ASHA letter on the real picture of Bt cotton in India
Date: Mon, Sep 28, 2020 at 10:20 AM
Subject: ASHA Letter on Data from Acclaimed Scientists on Failure of Bt Cotton in India and The Way Ahead – 28th Sep
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- Hon’ble Prime Minister of India
- Hon’ble Minister for Environment, Forest & Climate Change
- Hon’ble Minister for Agriculture & Farmers’ Welfare
- Dr P.K. Mishra, Principal Secretary, Prime Minister’s Office
- Shri Rajeev Kumar, NITI Aayog
- Dr Ramesh Chand, Member, NITI Aayog
- Secretary, MoEFCC
- Secretary, MoAFW
- Secretary, DARE
- GEAC Members
Copied to – 1) State(s) Agriculture Secretary/Principal Secretary
2) Dr Vijay Waghmare, Director, ICAR-CICR
Date – 28th Sep 2020
Greetings! This is with regard to the government’s assessment of Bt cotton performance, which we get to see snippets of in responses to Parliament questions, or in depositions in front of Committees of Parliament or media bytes and so on.
Recently, in an international webinar organised by Centre for Sustainable Agriculture and Jatan on Bt cotton in India with four acclaimed scientists as the speakers, the data and evidence presented suggests that the Government needs to seriously re-look at the narrative that is being woven officially around Bt cotton performance in India. This is more so since it is around 20 years since India’s Bt cotton cultivation began, first illegally and later legally. While the video link to the webinar and the online links to the detailed presentations of the acclaimed speakers are being attached to this letter, the key points worth noting by all concerned policy makers are given below:
- To begin with, out of 75 countries that grow cotton, India ranks 36th when it comes to yields. Out of the 35 countries (having more than 50,000 ha of cultivation) ahead of India in yield, a large majority do not use GM cotton whereas only 8 do.
- It is also noted that American bollworm was not a major pest of cotton until 1978, and the use of synthetic pyrethroids may have caused resurgence of American bollworms and white fly from the 1980s. Means the boll worms, for which bt technology was brought itself is a pesticide (chemical molecule) induced problem.
- The temporary increase in productivity of cotton in India can not be attributed to Bt technology. Factors like increased irrigated area, fertilizer use, improved varieties and better agronomy are primarily responsible for cotton productivity increase. Role of Bt technology is not significant, as portrayed.
- Doubling of cotton production due to Bt technology is a false and baseless narrative generated by the biotech industry for their benefit and this leads to misguided decisions by the policy makers. Production here is mainly a function of area cultivated.
- Consumption of chemical fertilizers per Kg of lint production in India is highest (360 g) and fertilizer use efficiency in cotton crop is the lowest in India compared to other countries of the world.
- The real yield increase in Bt cotton productivity was during the years 2003 to 2005. During this period, about 90% of the area was under non-Bt cotton. Thereafter, the area under Bt cotton increased sharply in India, but that did not result in yield increases as much as in the years of 2003-05, proving that Bt cotton has not significantly contributed to yield increase. This is also proven by poor correlation (0.26) between adoption of Bt cotton and yield.
- The use of chemical fertilizers in cotton crop in India doubled from 96 Kg/ha in 2002 to 222 Kg/ha in 2011. This is one of the major contributors to yield increase. This is also reflected as positive correlation (0.42) between fertilizer use and yield. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister of the country is indeed right in urging farmers to phase out chemical fertiliser usage, for a variety of reasons.
- Around 19.2 lakh hectares of irrigated cotton was added during 2003 to 2011 and the significant contribution of irrigation to yield increases is known.
- Development of resistance against Bt toxin is a predictable manifestation of natural evolutionary processes. Research data concludes that Pink Bollworm has developed resistance to the tune of 2060 times against Cry1AC Bt protein and 9366 times against Cry2Ab Bt protein.
- The intensity of infestation of Pink Bollworm was 30 to 70% in second generation Bt cotton (with two genes) in India during the years 2015 to 2017. This has led to huge financial losses for the farmers and the economy. It is estimated that this was to a tune of Rs. 8320 crores in 2017. This evidence shows clearly that toxic molecule based plant protection (whether the toxin is produced in a chemical factory or a plant cell) is unsustainable.
- The reduction of pesticide usage against bollworm is noted for some years. However, due to development of resistance in bollworms and resurgence of secondary and sucking pests, there has been an increased use of pesticides in terms of money, total volume and per hectare usage. Any claims of environmental benefits of Bt cotton due to reduced usage of pesticides are baseless.
- Increased use of agro-chemicals (both pesticides and fertilisers) on larger areas of cotton land in India, after most such land has been brought under Bt cotton, would have had its own negative impact on natural resources, human health, climate as well as on public finances.
- The cost of production for cotton farmers has increased by 226% (2.26 times) in 2016 compared to 2005 – there were negative net returns to farmers to a tune of Rs. 5849 per hectare and Rs. 6286 per hectare in 2014 and 2015 respectively. This loss was a record loss in history since 1996. As far as profitability of cotton crop is concerned, Bt cotton gave benefits for 6 years starting from 2006 to 2012.
- There are strong correlations between Bt cotton cultivation and farmers’ suicides in India. The Government of India, in a court affidavit, has also admitted as much.
- Indian farmers have paid an estimated Rs. 7437 crores as trait fee, that went to a multinational company Monsanto (now taken over by Bayer). The company was found guilty of monopolistic practices, and there is also an ongoing legal dispute about the patentability of the genetic material used for Bt cotton.
While the above is the real story of Bt cotton in India, which belies the hype spun by its proponents and profiteers, global cotton experts strongly recommend that the appropriate solution for India’s cotton woes is to promote native Desi species (which suit the rainfed growing conditions of India). They strongly suggest that Indian cotton farmers must adopt pure line varieties instead of hybrids (which compels farmers to buy seeds every season) and plant short season cotton in high density.
Negligence of Desi cotton is not only a loss to the environment, but also a financial loss to our farmers and the country. Desi Cotton varieties like PA 812 and several others produce more cotton per hectare in a high-density planting and have excellent fibre qualities too.
India has all the answers to increase productivity and profitability of cotton farmers – what India lacks is atma vishwas (self belief) which is a critical element for atmanirbharata.
At least now, the government’s research and extension efforts should be directed towards promotion of non-Bt, non-hybrid desi cotton varieties of short season duration and planted in high density leading to the potential of a subsequent season being used by our farmers for other crops.
We wish that the false narrative of success of Bt cotton is stopped from the government side, and that political will and scientific rigour needed to improve sustainable cotton farming in India will be exhibited.
The webinar recording is available here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?
Presentation by Dr Peter Kenmore, Asian Rice Ecologist & Former FAO Ambassador to India https://kisanswaraj.in/wp-
Presentation by Dr Keshav Kranthi, Head of Technical Information Section of International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC), Washington, USA & Former Director of the Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR), Nagpur
Presentation by Prof. Dr. Andrew Paul Gutierrez FRES, Senior Emeritus Professor in the College of Natural Resources at the University of California at Berkeley in USA
Presentation by Prof. Dr. Hans R. Herren, Founder and President of the Biovision Foundation is President of the Millennium Institute in the USA. co-chair of the UN and World Bank sponsored International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD, 2009)
Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA)
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