While policy makers insist that Bt cotton, also known as genetically modified cotton, is a success in India, the Ministry of Agriculture says otherwise and blames the crop for suicides among India's farmers.
Digital Journal reported in March that cotton growing was not going well with the genetically modified crop.
Now for the first time suicides by farmers, including those in 2011 and 2012, have been definitively linked to the declining performance of the GM cotton.
Starting a decade ago, 90% of the country's cotton growers have adopted the GM cotton.
On January 9 an internal advisory, a copy of which is held by the Hindustan Times, was sent out to cotton growing states by the Minister of Agriculture.
The note presents a grim scenario: “Cotton farmers are in a deep crisis since shifting to Bt cotton. The spate of farmer suicides in 2011-12 has been particularly severe among Bt cotton farmers."
It seems that the success of the Bt cotton lasted only 5 years. Since then, cotton yields have been gradually falling and pest attacks increasing. The GM crop was genetically altered to kill cotton-eating pests. However, for farmers, the rising costs in the form of necessary pesticides have not matched the returns received. This has pushed many farmers to the edge financially and otherwise. In other words the genetically modified crop is no more profitable than it used to be.
The advisory states: “In fact cost of cotton cultivation has jumped…due to rising costs of pesticides. Total Bt cotton production in the last five years has reduced.”
The note has been based on observations from the Indian Council of Agricultural Sciences and the Central Cotton Research Institute, India's top cotton research facility.
However, when the Hindustan Times spoke to officials, they either downplayed or denied the advisory.
The Asian Age reports that Swapan Kumar Dutta, who is India's deputy director-general of crop science stated that he had no knowledge of the advisory and that "Bt cotton continued to drive India's cotton production."
Prabeer Kumar Basu, the agricultural secretary said that he could neither “confirm nor deny” that such a note had been sent.
In Maharashtra Bt cotton farmers have lost over 10,000 crores due to crop failure.
Dr Suman Sahai of Gene Campaign has warned: “The crisis is so acute in Maharashtra that 209 farmers committed suicide in the Vidarbha cotton growing belt region in 2011.’’
When the Bt cotton was initially introduced to India in 2002, the seed companies promised that the crop would be resistant to bollworm. However, since then, new pests have emerged.
Dr Sahai says, “Indian conditions are different from the West. We are a tropical country with a variety of pests which have been found to be adversely affecting this cotton crop.”
However farmers must continue to buy Bt cotton, as the only credit available to them from seed agents is for this type of seed.
Dr Sahai added. “Seed agents are offered higher commission for Bt cotton rather than for traditional seeds.’’