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

Immediate Release-Monsanto to be criminally prosecuted in B.t. Brinjal Biopiracy Case


 Press Release : Bangalore : 24 May 2012

NBA confirms Monsanto/Mahyco and ors. to be criminally prosecuted in B.t. Brinjal Biopiracy Case

In its first official confirmation, National Biodiversity Authority (NBA, India’s independent regulator on all matters pertaining to biodiversity protection, conservation and use) has stated that “it is proceeding with lodging of complaint against the alleged violators” of Biological Diversity Act on grounds of biopiracy in promoting B.t. Brinjal, India’s first transgenic GMO food. This information was provided to Environment Support Group (ESG) in response to a Right to Information query, and a copy is enclosed. As per Indian law, the filing of the complaint against this serious environmental crime assumes launching of criminal prosecution against the violators. India has already enforced a moratorium on the commercial release of B.t. Brinjal on various scientific, legal, health and community concerns.

 

The undersigned on behalf of Environment Support Group had filed a complaint in February 2010 accusing the world’s largest agritech company Monsanto along with its Indian partner Mahyco, Sathguru Consultants (representing USAID and Cornell University) and various public funded agriculture institutions such as University of Agriculture Sciences (Dharwar, Karnataka), Tamilnadu Agricultural University (Coimbatore) and Indian Institute of Vegetable Research (Uttar Pradesh), of accessing over 16 varieties of brinjal endemic to India in comprehensive violation of the Biological Diversity Act while promoting the commercial release of transgenic B.t. Brinjal through 2005-2010. None of the regulatory agencies, including the NBA and Ministry of Environment and Forests, had bothered to verify compliance with the B D Act throught out this period, and began to take action with much reluctance after ESG filed the complaint.

 

The RTI query was filed seeking all documentation pertaining to the case filed by ESG. Shockingly, and quite questionably, NBA has refused to part with the documentation even to the complainants. Justifying this stand, it has controversially and peculiarly claimed that the documentation cannot be shared with the complainants as “the matter is under advanced stage of lodging of complaint and taking into account the intricacies which involve nuances of biotechnology it is felt that it may not be appropriate to provide the documents/instructions at this juncture”. Evidently, NBA is not even sure if this is the right decision to take, and ESG will file an appeal against this decision soon.

 

As reported in the media, the decision to initiate criminal prosecution against this case of biopiracy was taken by NBA in its meeting held on 28 February 2012, after it was put to a vote. The vote became essential as some members of the NBA were keen on stopping the prosecution. This when when NBA had already resolved in June 2011 to prosecute the violators, a fact repeatedly confirmed in Parliament by the Indian Environment Minister Smt. Jayanti Natarajan. ESG has consistently raised concerns over such dithering by NBA to initiate action against violators of the Biological Diversity Act.

 

Karnataka Chief Minister urged to re-initiate prosecution against Bt. Brinjal violators

 

ESG has also submitted a representation to Karnataka Chief Minister Shri. Sadananda Gowda urging him to immediately revive the decision to criminally prosecute those engaged in biopiracy through the Karnataka Biodiversity Board. It may be recalled that the Board had decided to initiate appropriate legal action against University of Agricultural Sciences (Dharwar), Monsanto and Mahyco for accessing 6 local varieties of brinjal illegally from Karnataka, and converting them into transgenic B.t. Brinjal products, all in violation of the Biological Diversity Act. However, due to pressure, apparently brought by none other than the Principal Secretary of Karnataka’s Environment Department (the chief custodian of Karnataka’s biodiversity), the investigation built over two years was suspended in a controversial decision of the Board in January 2012. ESG initiated a mass petition in February this year against this illegal and retrograde decision to the Chief Minister. Over 500 groups and individuals across India and the world have endorsed this representation which is accessible at: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/karnataka-biodiversity-board-must-prosecute/. A copy of the representation now made to the Chief Minister is also enclosed.

 

More details about ESG’s efforts to tackle biopiracy in India, including documents listed above, are accessible at: www.esgindia.org

Leo F. Saldanha

Coordinator/Trustee

and Co-complainant in the aforesaid Biopiracy case with

Bhargavi S. Rao

Coordinator (Education)/Trustee

Environment Support Group

 

About ESG: Environment Support Group is a small group committed researchers,lawyers and activists responding to various issues of environmental, social justice and governance concern. More details about the group may be accessed at: http://esgindia.org/about-us/esg-team.html

 

Donate to ESG: ESG relies on public support and your generous contributions to advance its various public interest initiatives.   Details on how you can contribute can be accessed at: http://esgindia.org/about-us/what-you-can-do.html


— Leo Saldanha Environment Support Group – Trust [Environmental, Social Justice and Governance Initiatives] 1572, 36th Cross, Ring Road Banashankari II Stage Bangalore 560070. INDIA Tel: 91-80-26713559-61 Fax/Voice: 91-80-26713316 Email:leo@esgindia.org Blog: http://leoonpublicmatters.blogspot.com/ Web: www.esgindia.org

Bt Brinjal poses a risk to health, environment: Greenpeace report


NEW DELHI, April 30, 2012

‘Spread of the Bt gene could make the brinjal a problematic weed

An independent enquiry has revealed that the cultivation of genetically engineered (GE, also called genetically modified, or GMBt brinjal poses risks to the environment and possibly to human health. The occurrence of wild, weedy and also cultivated relatives presents a likelihood that the GE Bt gene will spread to these relatives but, so far, this has largely been overlooked in the risk assessments for GE Bt brinjal, it says.

Genetically engineered Bt brinjal and the implications for plant biodiversity – revisitedan independent study commissioned by Greenpeace International, finds that brinjal relatives do occur in the regions where cultivation of GE Bt brinjal is proposed, and that GE Bt brinjal may mate with these relatives to spread the GE Bt gene. Spread of the GE Bt gene would have considerable ecological implications, as well as implications for future crop contamination and farmers’ rights.

Importantly, the spread of the GE Bt gene could result in the brinjal becoming an aggressive and problematic weed, the Greenpeace report suggests, while impressing upon the governments the need to employ the precautionary principle and not permit any authorisation of the outdoor cultivation of GEBt brinjal, including field trials

The cultivation of GE Bt brinjal is proposed in some countries across Asia, including India, where there is currently a moratorium on commercialisation, and the Philippines, where field trials are going on. “There are many concerns with GE brinjal, which has been engineered to be resistant to certain insect pests using Bt genes from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis. These concerns include food safety and possible effects on organisms other than the pest insect (non-target organisms), such as beneficial insects and butterflies.”

One of the least known aspects of the GE Bt brinjal is its ability to cross with wild relatives or cultivated varieties. This is because there are no recent reviews in the scientific literature concerning species related to brinjal, and where they grow across Asia. This information is vital when addressing concerns regarding cultivation of GE Bt brinjal, because insect-resistance gives a selective advantage to the plant, increasing its ability to survive and reproduce. If the GE Bt brinjal cross-pollinates wild, weedy or cultivated relatives, the result is a hybrid offspring, which may grow more aggressively and thus become a problem weed, the report says.

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