Magazine article Multinational Monitor

Biotech Cotton Failure. (the Front)

Magazine article Multinational Monitor

Biotech Cotton Failure. (the Front)

Article excerpt

NALGONDA AND WARANGAL, ANDHRA PRADESH, INDIA - As harvests draw to a close in the cotton-growing districts of India, reports from around the country indicate that the maiden commercial crop of Mahyco-Monsanto's Bt cotton is a disappointment.

Farmers in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra have reported near total losses.

Meanwhile, in Nalgonda and Warangal districts of Andhra Pradesh, farmers told Multinational Monitor that the technology has fallen far short of the performance promised by Mahyco-Monsanto.

Genetically engineered Br crops are spliced with the Bt gene. Bt is a naturally occurring soil bacterium, used as a spray by organic farmers as a natural pesticide. Monsanto has engineered Bt into crops, making them pest resistant, and, the theory goes, less in need of pesticides. Critics charge that the Bt crops overexpose Bt, and will quickly give rise to Bt-resistant pests -- destroying Bt as an effective tool of organic farmers.

Despite some savings on pesticide costs, Bt cotton's modest yields, low quality and poor market price do not convert into attractive economics, according to six out of seven Bt cotton farmers contacted by the Monitor. Unlike the green revolution hybrids or traditional varieties, Bt cotton, they say, is delicate, requires a lot of attention and will fail if water availability is not optimal.

However, government agencies have responded with remarkable alacrity to join Mahyco-Monsanto in downplaying the failure of Bt cotton, lending credence to allegations that the company enjoys more access to governmental decision-making than do the farmers or the Indian public.

In December 2002, in response to a question in the Upper House of the parliament, the Minister of Environment & Forests Mr. T. R. Baalu said that Bt cotton has shown "satisfactory performance" in the first year of its planting.

Baalu's statement was based on a visit in November by an expert team of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) to farms in Nalgonda, Warangal and Karimnagar districts of Andhra Pradesh.

"Some reports say that Bt cotton is better both in quantity and quality," says a senior official of the Approval Committee and member of the expert team who wished to remain anonymous.

Environmentalists and agricultural sector observers, however, have questioned the credibility of the report by the Approval Committee that -- as the name suggests -- approved Mahyco-Monsanto's application for commercializing the Bt crop.

"We don't trust the Government ever since they pushed through the approval for Monsanto's technology based on illegal field trials, confidential performance data and an evaluation process shrouded in secrecy," says D. Narsimha Reddy of the Hyderabad-based Centre for Resource Education, an organization working on sustainable agriculture among other issues.

Bt cotton was approved for commercial planting in India in March 2002.

The expert team's official report, "Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) Visit to Andhra Pradesh," fails to mention that the field assessment was carried out in conjunction with Mahyco-Monsanto representatives.

The companies' participation in the field assessment came to light only when Multinational Monitor met one of the farmers visited by the expert team.

"One team visited around [November]. …

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