Activists charge seed companies, mainly Monsanto, with monopoly

Protests marked the 10th anniversary of the introduction of genetically modified (GM) Bt cotton in the country. Angry farmers urged parliamentarians to hold a special session to discuss the issue and ban the technology.

Charging a few seed companies, particularly Monsanto, with monopolising the seed industry and setting the agenda for the government, social activists urged policy-makers and farmers to reject the hype around Bt cotton and demanded a comprehensive review. “The crisis in the cotton belt should be closely examined and critically re-assessed,” they said.

The Delhi Alliance for Safe Food held a protest demonstration at Jantar Mantar. Similar protests were held in the cotton belts of Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra.

A technology that was meant for irrigated areas was pushed in all cotton-growing States, including rain-fed ones resulting in higher rate of suicides of cotton growers — particularly in Maharashtra. The protests, therefore, were intense and widespread in the State where farmers burnt Bt cotton in several villages according to the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti. Several wives of farmers who had committed suicides joined the protests.

“Ten years ago, permission was granted to U.S. based Monsanto seed giant for experimental cultivation of [bollworm-resistant] GM Bt cotton in 10,000 hectares in different parts of the country. Today, with the push given to it, the acreage has gone up to over 12 million hectares and [the crop is] sown by 90 per cent growers, especially after Maharashtra permitted commercial cultivation trials of Bt cotton from June 2005,” points Kishor Tiwari of the Andolan.

A Coalition for GM-free India report released on Sunday last said the government's own data proved that Bt cotton had resulted in stagnant yields, pest resistance and evolution of new pest and disease attacks.

“Yet, its use has spread because the creditors in the informal sector, who double up as seed agents, promote the Bt seed and deprive farmers of the traditional variety,” the activists said.

In Andhra Pradesh, for example, the State government estimates show that out of 47 lakh acres planted with Bt cotton during Kharif 2011 season, the crop failed in 33.73 lakh acres (71 per cent of the area). The State government reported that 20.46 lakh farmers suffered from cotton crop failure and lost Rs.3071.6 crore.

In Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra as well as in Madhya Pradesh, Bt cotton is considered the reason for “deep agrarian crisis.”

The protesters demanded that the government rejuvenate the production of conventional cotton seeds and pro-actively advise farmers about the risks of Bt cotton. There should be strict action against false claims and misleading advertising by seed companies.