'Bt cotton has improved farmers' lives'

At the same time genetically modified cotton has increased fertilizer and water usage, resulting in high input costs, says study funded by farmers' outfit

By Jyotika Sood
Published: Thursday 07 June 2012


A study conducted by the Council for Social Development (CSD) on Bt cotton, titled Socio-Economic Impact Assessment of Bt cotton in India, has concluded that the genetically modified cotton has improved farmers' lives with its better yields and higher returns. The nation-wide study by the informal study group of social scientists and social workers was funded by farmers’ outfit Bharat Krishak Samaj (BKS) and was released in Delhi on Thursday.

The study states that enhanced yield of cotton by 4.95 per cent has led to a substantial increase in average net returns of farmers by 375 per cent. These higher returns, in turn, have enabled farmers to spend more on health, education, nutritious food and social needs, which has improved their standard of living, the report says. A report by Down to Earth had, however, found that cotton productivity in the country has become stagnant for the past few years after the initial gains that were reported. The Bt technology, first developed by Monsanto company in 1986, came to India in 2002 when the American seed giant entered into an agreement with its Indian partner, Maharashtra Hybrid Seed Company or Mahyco.

Key Findings of report
•  84 per cent farmers say that quantity of seed usage per hectare is less in Bt Cotton than used in Non-Bt cotton.

•  Labour is the highest input cost—53 per cent of overall cost of Bt cotton cultivation. This is followed by fertilizers, 10.84 per cent, seed, 9.61 per cent, and mechanization 8.86 per cent.

•  Average net returns from hybrid Bt cotton seeds increased by 375 per cent from pre-Bt cotton period

•  Production and yield increased at a steady growth rate of 9.25 per cent and 4.95 per cent, respectively.

•  Growth rate of cotton area increased by 4.1 per cent in the last 10 years

•  76 per cent and 71 per cent of farmers reduced quantity and expenditure on pesticide usage respectively with Bt cotton seeds
Note of caution

The CSD study also highlights the fact that Bt cotton has increased fertilizer and water usage, that has resulted in high input costs. It says that the average consumption of fertilizers has increased from 95 kg/hectare in the pre-Bt cotton period (1996-2001) to 120 kg/hectare in the post-Bt cotton period (2002-2008). The field survey showed that farmers who used to irrigate their cotton crop three times in a cycle before Bt was introduced, have to irrigate their crop five times now, proving that it is a water-intensive crop. The average irrigation costs per hectare increased from Rs 355 per hectare in the pre-Bt cotton period to Rs 813 in post-Bt cotton period. The increase in irrigation costs is attributed to increase in diesel cost in the country.

The study by CSD was undertaken to validate farmers’ experience using Bt cotton in the nine cotton growing states of India—Maharashtra, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat.  During the course of study, more than 1,050 farmers and 300 agricultural labourers were surveyed across the country with inputs from secondary data sources like ministry of agriculture, economic survey and the United States' department of agriculture.

The study indicates that 94 per cent of the farmers surveyed were of the view that yields from hybrid Bt cotton seeds were higher than non-Bt cotton. Eighty-seven per cent farmers said their average returns from hybrid Bt cotton seeds were much higher than from non-Bt cotton seeds. The study claims that Bt cotton seeds considerably increased the average returns of farmers by almost 375 per cent to Rs 65,307.82 per hectare.

Major reasons for farm suicides
•  Poor institutional credit

•  Lack of irrigation facilities in rain-fed areas

•  Fluctuating prices for cotton crop

•  Faulty export policies of the Government of India
During the report release, CSD director T Haque said: “It is very evident from the study that hybrid Bt cotton technology is scale-neutral and farmers' responses have underlined significant improvement in livelihoods, better yields and higher returns. The country has also benefited immensely as India has become a net exporter from being a net importer in recent years.”

BKS president Ajay Jakhar said that the study was commissioned to assess farmers’ experiences and separate truth from perception. The field research confirms that poor institutional credit, fluctuating prices for cotton are the main reasons for farmer suicides. “If you see the input cost, it’s the labour cost which is more expensive and not the seed,” added Jakhar. BKS claims that the study was completely funded by the farmers and no funding is accepted by the organisation either from private entities or the government.

The survey said that a high proportion of farmers (25.14 per cent) used seeds of Nuziveedu Seeds Pvt Limited, followed by Shriram Bioseeds Genetics (20.57 per cent), Rasi Seeds Private Limited (19.24 per cent), Ankur Seeds Private Limited (17.24 per cent), Bayer Biosciences Private Limited (14.95 per cent), Mahyco Limited (13.26 per cent) and Mosanto Private Limited (6.29 per cent).

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