Lessons for Africa
28 October 2005
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
The fiasco of Bt cotton in India has been ongoing now for 3 years. For 3 years, since the Genetic Engineering Approvals Committee (GEAC) approved Monsanto-Mahyco's Bt cotton for sale in India, farmers have been promised miracles from this genetically engineered crop. But year after year, Bt cotton has failed huge numbers of farmers, many of whom have been driven to suicide as a result of the heavy debts incurred from growing GM crops.
The same stories have appeared from several states, in particular Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh where there have been the most studies, for example those recently carried out by the Deccan Development Society and the Monitoring and Evaluation Committee (MEC). Farmers report failure of Bt cotton crops where conventional crops have thrived; infestations from bollworm and other pests; susceptibility to root rot and wilt; susceptibility to weather stresses; lower yields than conventional crops; a barely significant reduction in the need for pesticide; and all this in spite of costing 3-4 times the price of non-GM cotton, farmers planting on their best land, irrigated where possible, using more fertiliser, and not intercropping and therefore losing other potential harvests too. Farmers also report not being able to grow certain crops in the same field in the seasons following Bt cotton. Taken together, the loss that many farmers have suffered as a result of Monsanto's Bt seed is appalling.
With such a terrible record, one might ask why Bt cotton continues to be approved by the government and bought by farmers. Perplexingly, even though the State Government banned the sale of Bt Cotton varieties in Andhra Pradesh after seeing the unavoidable evidence of extensive failure, the GEAC still allowed for it to be sold in other states. Curiously, after the Central Institute of Cotton Research (CISR) released a paper indicating that the relevant Bt transgene, Cry 1Ac, could be unreliable in its expression, its author then wrote an article which appeared to contradict the obvious conclusions, and defended Bt cotton technology. This has led to calls from Gene Campaign for an investigation into any influences that the author may have been subjected to following the report.
Monsanto has certainly not let the inconvenience of crop failure and farmer suicides get in the way of an effective marketing strategy though, and research by Greenpeace and the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture in Andhra Pradesh show an advertising campaign been built on lies and deceit. Their "True Stories of Farmers Who Have Sown Bt Cotton" posters purport to show farmers extolling their successes and high yields from Bt cotton. But researchers spoke to those photographed, and only heard stories of disappointment in Bt cotton, and resentment that Monsanto had used their photo to make false claims that were the opposite to what they believed. One "farmer" photographed with claims of high yields was not even a farmer at all, and had never grown Bt cotton in his life.
Farmers' organisations are now calling for bans on Bt cotton and caution on all other GM crops too. They are also calling for strong legislation that protects and compensates farmers when their GM crops fail. Currently, Monsanto is immune and uncaring to the fact that so many farmers lives have been totally ruined by their product.
Taken together, the picture built up of Bt cotton in India is a compelling one that policy makers in African countries considering Bt cotton commercialisation urgently need to consider.
1. Report of a Fact Finding Team's visit to Badwani district, Madhya Pradesh Monitoring and Evaluation Committee (MEC) and Beej Swaraj Abhiyan of Madhya Pradesh.
2. Bt Cotton in Andhra Pradesh: a Three Year Assessment Summary of Report from Deccan Development Society. Date: 2005 Quyum, A.; Sakkhari, K
3. The Marketing of Bt Cotton in India: Aggressive, Unscrupulous and False
GM Watch Summary of Report from Greenpeace India and Centre for Sustainable Agriculture.
Date: 20 September 2005
4. Bollgard Bt Cotton sold on Lies and Lures
Press Release from Greenpeace and CSA. Date: 19 September
5. The Bitter Harvest
Article from The Telegraph (Calcutta). Date: 29 September 2005
6. GEAC Plays Safe on Bt Cotton Approvals
Article from Financial Express. Date: 13 October 2005
Ashok B. Sharma
7. Independent Enquiry Demanded on Bt Cotton
Press Release from Gene Campaign. Date: 28 September 2005
8. Transgenics and Indian Agriculture: Where are the benefits?
Paper presented to National Commission on Farmers by Bharat Krishak Samaj. Date: 22 September 2005
Dr Kishan Bir Chaudhary