Bt cotton in India ‘good for the field, bad for the farm’

February 8th, 2011 - 2:05 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Feb 8 (ANI): A new study by a Washington University in St. Louis anthropologist has suggested that crop yields from Bt cotton may have been overemphasized, as modest rises in crop yields may come at the expense of sustainable farm management.

The study noted that most Indian farmers have become unable to properly assess the Bt cotton seeds, and sprays that are changing with increasing speed.

Glenn Stone of the Washington University compared village yields in 2003 and 2007, which conveniently had very similar levels of rainfall.

“Cotton yields rose 18 percent with the adoption of genetically modified seeds. This is less than what has been reported in some economics studies, but much better than activists have claimed,” he said.

Pesticide sprayings also were down by 55 percent with the switch to genetically modified seed.

Several studies by economists, however, have shown Bt cotton farmers to be getting higher yields when compared with planters of conventional cotton.

“These economics studies have had a serious weakness. The adopters of the new seeds tend to be the most prosperous and well-financed farmers, who were getting better yields than other farmers even before Bt seeds were adopted. Our anthropological research project used a different strategy to assess the seeds’ performance,” said Stone.

Stone conducted long-term research in four villages in Andhra Pradesh, India. He found that in 2003, none of the village farmers had adopted Bt seeds, but by 2007, adoption was 100 percent.

He also examined overall farm management, finding that the new seeds have come with their own set of problems.

“I would love to see Bt seeds as a real solution to these farmers’ insect problems, as many have claimed, but this may be a bit naive. Conditions in the cotton fields change quickly. Populations of insects not affected by Bt have now begun to explode. We can’t forget that cotton farmers enthusiastically adopted pesticide sprays in the 1990s, only to watch them quickly lose their effectiveness,” he said.

“Looking beyond the field level to the farm level you see the real problem was a set of factors that eroded the normal process of farmer evaluation of technologies - there were too many rapid, undecipherable changes.

“Each new technology - hybrids, then pesticide after pesticide - brought short-term gains but further eroded farm management. Bt cotton has raised yields on average, but already we are seeing erosion of benefits as non-target pest populations are booming,” he added.

The findings will appear in the March issue of the journal World Development. (ANI)

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