Agri Business

Bt cotton only increased cost of cultivation: Study

T V Jayan New Delhi | Updated on March 18, 2020 Published on March 16, 2020

There are two particularly devastating caterpillar pests for cotton in India. Representative image   -  The Hindu

‘Higher output due to other factors’

Much of the increase in cotton yields in India cannot be attributed to the adoption of transgenic cotton, as claimed earlier, but to other factors such as increase in area of cultivation, fertiliser use, better irrigation and new class of insecticides in last 15 years, according to a new study.

The study appeared in the journal Nature Plants last week. It was the very first study on the long-term impact of cultivation of Bt cotton, which, since its introduction in 2002, covered more than 90 per cent of cotton fields in India.

‘No agronomic benefits’

According to the study, carried out by Glenn Davis Stone, a sociocultural anthropologist specialising in human aspects of global agricultural trends at Washington University, and Keshav R Kranthi of International Cotton Advisory Committee at Washington DC, the adoption of Bt cotton seeds in India was devoid of any enduring agronomic benefits and only resulted in rising capital-intensiveness of cotton farming in the country.

“In the decade following 2005, when Bt seed began its rapid spread across Indian cotton farms, per-hectare costs for seeds rose by 78 per cent, for insecticides by 158 per cent, for fertiliser by 245 per cent and for labour by 275 per cent (due to legislation unrelated to Bt seeds), with the overall production cost of seed cotton rising by 143 per cent,” they said in the paper.

“Our conclusion is that Bt cotton's primary impact on agriculture will be its role in making farming more capital-intensive – rather than any enduring agronomic benefits,” said Stone in a statement.

There are two particularly devastating caterpillar pests for cotton in India, and, from the beginning, Bt cotton did control one of them: the American bollworm. “It initially controlled the other one, too -- the pink bollworm -- but that pest quickly developed resistance and now it is a worse problem than ever,” said Stone.

“Bt plants were highly vulnerable to other insect pests that proliferated as more and more farmers adopted the crop. Farmers are now spending much more on insecticides than before they had ever heard of Bt cotton. And the situation is worsening,” he said.

‘Bt-hybrid obsession’

Kranthi, a noted cotton scientist and former director of the Central Institute of Cotton Research (CICR) in Nagpur, was more scathing. Speaking to BusinessLine from Washington, he said, “India needs to overcome the Bt-hybrid obsession.”

It needs to get over three major misconceptions. One, Bt cotton alone was responsible for the increase in cotton yields, two, hybrid cotton is superior to other varieties in providing high yields and thirdly, the growth in yields has been affected because the introduction of even more advanced GM traits was stopped in the country since 2005.

“We need to plan seriously for alternative sustainable strategies that are best suited for our ecosystems, soils, weather, impending climate change and rural agrarian socio-economic conditions,” Kranthi said.

He said the two-fold increase in productivity after 2002 was due to a 50-60 per cent increase in area, doubled fertiliser use, increase in irrigation and introduction of a few new insecticides that were effective in controlling sucking pests and bollworms.

Higher fertiliser usage

Using data available with the Agriculture Ministry, they showed that fertiliser usage started to increase significantly after the introduction of Bt cotton, from 96 kg per hectare (kg/ha) in 2002 to the levels of 192 to 224 kg/ha during the period 2010 to 2015.

“Fertiliser usage increased from 0.84 million tonnes in 2002 to 2.57 million tonnes by 2011-12, with highest increases of 5.8-fold in Gujarat, 4.3-fold in Maharashtra, 4.2-fold in Karnataka and 2.5-fold in Andhra Pradesh. The expenditure on fertilisers on cotton at current prices, increased by 5.5-fold, from ₹1,504 per hectare in 1999 to ₹8,296 in 2013,” said Kranthi.

The rising costs had severely impacted farmers as well. According to the former CICR director, the cost of cotton cultivation in the country increased four-fold from ₹18,146 per hecatre in 2003 to ₹ 72,434/ha in 2013. Net profits were ₹5,971/ha in 2003 but plummeted to net losses of ₹5,849/ha in 2014 and ₹6,286/ha in 2015,” he said.

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Published on March 16, 2020
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