The Bt Cotton saga: A farmer’s story continues


 While the farmers struggle to make their ends meet, the seed companies continue to make false promises to these farmers

Bt Hatti, as the farmers in Ron Taluk, Gadag district, commonly call Bt cotton, has been quite the challenge in terms of growing the crop and producing yield. Farmers of the taluk have spoken about the large number of losses they have faced since they have begun planting the Bt Cotton crop.

Kariyappa Yelappa Madar, a farmer from Hirehal village said, that he incurs a loss of Rs 2 lakhs every year and has been growing BT cotton for the past eight years. He further added that initially the profits incurred were high but as the years went by the yield decreased and his losses increased. He further said that he spends around Rs 30,000 on pesticides every year, which has just added to his increasing costs.

Basavaraj Kambli, a farmer from Chikamannur village has been facing the same situation. He said that he needs to purchase around 700- 800 kg of pesticides per year to cater to his two acre land. He further added that he spends around Rs 15,000 to 20,000 a year on pesticides alone, which only adds to the total loss he faces from sowing Bt cotton.

Yadiyappa Hugar and Hullappa Hulanevar, both from Balagod village have been sailing on the same boat as the other farmers in the taluk, incurring an approximate loss of Rs 1 Lakh a year each. Their cotton fields span over four acres collectively, and Hulanevar said that he spends around Rs 14,000 on a 100 kg of seeds for six months.

These farmers have been in the Bt cotton business for more than eight years, and have witnessed a deteriorating pattern since they first began sowing the crop. The farmers have also mentioned that the initial profit incurred washigh but gradually the net profit began decreasing since the nutrient level of the soil began degrading due to the increasing pesticide use.

The scientific explanation behind the crop is that Bt cotton is a genetically modified cotton crop which has been infused with a bacteria called Bacilliusthuringiensis which is claimed to resist pests like the American pink boll worm. But despite these claims, farmers across the country are compelled to purchase pesticides and use them on the crop which further affects the crop’s quality. This occurs since the genetic modification that is found in Bt cotton compromises the metabolism process in the crop causing it to attract pests.

Srinivas, environmentalist, said that in some cases the Bt cotton crop grows to its maximum potential but it so happens that the bacteria inside the crop does not form causing the crop to be less resistive towards pests.

India is the fourth largest country to cultivate Bt cotton with around 9.4 million hectares under the Bt cotton land coverage.

In Karnataka, the total BT cotton crop failure in 2014 was 58,195 hectares which was seen in seven districts of the state, which led to the Agricultural department of Karnataka to stop the sale of Bt cotton seeds in the state. Despite this decision, farmers continue to buy seeds from private seed companies which provide them with a set of claims.

These set of claims that have been provided by the private seed companies comprise a certain amount of cotton production that the farmers will yield, but these claims have not been met. The farmers are usually promised a 20 quintal worth of yield for two acres, but in reality they produce far less.

In order to provide some relief to the farmers, the central government has decided to reduce the cost of purchasing Bt cotton seeds from Rs 800 to Rs 740.

SanvirappaPujara, a farmer from Balagod owns a two-acre land and apart from ruing the losses that he has incurred through the years, he also mentioned that the company from whom he purchased the seeds claimed that for two acres worth,Bt cotton would produce 20 quintals, but after harvesting the fresh produce, Pujara’s yield was only 14 quintals, as the rest of the produce was destroyed due to a pest attack.

The farmers in Ron taluk have been buying their seeds from Ajeet Seeds at the cost of Rs 5000 for a period of six months.

Pravin Kumar, Regional Manager of Ajeet Seeds (Karnataka branch) said the seeds, the company has been selling, have been following the same technology and there has been no change so far. He said that Mahyco Monsanto, the original company that introduced the Bt cotton technology in India, has not changed the technology of these seeds and due to that factor the pests have become immune to the Bt gene.

Dr Mahin Sharif, Agricultural economist for the All India Co-ordinated research project (AICRP) on integrated farming system said that the technology of Bt cotton is outdated and therefore must be modified atregular intervals. He also added that since the return of investment (ROI) with respect to Bt cotton is lower, the farmers must revert to cultivating and producing organic cotton, since the ROI is relatively higher.

Bt cotton was first introduced in India in 2002, and its adoption as one of the primary crops in Karnataka,has been witnessed since the time of its introduction. As a whole, Bt cotton is widely grown in Dharward district with around 88.65 per cent of its overall crop cultivation rate.

Despite the claims that Bt cotton has a resistive factor towards the pink bollworm pest, this hybrid seed has attracted other pests for which the farmers around the country have had to shell out money.  SrinivasChintal, Deputy Director of Agriculture, Gadag, said “Bt cotton has the resistive gene to kill the American pink boll worm pest, but is not resistive towards other pests that the crop attracts.” Due to this factor, the farmers are having a hard time growing Bt cotton compared to organic cotton, since the latter has a lower susceptibility rate to pests.

In order to prevent any form of resistance towards the Bt cotton crop, studies have recommended that farmers must plant organic cotton along with Bt cotton.

Kavitha Kuruganti, member of Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA) said, “Anyone can switch to organic farming from any other kind of farming. That is not an issue. However, if in organic cotton farming, they continue to use American cotton species, biological contamination is a distinct possibility. Instead, if in organic cotton farming, they use Indian species of cotton, then biological contamination can be avoided.”

She added, “The solution to this is growing organic cotton like the Jayadhar variety of seeds since such farming is done in a mixed cropping set up, other than the variety being more pest and disease resistant.”
Since its introduction, three variants of the Bt cotton have been approved for theircultivation, which are Cry1Ac, Cry2Ab and Cry1C, and these variants were supplied initially by Maharashtra Hybrid Seeds Co. (Mahyco) worked on a one-time usage mechanism.

After witnessing problems regarding the cost of production, Punjab Agricultural University is planning on developing reusable Bt cotton seeds and this might become India’s first genetically modified seed which can be reused. These reused cotton seeds will help the farmer save on cost of buying the seeds on a regular basis.

The deteriorating state of Bt cotton has not only impacted the farmers, but has had a rippling effect on cotton mills who specialize in ginning, which is the separation of the cotton from its seeds, and pressing of cotton.

Sri Brahmarambika mills is one such cotton mill that has been facing losses from the past few years, and the owner said that in 2015 he incurred a loss of Rs 10 lakhs and in 2016 he incurred an additional loss of Rs 5 lakhs, and in total he lost 7000 bales of cotton worth Rs 15 lakh in the span of two years.

He added that initially he used to receive around eight trucks carrying the cotton, but since the past two years, the number of trucks has come down to two. Out of the 136 quintals of cotton produced before the ginning process, 10 per cent of the cotton is usually damaged. The part of the cotton which is white turns brown which indicates that it is damaged and cannot be used for further production.

The condition of Bt cotton exists in Vidharba, a village in Maharashtra, where the cultivation of Bt cotton is widely practiced. Studies show that since Vidharba is not a rain-fed area, the idea of cultivating and producing Bt cotton will not flourish. Similarly, Ron has been facing the same situation since the taluk experienced 46 per cent lesser rainfall in the period of 2016-’17 as compared to the previous year, which has contributed to the low yields in the current year.

The farmers have been battling against the negative outcome of Bt cotton since the technology was introduced. The promises that were made by the seed companies did not favor the farmers, instead directed them towards a financial landslide. Kariyappa Yelappa Madar, Basavaraj Kambli, and the other farmers are yet to see the day when their Bt cotton yield is set to match the claims the seed companies have made, without having to go through losses on a yearly basis.

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