BT cotton behind farmer suicides?

  • March 28, 2012
  • By Rashme Sehgal
  • Correspondent
  • New Delhi

Despite having unleashed more than 780 Bt cotton hybrids in India during the last decade, yields have turned stagnant and farmer suicides in the cotton belt are multiplying.

In fact, although Bt cotton now covers more than 90 per cent of the total cotton growing area in the country, yields in the last five years have gone up marginally from 470 kg per ha to 481 kg per ha though input costs have increased several fold, warned member NGOs of the Coalition for GM-Free India.
Crop failure is also being attributed to the increasing number of pests found to be attacking Bt cotton hybrids. The result is that state government estimates in Andhra Pradesh show that 34 lakh acres out of the 47 lakh acres planted with Bt cotton during the kharif 2011 season faced crop failure with almost 21 lakh farmers having lost around `3071 crores.
The situation is no better in Maharashtra where Bt cotton farmers have already lost over `10,000 crores due to crop failure. Dr Suman Sahai of Gene Campaign warns, “The crisis is so acute in Maharashtra that 209 farmers committed suicide in the Vidarbha cotton growing belt region in 2011.’’
Kishor Tiwari of the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti told this reporter that when Bt cotton was first introduced in 2002, seed companies had promised it would be bollworm resistant. But today, new pests have emerged.
Dr Sahai concurs, “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.”
But at the village level, farmers continue to buy Bt cotton because the only credit available to them from seed agents is for Bt seeds against other traditional varieties.
“Seed agents are offered higher commission for Bt cotton rather than for traditional seeds,’’ Dr Sahai added.

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