand and around 125Klt of indent for Profenofos was kept pending.

I met Khulabhusan bharathi, a pesticide dealer at Bhatinda, according to him Bahtinda market serves for 50-60 villages, last year he didn't sell even one liter of Profenofos but this year he sold out 2,000lts, which means he got a net profit of Rs.2,30,000/- . According to him "Our earnings have dramatically increased. But excessive use of pesticide may damage the soil in Punjab'. That would hurt his long-term business, but he's not sure if the government is paying attention.

I met few farmers in Jajjal and Chaina who are cultivating Bt.Cotton, according to them they sprayed many pesticides but they failed to control the mealy bug. The number of sprays varied from 17 to 34 times. These farmers told me that the costs on pesticides to control Mealy bug varied from Rs3, 000/- to Rs.4000/- per acre.

There are many estimates on pesticide trade (total pesticides) in Punjab the estimates ranges from Rs.500 to Rs.800 crores. But my calculations stand at Rs.525crores only to control Mealy bug. According to my estimation around Rs.700 crores were drained out of Punjab (for Bt seeds and to control Mealy bug).

K.Jayaram is an Agricultural economist working with Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Hyderabad based NGO, working for Sustainable Agriculture. He is presently looking after "Establishing Ecological Agriculture in Punjab and Maharastra".


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