GENTECH archive


gm cotton in india gm sour grapes

On 31 Oct 2002, at 16:07, jcummins wrote:

There seem to be many reasons for the failure of GM cotton in
They add up to a new introduction GM "sour grapes"! November
Volume 20 Number 11 p 1069
  Nature Biotechnology

Poor crop management plagues Bt cotton experiment in India
K.S. Jayaraman

New Delhi, India

Scientists in India are trying to figure out the ramifications of the
growth of scores of illegal, untested, genetically modified varieties
of cotton alongside legal varieties. Combined with a bad monsoon
the government's failure to educate farmers and regulate effectively,
this is clouding an objective assessment of the first-year
of GM cotton—a situation that could hinder future progress of the
technology in India.

Goskonda Chandra Reddy, who planted Monsanto Mahyco's Bt
instead of rice, says bollworm attack is much less in the field than
in the non-Bt variety he planted in the borders as refugia.

Farmers in five Indian states are cultivating Monsanto's (St. Louis,
MO) Bt cotton on over 100,000 acres after India's Genetic
Approval Committee (GEAC) gave the go-ahead in March to three
developed by the company (Nat. Biotechnol. 20, 415, 2002). The seeds
carry the Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) gene and produce a natural
pesticide lethal to the bollworm, a scourge of cotton fields
worldwide. Farmers have bought Bt cottonseed at four times the price
of traditional varieties in the hope it will bring them better
returns. Both the government and Mahyco-Monsanto Biotech India Ltd.
(Mumbai)—the joint venture between Monsanto and Maharashtra Hybrid
Company that sold the seeds—claim the crop is doing well. "The truth
is that we have very positive feedback on Bollgard (Bt cotton) from
farmers in all the cotton-growing states in the Centre and the South,"
Ranjana Smetacek, Monsanto's spokesperson, told Nature Biotechnology.
"The agriculture ministry is happy, the evaluation committee is happy,
and I can show you excellent photos [of the Bt fields] I have
received," added Department of Biotechnology secretary Manju Sharma.

However, reports from non-government organizations (NGOs) suggest the
crop is failing. Officials in Andhra Pradesh say that Bt cotton in the
state is underperforming, and Gujarati newspapers have reported that
there has been heavy bollworm infestation of Bt cotton, which was also
found susceptible to leaf-curl virus and root-rot disease, and that in
Madhya Pradesh, Bt cotton suffered greater damage due to drought than
traditional varieties grown there.

One of the problems, according to both government sources and NGOs, is
that local farmers are not meeting the many technical
specifications—such as for refugia management and planting
conditions—for Bt cotton, a relatively high-maintenance crop. Cotton
farmers with very small land holdings, for instance, have found it
impossible to set aside land for refugia, and only 40% of the total
area of cotton is irrigated—which is causing problems this year
because of a delayed monsoon. Prasantha Kumar Ghosh, a former advisor
in the Department of Biotechnology, says Bt cotton is facing problems
this season because of poor rains. "Bt cotton is input intensive, and
our trials have clearly shown this."

Suman Sahai, convener of Gene Campaign, a Delhi-based NGO, and a
visiting professor at the University of Heidelberg, blames the
government and scientific community for failing to educate farmers
about dangers of not following proper procedure. "We have consistently
argued that any new technology must be introduced only after farmers
and consumers have complete information on all its aspects so that
they can make an informed choice." Sahai says the government has still
not placed in the public domain data generated by trials of Bt cotton
in India. Devinder Sharma, anti-GM campaigner and director of the
Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security (FBFS) in New Delhi, agrees.
"The GEAC is solely responsible for hastily pushing the untested
technology," says Sharma.

To make matters worse, several thousand acres—even in areas such as
Punjab and Haryana where Bt cotton has yet to be approved—have been
sown with second and third generations of a Monsanto knockoff known as
Navbharat 151, according to Sahai. Last year, these seeds were
covertly sold by the Navbharat Seeds Company and planted by Gujarati
farmers on over 10,000 acres (Nat. Biotechnol. 19, 1090, 2001).
Illegal Bt seeds (that the government failed to destroy) from last
year's harvest in Gujarat have been flooding the market at one-tenth
to one-half the price of legal seeds. First-generation seeds do not
have the same vigor as the originals, and subsequent generations have
even worse quality and yield.

The presence of so many varieties of Bt cotton "is making a public
mockery of India's ability to regulate and direct the use of this new
and controversial technology," says Sahai. "The government must
recognize the chaos it has created and take corrective steps."

"The large quantity of untested and unauthorized Bt hybrid seeds
likely to cause losses, and farmers are likely to lose faith in Bt
cotton, which would damage this useful technology," says Arvind
managing director of Numhens Proagro, which is getting ready to
government approval for its GM mustard. However, A.S.N. Reddy, a
senior official at Proagro, believes there is no need to panic. "In
about two years the situation will stabilize," he said. "Once farmers
realize the fake Bt-cotton varieties they use are no good, they will
turn to the genuine ones."

Meanwhile, Mihir Shah, director of the Baba Amte Centre for
Empowerment, and Debashish Banerji of the Samaj Pragati
Sahyog (Nature
and Society Cooperative), based in Madhya Pradesh, say: "This is
obviously not a technology meant for the poor, dryland small
of India." Whether or not this is true will be determined from a full
analysis by the Ministry of Agriculture at the end of the year, after
the main harvesting season, which begins this month.