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2-Plants: Organic cotton beats Bt cotton in India

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TITLE:  Organic Cotton Beats Bt Cotton in India
SOURCE: The Institute of Science in Society, UK, by Rhea Gala
DATE:   5 Aug 2005

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Organic Cotton Beats Bt Cotton in India
Organic cotton is incomparably superior to genetically modified Bt cotton

Sources for this report are available in the ISIS members site.

Organic cotton is more environmentally friendly, better for the health of
the community and for the local economy than GM cotton, according to a
study by the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture in Andhra Pradesh [1].
The GM Bt cotton was compared with cotton grown without pesticide, or
under non-pesticide management (NPM).

The study looked at the incidence of various pests and diseases as well
as the beneficial organisms in the Bt and NPM cotton fields. It also
looked at the economics of pest management for both systems.

The study, designed and supervised by entomologist Dr SMA Ali, extension
scientist GV Ramanjaneyulu, and development activist Ms Kavitha
Kuruganti, involved end-of-season interviews with cotton growing farmers
in Warangal and Medak districts.

A total of 121 NPM cotton farmers farming on 193 acres and using no
synthetic pesticide were compared with 117 Bt cotton farmers using
proprietary pesticides and farming 151 acres. The Bt cotton varieties
grown were Mech 12 (88 farmers), Mech 184 (1 farmer), and RCH 2 (31
farmers; a few farmers grew more than one of these varieties on different
plots, hence the sum of farmers is more than 117).

These Bt varieties all carried Monsanto's cry1Ac gene and display low
genetic diversity; providing early pest resistance [2]. NPM cotton
farmers grew many varieties including Brahma, Maruthi, Dasera, Gemini,
Sumo, Tulasi, Bhagya, Durga, Kranthi.

Ten villages in two districts took part in the Bt cotton survey, and 12
villages from two districts took part in the NPM survey.

Bt cotton more prone to pests and diseases

Overall, the NPM farmers reported a lower incidence of medium to high
infestations and higher incidence of low or no infestations for four
traditional cotton pests.

Surprisingly, 32.5% of Bt cotton farmers reported a high incidence of
American bollworm, an important pest that the Bt cotton is designed to
control; while only 4.1% of NPM farmers reported a high incidence of this
pest. This single statistic questions the value of the Bt approach to
pest control. It also corroborates the high incidence of bollworm
reported by farmers growing Bt cotton in AP [3]. In contrast, the
efficacy of natural predators and/or natural pesticides to control
American bollworm in particular, and the other bollworms in general, is
remarkable (see Table 1).

A majority of NPM farmers reported low incidence of spotted bollworm
(76.9% against 65.8% of Bt growers), American bollworm (76.1% against
17.1% of Bt growers), and Tobacco Caterpillar (76.8% against 64.1% of Bt
growers). Six NPM farmers reported an absence of spotted bollworm
compared to two Bt farmers .

A majority of NPM farmers reported a medium incidence of pink bollworm,
as did their Bt counterparts (47.1% against 57.3%), but greater numbers
of NPM farmers also reported a low incidence of this pest compared to Bt
farmers (31.4% against 24.8%).

Table 1. Incidence of Bollworm complex on Bt and NPM cotton.
please refer to to view the tables

In the case of sucking pests, the majority of NPM farmers also reported a
low incidence, with several reporting no infestation of whitefly, aphids
and mites. Again, natural predators and pesticides can be seen to be more
effective at controlling sucking pests than Bt cotton. Many Bt farmers
reported a high incidence of jassids, whitefly and aphids, but Bt toxins
are known to be ineffective against sucking pests [4], therefore, farmers
necessarily use additional pesticides specific to these pests (see Table 2).

Table 2. Incidence of sucking pests on Bt and NPM cotton.
please refer to to view the tables

Wilt, a common disease of cotton was reported absent by only 17 of the Bt
cotton farmers during the season (14.5%), while 50 NPM farmers reported
no wilt problems (41.3%). The degree of wilt ranged from 30% - 70% for Bt
cotton, but was only 10 - 15% for the NPM cotton varieties. While wilt
causes a decrease in cotton yield, the traditional cotton varieties have
far greater genetic diversity than the Bt cotton, giving greater security
against losses from this disease .

Beneficial insects prevail on NPM cotton

These findings reflect the fears of many environmentalists that the Bt
cotton endotoxin destroys many beneficial insects [5], and that has a
knock-on effect on the birds and small mammals that are the natural
predators of these insects. Table 3 shows 85 (70.2%) of NPM farmers
finding a high incidence of beneficial insects on their crop, with 97
(82.9%) of Bt cotton respondents finding only a low incidence and 13
(11.2%) Bt farmers found no beneficial insects at all on their crop.

Table 3. Incidence of beneficial insects on Bt and NPM cotton.
please refer to to view the tables

The main strategy of NPM farmers' pest control on their crops is through
beneficial insects that are, by definition, predators of cotton pests;
they also use natural organic pesticides. In contrast, Bt farmers report
a low incidence of pest predators due to the toxicity of the Bt varieties
and associated pesticides, necessitating a vicious cycle of control by
these synthetic pesticides.

Economics of pest management shows Bt cotton extortionate

Purchase of Bt cotton seed, genetically modified with the cry1Ac gene
from soil bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensi s, includes a technology fee,
and costs farmers Rs 1600 per acre, compared to NPM farmers who buy their
seed at Rs 450 per acre. This makes Bt cotton seed 355% more expensive
than the traditional varieties [1].

In addition, pest management costs were greater for Bt farmers who had to
use pesticides such as Monocrotophos, Confidor, Tracer, Avaunt,
Endosulfan, acephate, demethoate, imidacloprid, quinalphos,
chlorpyriphos, cypermethrin etc . to manage a variety of pests including
bollworms for which Bt toxin is supposed to be specific [1].

On average, Bt crops were sprayed 3.5 times, with two farmers reporting
that they did not spray at all, and others spraying as many as seven
times. The NPM farmers used no synthetic pesticides at all, but used
natural pesticides such as Neem seed kernel extract, trichoderma and
panchakavya [1].

Bt cotton pest management cost on average Rs 2632 per acre, whereas NPM
cotton pest management cost on average Rs 382 per acre, making pesticide
costs 690% more expensive to the Bt cotton farmers [1].

Yields and incomes were not included in this study as cotton picking was
still going on at the time of data collection, but Bt cotton yield and
quality has been well documented as lower than traditional varieties [6],
in spite of claims to the contrary. Yet the study clearly proves that
restoring the ecological balance in the cotton fields, by removing both
the GM endotoxins and the synthetic chemicals, will bring both short and
long term benefits to farmers and the environment.

The study punctured the following myths in the current pest management
paradigm [1]:

Pests can be controlled only by killing them with pesticide; whereas
prevention is better than cure

All insects in the fields are pests; whereas they include natural
predators that kill pests

No relationship exists between monoculture and pest incidence; whereas a
reduced genetic base over large areas results in unobstructed
proliferation of the pest especially as in India where non-Bt cotton
refuges are not used [2]

Chemical fertilizers and pest incidence are unrelated; whereas chemical
fertilizers increase plant vulnerability to the pest due to increased

Pest resistance is a genotypic rather than an environmental issue;
whereas environmental management of pests will give farmers more control
over their crops than the use of patented seed derived from manipulating genes

Pest resistance management is about using newer and newer generation
pesticides; whereas NPM systems cut costs to farmers and the environment
leading to greater independence of farmers and a healthier, more
biodiverse environment

Prevention of pest/disease means spraying even when the pest is absent;
whereas pest management is not about schedules or routine but the needs
of the actual situation

Benefits of synthetic pesticides outweigh the risks; whereas suicides [7]
in the Indian cotton belts show that the economics of pesticide use do
not add up, even before other adverse effects are taken into account,
such as increased crop water consumption [8]

The story of Punukula: it's not rocket science

Punukula, a small village in Andhra Pradesh, with a population of about
860, has rediscovered the art and science of sustainable cotton
cultivation by using NPM systems. But this small revolution in India's
cotton belt has been ignored by agricultural scientists, perhaps because
it is an appropriate technology that does not lend itself to exploitation
by outsiders, and because it does not have the 'glamour' of 'cutting edge
technology'. Nevertheless, it so impressed the AP agriculture minister,
who witnessed the transformation for himself, that it has been replicated
in 400 surrounding villages [7].

A few farmers from a local non-governmental organization began in 1999
(before the arrival of GM cotton in India), to experiment with non-
pesticidal management practices on their cotton crop, and persuaded 20
local farmers to try it [7].

The environment, previously contaminated by a vicious cycle of pesticide
application began to improve, and the pest burden reduced. By 2004, the
environmental and economic impact was such that the entire village was
using NPM that had restored natural pest control systems, and they
therefore had no reason to adopt GM cotton when it became available [7].

In the early 1960s, only six or seven major pests worried the cotton
farmer, but costly inputs prescribed by agribusiness and agricultural
research has created a spiral of pollution, debt and death that has also
resulted in the farmer fighting 70 major pests on cotton today. Although
average yields for farmers in Punukula are greater than for Bt cotton
farmers, most mainstream agricultural scientists, and politicians prefer
to support GM technology and agribusiness [7].

If Punukula had adopted GM Bt cotton, the village would have paid Rs
600 000 in additional seed price for the 500 acres under cultivation
(Rs1 200/acre technology fee), before addressing the extra cost of
pesticide application. The farmers would have remained caught in the
spiral of debt as victims of the 'cutting edge technology' that draws
millions of rupees from the small rural economy into the pockets of
powerful multi-nationals every year [7].

Farmers stop spraying chemical pesticides, yields go up!

Farmers in India are not alone. In two years, 2000 poor rice farmers in
Bangladesh reduced insecticide use by 99 %.

Gary John, senior scientist at the International Rice Research Institute
in Manila, said "To my surprise when people stopped spraying, yields
didn't drop, and this was across 600 fields in two districts over four
seasons. I'm convinced that the vast majority of insecticides that rice
farmers use are a complete waste of time and money". In the Philippines,
similarly, a decline in insecticide use has been accompanied by an
increase in productivity leading to great savings for farmers [9].

This comes as a revelation only after land and water have been poisoned,
the environment degraded, and, according to WHO figures, 20 000 people
have died from pesticide poisoning worldwide annually. And because
science has viewed all things traditional as backward and substandard the
collective wisdom of generations of farmers has been largely lost [9];
and at the same time agricultural scientists are still promoting useless
and harmful technologies like genetic modification [10].

But while ordinary farmers are getting wise to GM propaganda and hard
sell around the world, an Indian government study has found serious
faults with its GM Bt cotton under commercial production. The government
has been sitting on this study for two years. It describes a multitude of
problems already expressed by farmers but previously denied by its own
scientists and politicians [11]. Meanwhile organic farming successes are
being more widely reported, for example, Paul Desmarais, Director of the
Kasisi Agricultural Training Centre in Zambia writes "We have
successfully grown organic cotton for two years now at Kasisi.

We have good control of insects and there is not resistance built in the
system as there is even with Bt cotton. Our yields are double the
national yields. Farmers using the conventional route are barely ekeing
out an existence with the price of cotton dropping and the price of
inputs climbing up. We have just had the seed cotton tested for fibre
length, micronair, etc. and our cotton did very well on all the scores.
Let us pursue the growing of organic cotton. It is possible and it is
sustainable" [12].


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