ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

30 March 2002

Bt cotton a new trap for small farmers
Times of India, Thursday -- March 28, 2002

In a scathing attack, volunteer groups say the government has put transgenic cotton technology out of reach of the small farmers and defied any pretence of regulation by asking the private firm, which will sell these seeds, to monitor itself.

"Science has begun to represent industry, not farming systems," says Gene Campaignís Suman Sahai.

Groups like Forum, Gene Campaign and Toxics Link on Wednesday launched an attack on the government for granting conditional approval to commercialise three of four Bt cotton hybrids, being tested by the Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Company (Mahyco). Mahyco has a tie-up with the multinational firm, Monsanto.

Mahyco, waiting for the formal government decision to be conveyed, has welcomed the "pioneering decision" and says it will benefit millions of small farmers because the technology is delivered through the cotton seed and is, therefore, independent of the size of the farmerís holding. "Mahyco will do its best to ensure the Bt cotton seed is widely available to farmers across the country, consistent with the Genetic Engineering Approval Committeeís terms of approval." The formal decision is still awaiting all the signatures.

Volunteer groups, however, say if the private sector is now expected to take control of agriculture, doing both research and monitoring, why not just dismantle the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, with its 35,000 scientists and annual Rs 750 crore budget? "It would save taxpayersí money", says Devender Sharma of the Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security.

Their points:

*Specifying a "refuge" area of mandatory non-transgenic cotton in any field, whatever the size, isnít practical. Which small farmer can afford to leave 20 per cent of his field to "non- productive use"? "It is like trying to squeeze a square peg into a round hole," says Sahai. Yet, itís the small farmer who is committing suicide and whose cause everybody was espousing.

*How can the government ask Mahyco to monitor its own product? Can such monitoring ever be unbiased? The second partner the government wants in this task are the state governments. Is this a realistic expectation, given the experience in Gujarat, where nearly 11,000 acres of Bt cotton was grown unauthorisedly?

*The Planning Commission itself has noted the impact of integrated pest management techniques on the cotton yields, well above what has been quoted as the expected additional from Bt cotton. Then, why hasnít the government bothered to look at these alternatives? By giving an estimate of net additional income of Rs 10,000 per hectare with Bt cotton, isnít the government raising expectations unrealistically? There is no data from anything other than experimental plots so far.

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