Illegal GM cotton spreads across India


Author(s):
Latha Jishnu
Issue Date:
2013-5-22

In a replay of Bt cotton saga, Monsanto‘s Roundup Ready Flex is being grown in at least three states without clearance

http://www.downtoearth.org.in/dte/userfiles/images/cotton.jpg” width=”457″ height=”279″ border=”0″ />GM cotton has proved to be a grim experience for farmers as erratic rains and high costs of cultivation have resulted in poor returns. This appears to be a prime cause of the wave of farmer suicides that have touched nearly 9,000 since 2005 (Photo by Amit Shanker)

In the sweltering cotton fields of northern and western India, a special cotton seed that is tolerant to herbicides is spreading fast, making a mockery of the country’s ability to regulate the use of genetically modified (GM) technology. The seeds, according to reports from Gujarat, Punjab and Maharashtra, are those of biotech giant Monsanto which have been genetically engineered to withstand glyphosate, the active ingredient of its herbicide Roundup. India has yet to approve herbicide-tolerant seeds.
This is a replay of how GM technology took root in the country 12 years ago.

In 2001, reports were rife of the widespread use of Bt cotton, the GM cottonseed, in Gujarat where thousands of farmers had started illegal cultivation before the regulators could approve its commercial use. Following a campaign by the industry and leading media organisations, Bt cotton was cleared without some essential safeguards. Regulators did little to check how Bt cotton was being grown, whether the mandatory refugia or buffer zones were being maintained to prevent the contamination of non-Bt fields that would also help to slow down the resistance to Bt.

In 2013, history is repeating itself as herbicide-tolerant GM cotton known as Roundup Ready Flex  (RRF) spreads illegally in at least three states. Roundup Ready Flex, first reported to be in use in Gujarat last season, has since spread to Punjab and Maharashtra although the regulator, the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee, has not cleared the technology. This is being field-tested by Monsanto’s Indian partner, the Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company better known as Mahyco.

Mahyco, incidentally, was the first Indian company to get approval for the commercial release of Bt cotton that was marketed as Bollgard in 2002.

Farmers’ organisations in Maharashtra, particularly those in Vidarbha, have become alarmed by the spread of the illegal Roundup Ready Flex. The region is notorious for the huge numbers of suicides by primarily cotton farmers in the past 15 years and farmers’ lobbies have been blaming the use of GM technology or Bt cotton as it is known for the spate of suicides. Glyphosate kills only the weeds and leaves the crop, reducing labour for farmers.   However, a significant concern with the heavy use of glyphosate is that it leads to the growth of superweeds that are resistant to glyphosate.

A recent report from Manitoba, Canada, says more than one million acres (404,686 hectares, one acre equals 0.4 ha) of Canadian farmland have glyphosate-resistant weeds growing on them. This estimate is based on a survey of 2,028 farmers, conducted by Stratus Agri-Marketing Inc. This is an extremely high figure which has been disputed but in the US, the biggest user of GM, pesticide use has gone up dramatically due GM herbicide-resistant weeds, warns Doug Gurian-Sherman of the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Millions of acres of glyphosate-resistant weeds are causing real harm, such as increased tillage that increases soil erosion,” he points out.

In India, the spread of Roundup Ready GM cotton is matter of serious concern since GEAC had called for additional tests by Mahyco. Kishore Tiwari of the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti (VJAS), a farmers’ advocacy group that is fighting to safeguard the sustainability of agriculture in drought-prone Vidarbha,  says herbicide-tolerant Bt cotton is being openly sold at Rs1,500/ per packet of RRF (450 gm) “which is highly objectionable because RRF is yet to receive approval”.

GEAC sources say Mahyco has been asked to provide detailed data on the use of RRF and its impact on the environment and approval for its commercial release is some way off.


 

Bombay HC Directs Bayer Bio Science Pvt Ltd to Compensate 45 lakhs Farmers #Goodnews


MUMBAIDEC 16, 2012, Outlook

The Bombay High Court has asked a seed manufacturing company to pay compensation of Rs 45 lakh to 164 farmers in Maharashtra for supplying defective seeds as a result of which the crop quality suffered.

The high court ordered the compensation while upholding an order of the Controller and Director of Agriculture which asked Bayer Bio Science Pvt Ltd to pay the compensation.

The company had challenged the order before the appellate authority which too upheld the order of Agriculture Director dated April 13, 2011.

By that order, the said authority has found 164 farmers entitled to compensation and asked the company to pay that amount within 30 days at 24 per cent interest under rule 12(9) of Maharashtra Cotton Seeds (Regulation of supply, distribution, sale and fixation of sale price) Rules, 2010.

The high court held that Seed Inspector and District Level Investigation Committee functioning under the Act and Rules have discharged their obligation within four corners of law.

“The Controller has looked into entire relevant material and thereafter ordered compensation to be paid to the farmers. In appeal, this exercise has been upheld. Both the authorities have looked into entire material produced before them. There is no perversity in the findings recorded”, noted Justice B P Dharmadhikari in his order on December 11.

“Similarly, there is no jurisdictional error. There are no allegations of bias or malafides. The impugned orders are, thus, in conformity with the scheme and spirit of 2009 Act and 2010 Rules. No case is, therefore, made out for interference in writ jurisdiction. Petition is dismissed”, the judge noted.

The impugned order of April 13, 2011, revealed that the company had disclosed in its leaflet the possibility of occurrence of Alterneria Leaf Blight disease in small percentage.

#India-Bt failure to hit cotton yield by 40%: Govt


Published: Monday, Nov 26, 2012, 5:48 IST
By Yogesh Pawar | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA

For the first time, Maharashtra has officially admitted that cotton yield is likely to reduce by nearly 40%. Bt cotton failure in more than 4 million hectares of land has reduced cotton yieldfrom 3.5 million quintal to 2.2 million quintal.

A report sent by the state agricultural department to the Centre states that the estimate of the net direct economic loss to cotton farmers in the state will be nearly Rs6,000 crore, whereas accumulated losses are likely to cross more than Rs20,000 crore due to a steep rise in cultivation costs.

Farmers and activists in the state’s cotton belt say the rise in the prices of Bt cotton seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and labour since last year has had a huge impact. “The agrarian crisis sweeping through the state due to Bt cotton failure has only widened. Unlike when cotton crop failure was reported only from Vidarbha and Marathawada, reports of such crop failure are now coming in from Khandesh in north Maharashtra, too,” said Kishore Tiwari of farm advocacy group Vidarbha Janandolan Samiti.

National Crime Records Bureau reveals that the number of farmer suicides in Maharashtra are likely to cross 5,000 this year in comparison to the 3,500 last year. The figures last year were, in fact, the highest among all states in India.

This is the third year in a row that Bt cotton failure is being reported in Mahahrashtra. Last year, the state paid Rs2,000 crore to 4 million cotton farmers as compensation. Unlike earlier when dry land farmers were affected, even areas with adequate irrigation are facing a crop loss this year.

Ravindra Shinde, a farmer from Dhamane village in Dhule, had taken a loan like several others, and is now worried about repaying it. “I spent Rs50,000 per hectare this year but Rs30,000 last year. Now with crops failing, I don’t know what to do?” he said.

According to state records, Maharashtra grows Bt cotton in 4.2 million hectares of land. This is the largest among all cotton-producing states. Even thenit has been reporting lowest cotton yield of about 5 quintal per hectare since 2006. The latest official estimate says this is likely to fall to 3 quintal per hectare. “This means a net loss of more than Rs38,000 per hectare!” points out Tiwari, who plans to lead debt-trapped farmers in march to the legislative council on December 11 during the winter session at Nagpur.

“We demand a compensation of Rs20,000 per hectare and fresh crop loans for every farmer for the ensuing kharif season. We also want food security and free health education, along with the implementation ofland development, soil enrichment and watershed development under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act,” he said.

He appealed to the government not to mock the farmers. “We hope the state relief packages actually help farmers this time instead of just benefiting contractors, politicians and multinational agro majors like it has in the past.”

 

Bar GM food crops, says parliamentary panels #BTbrinjal #Goodnews


basudeb

The committee found that the present regulatory system in our country which comprises of Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) is inadequate and the regulatory system needs to be more robust, ensuring severe scrutiny.Basudeb Acharia
Chairperson, parliamentary committee on agriculture

A parliamentary committee has recommended halting all field trials of genetically modified (GM) seeds and sought an independent probe into how the government had accorded approval to Bt brinjal, a seed that was developed by Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Co. Ltd (Mahyco).

Though it’s not mandatory for the government to accept the parliamentary standing committee’s recommendations, the suggestions of several such panels have significantly influenced government policy. Former environment minister Jairam Ramesh in 2010 imposed a moratorium on the sale of Bt brinjal seeds in India.

The recommendations of the panel comes a day after the Maharashtra government cancelled Mahyco’s licence to sell Bt cotton seed in the state. This was after allegations that the company had misinformed state agricultural officials on the availability of Bt cotton seeds for farmers.

Mahyco said in a statement that it will wait to hear from the government before addressing issues around the ban.

“In India, where 82% of the agriculture industry is of small farmers and where there is huge biodiversity, we should not go for GM foods. Even if we take the argument that we have to increase our food production according to the demands, we should look into indigenous ways to enhance it,” said Basudeb Acharya, chairman of the standing committee on agriculture and a leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

Pointing out that the introduction of Bt cotton was not discussed in Parliament before it was introduced in the country, Acharya said there was neither a study on its impact on cattlefeed made out of the cotton seeds, nor was any specific regulatory body to ensure food safety and standards.

The parliamentary panel, which met around 1,500 farmers in Goregaon in Maharashtra, also found they were left with no other alternatives to Bt cotton seeds in the market.

“The production cost, which was reduced due to less usage of pesticides, has been increasing,” Acharya said. “And we found largest number of suicides were reported from the areas where Bt Cotton is grown.”

The committee also pointed out that Ayurvedic medical practitioners have complained it had an adverse impact on the medicinal plants grown in the area.

The panel’s study on Cultivation of Genetically Modified Food Crops—Prospects and Effects is among the most extensive studies conducted by a parliamentary standing committee. The panel received 467 memorandums, 14,862 documents and reviewed evidences given by 50 organizations during its 27 sittings on the subject.

While Bt cotton is the only GM plant that’s allowed to be cultivated, several private companies have been looking at introducing different kinds of GM seeds, including rice, tomato and wheat.

Following protests from civil society groups and farmers, several state government’s have banned trials of GM crops.

To bring greater transparency in the way crops are tested, the government has proposed an independent regulator, called the Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India. Legislation to set up the authority has been pending for two years.

Earlier this year, the ministry of consumer affairs, food and public distribution ruled that all packaged food that was sourced from GM ingredients had to be labelled so.

The “report vindicates the concerns and positions taken by many state governments in India, such as Bihar, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, etc., which have disallowed GM crops, including field trials. It also vindicates the larger public demand not to allow GM crops into our food and farming systems” Sridhar Radhakrishnan, convener of the Coalition for a GM-Free India, a group that is opposed to the introduction of GM crops, said in a statement.

jacob.k@livem

 

Ban on Mahyco seed sale
Maharashtra Government has cancelled the licence of agriculture seed major Mahyco, to sell Bt cotton seeds in the state, following complaints.

Minister for Agriculture Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil said the state government was left with no option but to cancel the company’s licence, given the serious nature of the complaints. “The government has cancelled the licence of Mahyco to sell with immediate effect,” Pune-based state Agriculture Commissioner Umakant Dangat told PTI over phone. “We were hearing several complaints against them from last 2-3 years. They did advance booking but did not supply seeds. Last year, there was an acute seed shortage in the state,” Dangat said.

Mahyco did not give us its seed distribution programme for this year. There were complaints that seeds were sold in Beed and Jalna districts at inflated prices, he said.

Scientist’s warn Assam could go Chhattisgarh way on farmer suicides


TNN Jun 3, 2012, 01.08AM IST

GUWAHATI: Agriculture scientist GV Ramanjaneyulu on Saturday said Assam could go the Chhattisgarh way in terms of farmers‘ suicides if the state government fails to implement concrete measures in protecting the interests of farmers.

The scientist was speaking at an interactive session titled “The Current Crisis in Indian Agriculture and the Way Forward” held in Cotton College State University, organized by its department of economics. He emphasized on the comparisons between Assam and Chhattisgarh in terms of production of different varieties of rice and engagement of tribals in farming and agriculture.

“What happened in Chhattisgarh was quite unfortunate because the state government had decided to introduce hybrid rice which almost made the traditional varieties extinct. Besides, there were many flawed measures introduced by the government which proved disastrous. Farmers have become an endangered species,” said Ramanjaneyulu, executive director Centre for Advanced Sustentative Agriculture, Hyderabad.

“That state has witnessed a large number of farmers committing suicide. But Assam has the lowest record of farmers’ suicide. However the situation could go wrong if the state government decides to introduce hybrid variety and Assam could suffer the same fate as Chhattisgarh. The government must put a check on farming by migrants as they tend to use fertilizers because they don’t have any bond towards the land,” added the scientist.

The scientist also took a dig at chief minister Tarun Gogoi’s recent announcement to allocate Rs 33 crore for organic farming by stating that until and unless there are some concrete policies regarding how and where to promote such farming, the entire money could go waste.

On the issue of green revolution being shifted to the eastern region of the country, Ramanjaneyulu said, “It needs to be properly addressed. If there are pesticides involved in agricultural fields in the upper-stream, then there are possibilities of them being disposed in the downstream. Assam has a rich history of producing different varieties of rice. But it has lost most varieties now.”

A bitter Harvest for Farmers in India BT cotton and Monsanto


A woman picking cotton in a field near Nagarju...

A woman picking cotton in a field near Nagarjuna Sagar, India. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bt Cotton, a bitter harvest for farmers
Kavitha Kuruganti
It is clear that the mounting evidence that is coming into the public domain, including the internal advisory from the agriculture ministry linking farm distress and suicides with Bt cotton, is causing panic among GM promoters and their lobbies in the country as their false hype and failed promises lie exposed. The biotechnology industry constantly claims that Bt cotton is responsible for the impressive yield growth in cotton that the country witnessed for a few years in the recent past.
Just two common-sense questions are asked to bust the myth: how can Bt technology increase yields when the pest incidence itself, across crops and not just cotton, has been low over the past decade? Two, how does one explain cotton yield increases in India that have happened at an impressive rate when the same is not present in any other country that has adopted Bt cotton? Even a lay person can point out that the reasons lie not in Bt cotton, but on good old factors like large-scale shift to hybrid seed sources (it is only in India that Bt cotton comes in hybrid seed form and not varieties). In the past decade, the area under cotton hybrids rose to 85.5 per cent of our cotton area from being around 40 per cent in 2000. Uptil 2005, 100 per cent of cotton area in the north zone was under varieties; now, 95 per cent of cotton cultivated in Punjab and Haryana is with hybrid seed. Similarly, there has been a significant shift to irrigated cotton cultivation. Sixty-five per cent of Gujarat’s cotton is irrigated today while it was only 39.5 per cent in 2000, contributing 84 per cent of the state’s cotton production, even as Gujarat is the largest cotton producer in the country. The state’s average productivity figures complete the story: in irrigated conditions, it is 689 kg per hectare of lint whereas in unirrigated conditions, it is a mere 247 kg per hectare.
What’s more, the top cotton scientists in the country have this to say: “The use of irrigation facilities, bringing new lands under Bt cotton, low pest activity, well-distributed rainfall, the overwhelming shift towards hybrid cotton and introduction of pesticides with novel modes of action are important factors that helped cotton productivity, not just the introduction of the novel Bt gene.”
Analysis of yield also shows that impressive productivity increases in cotton have happened before Bt cotton became prevalent. In the five-year period from 2000-01 to 2004-05, yield increased by 69 per cent. In the Bt cotton period starting from 2005-06, a moderate 17 per cent increase in yield is shown over three years up to 2007-08 (554 kg per hectare compared to 470 kg per hectare). Further, the yields show a downward trend since then.
If we look at the chemical pesticide usage, one more Bt cotton lie gets exposed. Insecticide usage in cotton (value) increased from `597 crore in 2002 to `880 crore in 2010 (data from CICR’s director). Pesticide consumption data in volume across crops from Government of India shows an increase in pesticide use in all the major cotton-growing states (Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka) except Andhra Pradesh. The most damning number to expose the hype around Bt cotton is related to farm suicides in a state like Maharashtra. The annual average number of suicides in the state during 1997-2002 was 2,833 and it was 4,067 during 2003-08 (P Sainath’s information, based on NCRB data). If nothing else, it is clear that Bt cotton has not provided any solution to the crisis here, but only seems to have exacerbated the distress.
Behind all the hype and lies around Bt cotton, the truth is that it has been a bitter harvest for Indian cotton farmers and a bonanza of prosperity for seed and pesticide companies. The story of Bt cotton once again showcases how sustainable, safer and affordable alternatives, even though they exist, do not receive the attention and investment that they deserve. Ten years after Bt cotton introduction, the government should examine the cotton crisis independently and in a nuanced manner undeterred by aggressive propaganda by seed companies. It should also step in urgently to promote alternatives like non-pesticide management that have a proven track record and direct public sector seed companies to produce high quality conventional cotton seeds to provide genuine choices for cotton farmers.

Kuruganti is national convenor of Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture