Bt-cotton: It is time to stop the false allegations!


This has reference to a series of articles published in DNA in March 2012 quoting certain NGOs who blamed Bt-cotton as being responsible for crop failures and farmer suicides! These are false and totally baseless allegations deliberately intensified to coincide with the 10th anniversary of Bt-cotton on March 26 in an effort to negate its remarkable success in revolutionising cotton cultivation in our country.

That they also organised anti-Bt-cotton agitations in several states on March 26 further explains their malafide intention.

Let us take a look at the responses of some farmers whose interviews were quoted in DNAon March 3. Pravin, 21, said ‘the crops failed as they had no irrigation and there were no rains. Out of debt my father killed himself.’ The relative of another farmer who committed suicide said, ‘he had no crop due to (lack of) water’ and yet another farmer mentioned ‘my uncle committed suicide due to debt… we have never seen any irrigation facility in this region.’ While these and many other farmers were honest in admitting that it was due to drought that their Bt-cotton crops failed, as also observed by the agriculture ministry, the report titled ‘Marathwada region beats Vidarbha in farmer deaths’ went on to provide statistics on farmer deaths and attributed such suicides to Bt-cotton! Further, the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti has mooted an immediate ban on GM crops. How can anyone hold Bt-cotton responsible for the failure of monsoons or lack of irrigation? However, for the past 10 years, certain NGOs have made it a strategy to repeatedly blame Bt-cotton for crop failures caused by any reason — drought, floods, sucking pests, diseases, poor crop management, etc — not realising that this technology is specifically meant for controlling bollworms.

The following facts — all available to the public — speak for themselves about the impact of Bt-cotton in India. Prior to introduction of Bt-cotton in India, cotton crop used to be destroyed by bollworms for decades, at times causing over 60% yield losses despite spraying insecticides more than 20 times a season, as these insects had developed resistance. Most farmers became frustrated and some had given up cotton cultivation, but Bt-cotton approved by the Indian government in March 2002, brought much-needed relief. In Bt-cotton, the insecticidal Bt gene(s) derived from the soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis, (Bt), is incorporated within the plant and made available to farmers in the seed itself. They just have to sow the seeds. The insecticidal protein is produced in every part of cotton plant. When young bollworm larvae feed on any part of Bt-cotton plant, they ingest Bt protein and get killed before they could cause any damage to the plant. Bt-cotton was readily adopted by farmers.

The area under Bt-cotton which was about 29,000 hectares in 2002, the first year, increased to 110 lakh (11 million) hectares in 2011, constituting 93% of the total cotton acreage in our country. Similarly, the number of farmers planting Bt cotton also increased from about 20,000 in 2002 to over 60 lakhs in 2011, clearly reflecting their vote of confidence in this technology.

Various studies revealed that increase in productivity of Bt-cotton due to effective control of bollworms ranged from 31% to 63%, reduction in chemical sprays varied from 25% to 55% and increase in net profit to farmers ranged from Rs7,800 to Rs30,000 per hectare. The profits, year on year, improved their social and economic status. The increase in total production due to Bt-cotton, complimented by other factors, turned India from an importer into an exporter of cotton and has also generated a cumulative economic benefit valued at Rs28,980 crore between 2002 and 2011.

In the last 10 years in India and 15 years in other countries, Bt-cotton has not caused any scientifically validated negative effect on humans, animals, other non-target organisms or environment. Yet, the opponents continue to allege that Bt is harmful without providing any credible evidence and that this technology is a failure. If it were so, over 60 lakh farmers would not have adopted Bt-cotton. It is high time to gracefully accept the phenomenal success of Bt-cotton and stop blaming it for all ills unrelated to the technology designed specifically to control bollworms.