GENET archive


PLANTS: Indian cotton farmers dreams have turned into a nightmare

                                  PART 1

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SOURCE: Bharat Textile, India



DATE:   22.08.2007

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LUDHIANA: Pesticide companies are again in the limelight as they have made sales worth Rs 500 crores in the last two months. They are expecting a sale of Rs 800 crore this season. The intense attack of mealy bug in Malwa region has made the farmers go for intensive pesticide sprays. Most of the farmers have lost their crop. The farmers first purchased the costly Bollgard Bt seeds and after the mealy bug attack they have to buy pesticides.

After the seed companies it is now the turn of pesticide companies to make big bucks. Once the attack spread, there was panic among the cotton farmers.

Two years back the Punjab government had published an advertisement bearing the photo of then Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh describing the introduction of Bt cotton as great achievement. At that time government advertisement has made tall claims about advantages of Bt cotton, stating increase in yield by 25% to 28% per hectare, net increase in income by Rs 10,000/- to 15,000 per hectare, saving on agrochemicals upto Rs 1000/- per hectare, etc.

But, this season, which is the third year of the official entry of Bt cotton in Punjab, farmers are forced to spend more money on pesticides, which is opposite to what was claimed.

Punjab seems to be heaven for these companies. After the onset of mealy bug infestation, pesticides were sold as the ultimate weapon. The pesticides such as Prosenofos, Acephate and Clothidin were sold in 100s of Kiloliters. Apart from pesticides, farmers had also applied chemical fertilizers like DAP and NPK. The economics of Bt cotton has already lost its shine this year. The tall claims made by Government, Agriculture University and companies regarding increase in yield and profit are just washed away in mealy bug menace.

                                  PART 2

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SOURCE: Indian Express Newspapers, India

AUTHOR: Navjeevan Gopal


DATE:   22.08.2007

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Bathinda, August 22: Misfortunes, they say, when come, never come alone. For Punjab government they appear to be coming thick and fast.

Call it the bad luck of the Shiromani Akali Dal if you will, but the fact is that cotton factor in Malwa region is once again threatening to take a turn for the worst for the party and cause an embarrassment to the government.

It was American Boll Worm that had ushered in a black phase for cotton growers in Malwa, when the SAD government, led by Parkash Singh Badal ruled the state from 1997 to 2002. This time, it is mealy bug.

”Chitti Bhoondi”, as the farmers call it, mealy bug is proving to be a nightmare for the Malwa farmers, who rue that the input costs have already escalated drastically in their ”unsuccessful pursuit” to contain the bug.

The unexpected escalation caused by overuse of pesticides has come as a big shock to the farmers, especially after reaping the benefits of bumper crop of BT cotton in the last season. The bumper cotton crop, after a long phase of darkness, had lit up a new hope in the eyes of cotton growers. The impact was telling. Going by the ideology of: ’There are no permanent friends or enemies, but only permanent interests’, Malwa farmers weighed their interests and virtually routed the SAD in Malwa, party’s stronghold in Punjab, in Assembly elections.

This was a loud and clear manifestation of the cotton factor tilting the political scales in Malwa.

But unfortunately for the farmers, the success story of the BT cotton may fade away this season. The variety of cotton that brought laurels to the Congress may put the SAD government in a fix due to its vulnerability to mealy bug and of late the white fly. Farmers claim to have tried every pesticide and technique suggested by the authorities, but mealy bug, they say, would not go.

”Agricultural experts suggest burying the affected plants and particular pesticides. We have tried everything they say, but mealy bug surfaces again,” says Sukhchain Singh, a farmer of Jeevan Singh Wala village in Bathinda district. ”I do contract farming, and Rs 11,000 goes as contract amount alone. A lot of money has already been spent on spraying pesticides and the critical phase of the crop is yet to come. Even if that goes well, there would be plucking, transportation and other costs. I am not sure whether I would be able to achieve break-even, leave aside profits,” rued Sukhchain. ”Last year, most of the production costs were due to water and diesel. This time, pesticides are increasing the production costs,” said another farmer Kulwant Singh. ”Despite the fact that we literally bathe the plant with insecticide, mealy bug resurfaces. It is more dangerous than American Boll Worm. While latter affected some parts of plant, mealy bug destroys the plant completely,” said Mohinder Singh, who has grown cotton in 8 acres of land.

Experts believe that due to pest attacks and dry spell, the production of cotton is likely to decrease this time, even though the crop has been grown on more area than the last time.

Meanwhile, Bathinda Chief Agricultural Officer PS Sandhu said, ”Efforts are on to contain the mealy bug.”

                                  PART 3

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SOURCE: Environment News Servcie, USA

AUTHOR: Umendra Dutt


DATE:   24.08.2007

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{Umendra Dutt is executive director of Kheti Virasat Mission, a not-for-profit civil society organization established in March 2005, working in the field of natural farming, sustainable agriculture, conservation of natural resources, environmental health and eco-sustainable technologies. Registered as a charitable trust, KVM is headquartered in the town of Jaitu in the Faridkot District of Punjab. Contact Dutt by email at:}

JAITU, Punjab, India, August 24, 2007 (ENS) - So, once again it is boom time for the pesticide manufacturing companies in Punjab. Harping on the desperation and fear psychosis among the farmers over the attack of a new pest - the mealy bug - on the cotton crop, the pesticide companies have already sold pesticides worth over Rs 500 crores (US$121.4 million) in Punjab, in the last two months.

Not only making a big hole in the pocket of the already distressed farmer, the mealy bug also has demolished the so-called hype over Bt cotton. While governments and the Bt cotton manufacturing and distribution companies were claiming a panacea for the farmers, claiming there would be no attack of pests on the genetically engineered Bt cotton, the mealy bug has broken the hype and illusion.

As the mealy bug is destroying the cotton crop in the Malwa region of Punjab, in desperation the farmers are intensively spraying the cotton with pesticides, which are toxic and costly.

A major portion of the profit which the farmer hoped to reap from his cotton crop, has already gone into pockets of pesticide companies, making the farmer once again the ultimate loser.

First, he purchased expensive Bollgard Bt seeds, believing in their resistance towards pests, and after the mealy bug made meal of the Bt cotton, the farmer made a huge investment in pesticides.

The seed companies had already cornered the lion’s share of the cotton crop by selling the farmers expensive seed and now it is the turn of pesticide companies to squeeze the farmers. Our farmer is surrounded by merchants of Venice; there are Shylocks all around him.

Mobile vans carrying the big banners of pesticide companies are criss-crossing villages to educate farmers about the mealy bug attack. But educating farmers is a money minting exercise for the pesticide companies.

When the farmers were gripped with mealy bug panic, and some of them started ploughing their fields under, the Directorate of Agriculture, Punjab published advertisements in vernacular daily papers with official photos of Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and Agriculture Minister Sucha Singh Langah, prescribing a list of pesticides to spray for mealy bug control.

Headlined ”To Control Mealy Bug Attack on Cotton” and the advertisements list pesticides - Carbryl, Thiodicarb of Carbamate group, Quinalphos, Prosenofos, Chloropyrifos and Acephate of Organophas group. The advertisement even suggests using Holocon nozzles while spraying. This advertisement is look-alike of any advertisement placed by pesticide companies.

It is a tragedy that two years back the Punjab government had published similar advertisements with the photo of then Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh, describing the introduction of Bt cotton as a great achievement.

At that time, government advertisements made tall claims about the advantages of Bt cotton, stating an increase in yield by 25 to 28 percent per hectare, and a net increase in income by Rs 10,000 to 15,000 (US$ 242 to 364) per hectare, and a saving on agro-chemicals of up to Rs 1,000 (US$ 24) per hectare.

But, this season, the third year after the introduction of Bt cotton in Punjab, things are going the opposite way.

Surprisingly, Punjab is the only state where one could find government advertisements with the chief minister’s photos either for the promotion of Bt cotton or for propagating use of pesticides. Apparently, the agribusiness companies could not find more state patronage than this.

Punjab seems to be heaven for these companies. The agriculture establishments here are advocating all sorts of agrochemicals, hybrid seeds, Bt seeds and a whole lot of poisons even more loudly then the manufacturers.

The government has every right to issue advertisements about its achievements whenever they want to communicate to the people, but how can a government advertisement propagate Bt cotton or pesticides? We have to question the very mind set and thought behind these advertisements.

The agriculture establishments in Punjab are looking for solutions of every problem with the eyes of farm input companies and agribusiness corporations. This indicates the intellectual bankruptcy of the people at the helm of affairs in the state. What could be more ironic than the fact that the solutions which they are suggesting are not only more problematic but also totally unsustainable? These solutions bound to bring more and more devastation.

Those who are prescribing these solutions are not legally bound to any action if their prescription brings any adverse effects after few years. The so-called agriculture experts will go scot-free but the poor farmer will certainly lose his money, land, health and maybe his life too.

Nobody is talking about the loss to farmers. The farmers who sowed Bt cotton seeds are now feeling cheated. Their dreams have turned into nightmares.

The mealy bug has attacked cotton in almost the whole of Malwa. The white sticky bug made cotton fields look as though they were covered with snow. The bugs have even entered house and kitchen gardens.

The bugs attacked cotton last year but the damage was on a limited scale. This year it became so widespread that in hundreds of villages in all pockets of the Cotton Belt, farmer after farmer ploughed their Bt cotton fields under to get rid of the mealy bug.

The government departments pressed the panic button. They worked even on Sundays, discussing which pesticide is better and how to make pesticides available to farmers. They declared war against the mealy bug but the ammunition is being provided by a private company, Syngenta.

The agriculture development officers also have become brand campaigners for Actara, another pesticide manufacturing company.

The entire agriculture establishment of Punjab seeks asylum in poisons only. While promoting pesticides they have also advised farmers to spray herbicides all along the farm to prevent weeds.

This means a greater poison load on the already devastated ecosystem of Punjab.

The chemicalization and monoculturing of agriculture in Punjab has made its agriculture experts bonded royal laborers of the chemical farming paradigm. They cannot think and see beyond that, and they do not want to think and see. They cannot dare to do so, as it does not suit the masters of the present agriculture system.

The ”Indian Express” newspaper quoted the head of the Entomology Department of Punjab Agricultural University Dr. N.S. Bhutter, justifying the planting of Bt cotton and the increasing use of pesticides. ”Prior to the introduction of Bt cotton, we used to spray the crops with chemicals which killed these pests. Now as the pest umbrella has been lifted because Bt cotton does not need so many sprays, these pests are becoming dominant.”

When asked why Punjab Agricultural University didn’t think of this attack when it was rooting for Bt cotton as a panacea for the problems of Punjab farmers, his reply reflects that there is some thing seriously wrong with the vision of the Punjab agriculture establishment.

Dr. Bhutter said, ”At that time there was no mealy bug, and we were dealing with just American bollworm. With chemicals, we will be able to control this bug too.”

The agriculture experts encouraged farmers to spray pesticides, but large number of farmers and labors who were exposed to the deadly pesticides have been hospitalized at several towns in the Cotton Belt. Two deaths were reported due to pesticide exposure.

The mealy bug is giving a lesson to the agriculture establishment and proponents of chemicalized agriculture that their pest control design is faulty. The small insect dares the agriculture scientists to change their view, but who has the guts to do so? Punjab, devastated by ecological crisis, debts, suicides and cancers is waiting for this change.

There is no holistic approach, no farsightedness, no concern about destruction done by chemicals, nor any thought for the ecological, economic and social implications of this highly toxic agriculture.

When lakhs of farmers elsewhere are successfully growing cotton without using any sort of chemicals and even without Bt seeds, why cannot this happen in Punjab?

But our politicians, bureaucrats, scientists and planners all are hypnotized by companies. All Punjab’s main parties became mad in the craze for Bt and everyone wants to claim credit for the release of Bt cotton and its further expansion.

Despite the mealy bug attack on Bt cotton, Agriculture Minister Langah announced in his Independence day address at Muktsar on August 15 that his government is proud of distributing 1,535,500 packets of Bt cotton seeds at the rate of Rs 760 per packet.

But question is, who is paying the royalty for these packets? Certainly, neither Mr. chief minister nor the agriculture minister nor the director of agriculture nor Punjab Agricultural University is going to pay.

The farmers of Punjab have already paid some Rs 100 crores (US$ 1 billion) to Monsanto as royalty over last three years and this process will continue until farmers dare to see through the Bt seed deception.

But in this darkness of chemical farming, there is a ray of hope. Natural farming is making inroads in Punjab.

The mealy bug does not worry natural farmers at all. The farmers who are practicing natural farming neither use Bt cotton nor do any pesticide spraying. But still their cotton crops are healthy and free from any destruction caused by mealy bugs.

First of all, they witnessed very mild mealy bug attacks, due to their multiple cropping system. Their cotton fields have as many as eight to 15 crops.

Second, if mealy bugs attacked their crops they controlled the pests with neem, dhatura and cow urine. There are large numbers of farmers who are proud owners of naturally treated farms. These farmers are erecting the foundation for a paradigm shift in Punjab.

A constructive change is taking place - minus experts and the establishment. It is a community initiative and farmer driven movement called Kheti Virasat Mission.

The growing number of farmers practicing natural farming is an indicator that society wants a change in agriculture perspective and paradigm. These farmers have already walked out of the Bt and pesticide trap and are now leading the Punjab towards an imperishable prosperity, free from the exploitation of the farmer as well as Mother Nature.



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