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Divergent views on Bt cotton benefits to farmers

Ch. Prashanth Reddy

Hyderabad , May 5

DID Bt cotton hybrids, marketed by Mahyco-Monsanto Biotech India Ltd, benefit farmers? There are contrasting claims in this regard, particularly in Andhra Pradesh, which is a major cotton-growing State in the country. The findings of three studies, conducted by three different organisations, on the performance of the genetically-modified crop during kharif 2003 are contradictory.

The study, conducted by the AP Coalition in Defence of Diversity (APCDD) and the Deccan Development Society (DDS), both non-governmental organisations, stated that the profits were 9 per cent lower for Bt cotton farmers compared to those who cultivated non-Bt cotton.

On the other hand, the report of a survey conducted by AC Nielson ORG-Marg estimated that the net profit to farmers from Bt cotton cultivation had increased by 92 per cent, or Rs 5,138 per acre. Another report by the scientists of the Acharya N.G. Ranga Agricultural University's Regional Agricultural Research Station, Lam Farm, at Guntur (ANGRAU) stated that the net gain by Bt cotton farmers was Rs 4,816 per acre.

While the AC Nielson ORG-Marg survey estimated that there had been an approximately 24 per cent or 1.98-quintal-per-acre yield increase in the Bollgard fields compared to conventional cotton fields in Andhra Pradesh, the APCDD-DDS study stated that the yield increase in Bt cotton fields was a marginal 9 kg per acre. As per ANGRAU scientists, the Bt cotton yield was 1,231 kg per acre, 82 kg higher than the 1,149-kg-per-acre yield of a popular non-Bt hybrid brand, Bunny.

Apart from increase in the yield, the AC Nielson ORG-Marg survey stated there was a 58 per cent reduction in the bollworm pesticide sprays, resulting in a saving of Rs 1,856 per acre for Bt cotton farmers. The ANGRAU study also stated that there was a reduction of 3.8 sprays for the control of bollworms in Bt cotton compared to non-Bt hybrid crop.

In contrast, the APCDD-DDS survey pointed out that the reduction in pesticide consumption by Bt farmers was just 12 per cent, while the cost of Bt seeds was 230 per cent more than non-Bt hybrids. Thus, even though the overall yield of Bt cotton was marginally more, the overall benefit-cost ratio was in favour of non-Bt hybrids. The investment on cultivation of Bt cotton hybrids was 8 per cent higher than that on the non-Bt hybrids. Consequently, the Bt farmers have earned Rs 750 per acre less than what the non-Bt farmers have earned.

Two agricultural scientists, Dr Abdul Qayum and Mr Kiran Sakkhari, conducted the APCCD-DDS study on 164 farmers in 28 villages in Warangal, Adilabad and Kurnool districts of Andhra Pradesh. The study underlined the argument that genetically modified crops need more investment per unit area than non-GM crops and net profits from GM crops were less than the non-GM crops.

The findings of the scientists of the ANGRAU Lam Farm were based on their evaluation of 24 demonstration plots in Guntur on which both Bt and non-Bt cotton was grown. Each demonstration plot consisted of half-an-acre of Bt cotton and the same area of non-Bt hybrids. The scientists concluded that Bt cotton hybrids were better than non-Bt hybrids in respect of yield and bollworm tolerance. Therefore, farmers would be benefited by Bt cotton.

The survey of AC Nielson ORG-Marg covered five of the six Bt cotton-growing States: Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Gujarat. According to this survey, the introduction of Bt cotton in India has enabled the farmers to realise better yields and earn higher profits.

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