August 6, 2003 -- CropChoice
news: Results of small field study in selected locations
in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, two of the six states that have
been granted permission to commercially cultivate Bt cotton –
the first genetically-modified crop to be cultivated in India.
Suman Sahai, Shakeelur Rahman
Bt cotton is the first genetically modified crop to be cultivated
in India. Gene campaign conducted a small field study to collect
data on Bt cotton and non-Bt cotton performance. The survey was
conducted in selected locations in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh,
two of the six states that have been granted permission to commercially
cultivate Bt cotton. The survey included a total of 100 farming
families selected by random sampling from those who had chosen to
grow Bt cotton on a portion of their landholding. These farmers
were also growing non-Bt cotton simultaneously. Of the total of
100 families surveyed, 25 were from Maharashtra and 75 from Andhra
Pradesh. Scientists from the Agricultural University in Hyderabad
accompanied the Gene campaign researchers.
Bt and Non-Bt Varieties:A Comparison
The Bt cotton varieties compared were Bt 162 and Bt 184 belonging
to Mahyco-Monsanto and the non-Bt cotton varieties were the local
hybrids ‘Brahma’ and ‘Banny’. The Bt cotton
was found to be a shorter duration crop (90-100 days) than the non-Bt
cotton (100 to 120 days) but the plants showed less vigorous growth,
with fewer branches and smaller leaves. A major problem reported
everywhere was the premature dropping of bolls in Bt cotton.
A comparison of bolls and fibre in non-Bt and Bt cotton in Table
1, showed that the number of bolls per plant was higher in the non-Bt
cotton variety. Whereas the non-Bt variety averaged 95 bolls per
plant in the Bt variety the average was only 50 bolls. Fibre length
was also longer in the non-Bt varieties, which had better grade
cotton. Non-Bt cotton was graded as A and B quality whereas Bt cotton
was graded as B and C.
|Table 1: Comparison between Bolls and
Fibre of Non-Bt and Bt-Cotton
|Number of bolls/plant
|Cotton quality (grade)
||A and B
||B and C
|Table 2: Comparison of Pest Attack on
Non-Bt and Bt Cotton
Although both cotton types demonstrated a range of small to large
bolls, more Bt cotton bolls were of a smaller size than the non-Bt
cotton. Cotton traders admitted that because of the poor quality,
demand for Bt cotton was low and they were mixing Bt cotton with
non-Bt to dispose of Bt cotton stocks.
One of the most significant findings of this study was the indication
that this Bt cotton variety does not offer protection against pink
bollworm (Pectinophora gossypiella). Pink bollworm attack was found
to be severe after 60 to 70 days. There are two possible reasons
for this. The first is that the period of expression of the Bt endotoxin
does not coincide with the time of the bollworm attack. This would
mean that when the pest attacks the cotton, it is not expressing
the endotoxin gene and therefore not offering any protection against
the pest. The other explanation is that the pink bollworm is not
susceptible to the Bt endotoxin.
The latter theory receives support from scientific literature.
Morin et al (2003), report that field populations of pink bollworm
harbour three genetic mutations that confer resistance to Bt toxin.
Normal pink bollworm caterpillars die when they eat bolls of genetically
modified cotton plants that produce Bt toxin, but resistant caterpillars
survive. This resistance is inherited as a recessive trait, so caterpillars
with two mutant versions of the gene are resistant, but those with
one or none are susceptible.
In another study Liu et al (1999) show that in the laboratory,
the larval stage of the pink bollworm gets prolonged to 21 days
when it is feeding on Bt cotton. When feeding on non-Bt cotton,
it is about 15 days. This difference makes it more likely that resistant
bollworm moths would mate with each other rather than with susceptible
individuals. In this case, all their offspring would be resistant
to the Bt cotton, as they would inherit two copies of the resistance
gene. So the Bt resistance would persist and spread in the bollworm
population. Pink bollworm in India has probably been exposed to
Bt toxin from the field trials that have been conducted these past
years and from the use of Bt pesticide sprays.
Agricultural landholdings where both Bt and non-Bt cotton, were
cultivated have been divided into low yielding, medium yielding
and high yielding based on the type and quality of soil, topography,
availability of water for irrigation and resource capacity of farmers.
As seen in Table 3, average yield per acre in low yielding field
type is 3.25 quintals and 2.75 quintals in the case of non-Bt and
Bt cotton respectively. In the case of medium yielding field type,
the yields are 5.50 quintals per acre and 4.75 quintals per acre
for non-Bt and Bt cotton respectively. Similarly, in high yielding
field type, the yield per acre is 9.0 quintals and 7.5 quintals
for non-Bt and Bt cotton respectively. Thus, in all categories of
landholdings, Bt cotton has performed worse than its non-Bt counterpart.
|Table 3: Yield Comparison of Bt and Non-Bt
Cotton in Quintal/Acre
Cotton traders confirmed that demand for Bt cotton was low and
prices ranged from Rs 2,000 to 2,100/qt whereas non-Bt cotton was
selling at Rs 2,200 to 2,350/qt.
Economics of Bt Cotton Cultivation
The economics of cultivating Bt cotton is clearly not in favor
of farmers. The seed is about four times more expensive than the
good local hybrids. The difference in the price of seed is approximately
Rs 1,200 per (450 gm) bag, which is needed to plant an acre. As
against this outlay, savings on pesticide were meager, averaging
Rs 217 per acre.
As Table 4 shows, the investment per acre is much higher for Bt
cotton than for non-Bt cotton varieties. The Bt cotton farmer had
to invest on average, Rs 983 more per acre than his non-Bt counterpart.
|Table 4: Comparative Investment in Bt
and Non-Bt Cotton in Rs/Acre
Yield /acre of Bt cotton was lower than non-Bt cotton and the cotton
was of poorer quality thus fetching a lower price per quintal. Added
to this was the higher investment in Bt cotton fields. The net result
was significantly poorer results from Bt cotton which are reflected
in the data on comparative incomes, in Table 5.
|Table 5: Comparative Income from Bt and
||Bt Cotton Farmers
||% of total
||Net Profit/Acre (Rs)
||% of total
||Net Profit/Acre (Rs)
Net profit from Bt cotton was lower per acre compared to non-Bt
cotton in all types of fields (low to high yielding). In fact, 60
per cent of the farmers cultivating Bt cotton were not even able
to recover their investment and incurred losses averaging Rs 79
per acre. The performance of Bt cotton in the areas studied in Maharshtra
and Andhra Pradesh, has been decidedly poor and the farmers have
had to suffer losses. Not surprisingly, an overwhelming majority
of the farming families surveyed (98 per cent) said they were not
interested in growing Bt cotton again.
The study examined if any pre-cultivation training was given to
farmers by any of the government agencies or Mahyco-Monsanto. It
was found that neither state nor central government agencies had
provided any training. The seed company had made available pamphlets
showing that spraying had to be done on Bt cotton if number of pests
exceeded a certain level. The major efforts of the company were
directed towards broadcasting taped messages extolling the virtues
of Bt cotton rather than any tips on cultivation.
No technical assistance was provided to the farmers during cultivation
either by any governmental agency or by Mahyco-Monsanto. In the
absence of any extension help, farmers had no one to assist them
when they faced problems during cultivation and pest attacks.
One of the most shocking revelations of this investigation was
the fact that neither state level nor district level committees
had been set up in either Maharashtra or Andhra Pradesh where Bt
cotton was being commercially grown. This is a breach of law and
a direct violation of the prescribed rules for the manufacture,
use, import, export and storage of hazardous micro-organisms and
genetically-engineered organisms and cells, under the Environment
Protection Act, 1989.
Enquiries made during the survey also revealed that no one had
come to that area to collect field data for monitoring insect attacks
and crop performance so at least in this area, no baseline data
is being collected to evaluate the impact of Bt cotton on the environment,
on beneficial insects, on other cotton crops and on the ecosystem.
This amounts to gross negligence.
A number of factors have probably contributed to the failure of
Mahyco-Monsanto’s Bt cotton. The first is the poor quality
of the variety itself. It is well known that Mahyco-Monsanto’s
cotton varieties, MECH 162 and MECH 184, which were transformed
to Bt 162 and Bt 184, are poor to modest performers, giving modest
yields. A better performing cotton would give a better Bt cotton
so the GEAC must answer why it approved this Bt cotton when better
quality Bt cotton hybrids belonging to Indian companies are in the
With the substantially higher cost of seeds, the economics of the
Bt crop is not favorable for the farmer. In addition to the high
cost of the seed is the modest saving in pesticide, which does not
make up for the large expense incurred on seed. Tilting the balance
further is the fact that Bt cotton must be grown with a refuge,
necessary for resistance management. This is recommended as 20 percent
of the cultivated area by the GEAC. ‘Wasting’ 20 percent
of the land on managing resistance makes the Bt cotton even more
nonviable, especially for small farmers.
A further problem appears to be the vulnerability of Bt cotton
to pink bollworm, which is a significant cotton pest in India. If
this is indeed the case as the study demonstrates, then the Bt strategy
for cotton is likely to fail because if the Bt endotoxin protects
only against the green bollworm and not against the pink bollworm,
then farmers will have to continue pesticide sprays. Another factor,
which needs to be investigated with some rigor, is the period of
gene expression of the Bt gene in each of the varieties in which
it is being incorporated. If the period of endotoxin expression
does not coincide with the period of pest attack, then no protection
will be available against the bollworm.
The GEAC has to be held accountable for the failure of Bt cotton
as much as the company providing the seed. Why did it keep the field
trial data of Bt cotton secret when there were so many demands to
examine this data? We need to know from the GEAC how approval for
commercial cultivation in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra was granted
when no state and district level committee was set up. The GEAC
must also fix responsibility for the failed cotton crop and make
Mahyco-Monsanto compensate those farmers who have suffered losses.
This is required under the Indian law, the Protection of Plant Variety
and Farmers Rights Act 2001. Section 39.2, of the law states clearly
Where any propagating material of a variety registered under this
Act has been sold to a farmer or a group of farmers or any organisation
of farmers, the breeder of such variety shall disclose to the farmer
or the group of farmers or the organisation of farmers, as the case
may be, the expected performance under given conditions, and if
such propagating material fails to provide such performance under
such given conditions, the farmer or the group of farmers or the
organisation of farmers, as the case may be, may claim compensation.
Editor's Note: The findings in this study were
corroborated by a report prepared by Acharya N.G. Ranga Agricultural
University (ANGRAU) which stated that in the North Telangana Zone,
the average net returns from one hectare of Bt cotton was Rs 4,798,
while the same was Rs 14, 809 in the case of non-Bt cotton. (http://www.bharattextile.com/newsitems/1984647)
While the initial results of Bt cotton have not looked good sales
have been steady. Monsanto reports sales up 216% over last year.
However, the sales are disappointing compared to initial predictions.
Monsanto's joint venture in India, has sold 230,000 packages of
the BT cotton seeds in India since the start of the planting season
in June. However, Monsanto expected to sell 700,000 packages of
the seeds, and is the only company authorized to sell the seeds
in India. (http://stlouis.bizjournals.com/stlouis/stories/2003/08/11/daily9.html)
Morin, Shai et al (2003): 'Three Cadherin Alleles Associated with
Resistance to Bacillus thurengensis in Pink Bollworm', PNAS, 100:5004-09.
Liu, Yong-Biao, Bruce E Tabashnik, Timothy J Dennehy, Amanda L Patin
and Alan C Bartlett (1999): 'Development Time and Resistance to
Bt Crops', Nature, 400: 519.