NOTE: Note the reference to Glenn Davis Stone's multi-year study of Bt cotton uptake among Indian farmers. This showed rapid adoption was actually driven by seed fads whipped up by suspect marketing on the part of the seed industry and its supporters. Far from Indian farmers carefully assessing the technology before adopting it more widely, the study found the process was more like a "craze".
The study also found Bt cotton had actually contributed to a disruption of farmers' learning process, as they are encouraged to rely less on experimentation and observation and more on advertising and a kind of herd mentality where everybody copies everyone else, leading to blind adoption.
Is adoption of Bt cotton an indicator of its success?
India GM Info, June 15 2012
Very often, it is argued by biotech proponents and others that the very adoption of Bt cotton in India is an indicator of its success. This is a short response on such arguments.
Adoption cannot be an indicator of success or desirability of a technology – pesticides have also been adopted in large quantities by Indian farmers but that by no means makes it a desirable or successful technology.
Adoption of Bt cotton is actually an indicator of the failure of a similar technology – chemical pesticides. In this context, it has to be underlined that the science of pesticides and Bt crops is in fact similar. It is also striking that the same corporate entities which promote GM crops are also involved in promoting chemical pesticides! Farmers are certainly frustrated and fed with the failure of and problems from synthetic pesticides, including the costs to be borne. Anything that appears to be a solution to their pesticides problem is a welcome thing for farmers, as can be seen with NPM (Non Pesticide Management of crops) adoption too. In fact, NPM spread more rapidly than Bt cotton, led by community-managed extension support in the case of Community Managed Sustainable Agriculture in Andhra Pradesh. In this large scale state-supported programme of ecological farming, it is not just reduction of pesticides that is aimed at but elimination!
Seed adoption by farmers is increasingly being understood as irrational and even as fads by academics studying the issue. A paper on de-skilling of farmers on this front (environmental learning opportunities declining with rapid pace of technology introduction and in the face of 'social learning') can be accessed here: http://artsci.wustl.edu/~anthro/research/stone480102.web.pdf
No seed has ever been advertised and marketed as aggressively as Bt cotton in India (to this day, it is not clear how many millions of rupees have been spent by the biotech seed industry on this) – film stars also got into the picture. At the link given here is a report put together in 2005 on Bt cotton seed marketing: http://indiagminfo.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/The-Marketing-of-Bt-Cotton-in-India.pdf
There is indeed very little non-Bt seed available for farmers out there. Farmers or groups wanting to access non-Bt cotton seed have to place an indent well before time with seed companies directly for accessing such seeds since the normal supply channels don’t provide the non-GM seed anymore. The retailers also have a higher margin on Bt cotton seed than the non-GM version. Whatever's supplied occasionally (even this has nearly disappeared in the recent past with refuge norms changing, with non-cotton seed allowed for refuge), would also be brought out of cold storage affecting the crop of the farmers who would sow non-Bt cotton and this was reported in Karnataka a couple of years ago.
The issue of lack of proper extension advisory reaching out to farmers, about how Bt cotton is inappropriate for a majority of cotton farmers (apart from a variety of other concerns) was brought out by the Planning Commission’s Fact Finding report of 2006. www.planningcommission.nic.in/reports/genrep/rep_vidarbha.pdf
IT IS TIME THAT GOVERNMENTS DISALLOWED ADVERTISING OF Bt COTTON SEED IN PARTICULAR AND SEED IN GENERAL (only advisories by extension departments, that too after rigorous testing in different growing conditions should be allowed) GIVEN THAT SEED IS AN ESSENTIAL COMMODITY, EVEN AS PER THE APPLICABLE STATUTES IN INDIA.