Yield from Bt. cotton less: study

HYDERABAD Dec. 7. In a new dimension to the current debate, the much hyped introduction of Mahyco-Monsanto's Bt. cotton in Warangal district of Andhra Pradesh has "failed'' on all three counts of ensuring higher yields, reducing pesticide usage and being economically rewarding for the farmer, an independent study commissioned by the Andhra Pradesh Coalition in Defence of Diversity has revealed.

The eight-day study in 11 villages undertaken by Abdul Qayoom, former Joint Director in the Andhra Pradesh Government's agriculture department, and Sakkhari Kiran, an agriculture scientist, estimated that the farmers growing Bt. cotton would earn 40 per cent less than non-Bt farmers. It found that the pesticide sprays have not come down and safety protocols have been ignored.

"In view of these findings, we wonder if Bt. cotton is worth it at all, given the environmental and ecological costs'', P. V. Satheesh, convenor of the Coalition, said, demanding action against the multinational company for its "reckless promises and absolute lack of concern for safety aspects of Bt. farming''.

The study observed the performance of Bt. cotton and documented the experiences of the farmers. The Bt. yields appeared to be less than that by hybrids currently grown by farmers, the study showed. Current yields from both Bt. and non-Bt. have recorded 4-5 quintals per acre, which meant no difference between them. In fact, as non-Bt has a life of 2-3 months more than Bt, it is expected to yield another 3-4 quintals or 30 per cent more.

When it comes to pesticide use, it has shown a marginal difference. Farmers sprayed pesticides four to six times during this season on Bt. cotton, while it was five to seven times on non-Bt.

In economic terms, Bt. has proved a total failure, the study said. Bt. cotton farmers had spent Rs. 8,000 per acre while non-Bt ones spent Rs. 7,100 per acre. The former paid Rs. 1,600 per acre for seeds, the latter Rs. 500. Yet, the yields remained the same. Since Bt. farmers sprayed one time lesser than the non-Bt. farmers, they could save Rs. 400 per acre.

In the local market, Bt. cotton was fetching a price which was 10 per cent lesser than the price for non-Bt. cotton, showing that for the same yield, non-Bt. farmers were getting about Rs. 1,000 more than Bt. farmers. The main reason for the lower price commanded by Bt. cotton was its smaller staple length and more seeds (32-36) per boll than non-Bt. cotton (15-16).

The non-Bt. farmers would earn about Rs. 5,000 to Rs. 6,000 more per acre than Bt. farmers, belying all the expectations raised by the Bt. cotton industry.

In view of this disappointing experience, many farmers told the study team that they would not plant Bt. cotton again.

To beat the price difference between Bt. and non-Bt. cotton, farmers started mixing both of them, to get a better price, oblivious of the disastrous effect it would have on bio-safety. When such mixed cotton seeds having Bt. come to the oil mills, there would be no segregation and the oil could be consumed by human beings and the feed by animals. This may pose serious health hazards for both humans and animals.

Genetically modified crops found their way into Indian fields with the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) of the Union Environment Ministry clearing the Mahyco-Monsanto Biotech's Bt. cotton hybrids in May this year.

The company was permitted to commercialise three Bt. cotton hybrids, Bt. MECH-12, Bt. MECH-162, Bt MECH- 184 developed by inserting genes from a soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringenesis (Bt).

This bacterium produces a delta endotoxin which kills the larvae of bollworms, helicoverpa armigera.

In Andhra Pradesh, the seed was sold in major cotton growing districts, Warangal being one of them.

In all, 1,550 packets of MECH-162 and 28 packets of MECH-12 under the trade name "Bollgard'' were sold.

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