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2-Plants: Failure of Bt cotton in India (1)

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                                  PART I
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SOURCE: Union of Catholic Asian News, China/Hong Kong
        UCAN News Report IE3699.1230,
DATE:   Apr 4, 2003

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DHUMNAGAR, India (UCAN) -- At least 500,000 farmers have been left in the
lurch in eastern India after the failure of a crop of genetically
modified maize.

The Bihar state government now plans legal action against the
distributors of the maize seeds produced by the U.S.-based company
Monsanto, while a Catholic bishop has cautioned people about the traps of

Puranamashi Ram, Bihar's food minister, told UCA News March 26 that
farmers, mostly in the state's 20 northern districts, cultivated
Monsanto's "900 M" variety maize on 150,000 hectares of land.

"The plants have grown copiously and even borne large-sized corncob,
(but) to the shock of our farmers, they have no grains within them," he said.

Bishop Victor Henry Thakur of Bettiah describes the crop failure as "a
tip of the iceberg" with regard to the ruin that he says globalization is
wreaking on unsuspecting people. His diocese, based about 950 kilometers
east of New Delhi, covers part of the area where the crop failed.

While expressing solidarity with the affected farmers, the bishop told
UCA News that they should not discard indigenous seeds and knowledge.

People should know that transnational firms are interested only in making
money, and not helping the poor, he remarked.

Genetically modified organisms such as the 900 M maize have had their
original genetic makeup altered in an attempt to enhance or produce
desirable characteristics, such as increased yield or resistance to disease.

Local people say distributors cheated farmers in selling them
"unapproved" seeds that they promised would yield three times what local
varieties produce.

The state commissioner for agriculture, Madan Mohan Singh, told UCA News
March 28 that the government directed officials to file criminal cases
against the suppliers of the Monsanto maize.

Nityanand Shukla, 47, a farmer in West Champaran district, said he sowed
the seed in November as a winter crop and by March corncobs appeared as
usual. He opened one corncob to check the size and quality of the grains
and found none in it. News of this spread and others too found that their
crop had failed.

Shukla said he had also cultivated indigenous maize on a hectare of land
and the plants "have developed well and carry good grains. But this won't
make up for the heavy loss I have incurred due to the American seeds."

For each hectare of 900 M maize planted, farmers typically spent 3,600
rupees (US$76) for 60 kilograms of the imported seed. The government
estimates that some 8.2 million kilograms of the maize seed has been sold
in Bihar.

Shukla says people opted for the new seed to get rich. Indigenous
varieties yield on average 3,000 kilograms a hectare that could be sold
for 18,000 rupees (some US$380). But the new variety promised 9,000
kilograms a hectare.

Nesar Ahmad, president of Bihar state's Kisan Sangh (farmers union), told
UCA News that the farmers are planning protest rallies to seek government
intervention. The union leader, a Muslim, said at least 500,000 affected
farmers own less than 0.3 hectare of land and are too poor to file a case
seeking compensation.

Jesuit Brother Thomas Mannaramattathil, director of a 20-hectare farm
owned by the Jesuits in Bettiah, said he did not use the hybrid maize
because he did not think the genetically modified seeds would suit the
local climate.

"They may give high yield sometimes, but indigenous seeds are cheap in
cultivation and better in quality and taste," he told UCA News. He also
said that while indigenous maize is a major food crop in the state, the
genetically modified maize is generally used as cattle feed in some
European countries.

Sachitanand Upadhayaya, a senior agricultural genetic scientist with the
state government, told UCA News examination of the corncobs and some
seeds revealed genetic deficiencies that hinder pollination.

Krishna Kumar Banka, regional dealer of the Monsanto seed in Bihar's
northern region, told UCA News that a monthlong cold spell in January
might have adversely affected the grain formation. He dismissed as wild
the allegations of genetic deficiencies in the seed, which he said was
marketed "only after thorough trials and tests."

Media reported Monsanto officials as saying that unfavorable weather
conditions also affected other hybrid crops in the region.

According to Upadhayaya, the cold wave did not affect indigenous plants.

                                  PART II
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TITLE:  Bt Cotton will not spin Punjab's yarn
SOURCE: The Statesman, India, by Chanchal Pal Chauhan
DATE:   Apr 15, 2003

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Bt Cotton will not spin Punjab's yarn

April 15. - Farmers in Punjab have rejected the first ever genetically
modified commercial cotton hybrid seed, Bt Cotton, due to its poor
harvest Malwa, a cotton rich area, in southern Punjab is highly dependent
on this cash crop, but successive failures have left farmers in the
lurch. Bt Cotton had found many takers among farmers in Punjab when it
was introduced. Though the Punjab Agriculture University was against the
sowing of Bt Cotton seeds, several farmers smuggled Bt Cotton seeds from
Gujarat hoping better results. The yield was, however, lower than
claimed. The Daula village sarpanch Mr Darshan Singh said: "... We had to
spray chemicals four to five times on Bt Cotton. The crops were attacked
by various pests, specially the American Bullworm. The Bt Cotton yield
was lower than that of the local varieties, which are more profitable."
Moreover, the Bt Cotton seeds are costlier. Farmers who sowed Bt Cotton
got an yield of 250 kg a hectare while the local variety yielded almost
double. The Bt Cotton, however, requires less spraying than the local
variety. "The local variety yields bigger cotton bales, which are
preferred by traders. And it fetches more money for us. Marketing Bt
Cotton is difficult due to apprehensions regarding it," said Mr Nidhan
Singh, a farmer. Mr Baljinder Singh, research scientist with Monsanto
India Ltd, said: "Our aim is to reduce the cultivation cost." But farmers
are unconvinced. A farmer from Kothekot in Mansa said the soil here is
dry and Bt Cotton requires moisture. "Even if the land is irrigated, the
saline content in the water deteriorates the soil texture. Moreover,
extensive spraying is needed to control any pest attack," he said.
Punjab's agriculture minister Mrs RK Bhattal said: "We've not advised
farmers to cultivate this variety of cotton. The Punjab Agriculture
University's trial results are awaited."