A Disaster in Search of Success: Bt Cotton in Global South
Film review for GM Watch
Reviewer: Claire Robinson
The biotech industry has hyped its GM Bt cotton as a saviour of the developing world. But the experiences of farmers who have grown the crop suggest otherwise. A group of women farmer-filmmakers from the DDS Community Media Trust traveled to Mali, South Africa and Indonesia to document farmers' experiences of Bt cotton.
In Makhatini, South Africa, often cited as the showcase Bt cotton project for small farmers, 100,000 hectares were planted with Bt cotton at the start of the project in 1998. By 2002, that had crashed to 22,500 hectares, an 80% reduction in 4 years. By 2004, 85% of farmers who used to grow Bt cotton had given up. The farmers found pest problems and no increase in yield. Those farmers who still grow the crop do so at a loss, continuing only because the South African government subsidizes the project and there's a guaranteed market for the cotton. The only farmer who defends Bt cotton in the film is T J Buthelezi, who has long touted GM crops around the globe courtesy of Monsanto. Apparently, though, Monsanto forgot to include Mrs Buthelezi on its hospitality programme. She states on camera that her family makes no profit from the crop. Even Mr. Buthelezi seems low-key, saying that Bt cotton is only suitable for large holdings and that farmers need other options.
In Mali, USAID is pushing for the introduction of Bt cotton. But Malian cotton farmers have produced huge increases in yield without using GM crops. And at the conclusion of a citizens' jury in which Malian farmers heard evidence from pro- and anti-GM sources, the farmers unanimously sent their government the stern message that they do not want GMOs.
Bt cotton seeds were introduced into Indonesia with the army riding shotgun and Monsanto giving massive bribes to officials to bypass environmental restrictions. But no amount of heavy-handed force will make a dud crop flourish, and problems with pests, poor yields, and high seed costs so angered farmers that they burned the Bt cotton fields. Monsanto fled.
In the light of such repeated failure in the developing world, it's obvious why the biotech industry is now focusing on India. Unbelievably, the Indian government has continued to welcome Bt cotton despite the thousands of farmers who have committed suicide after their Bt cotton crops have failed. This situation is exacerbated not just by corrupt politicians and a coterie of industry-friendly regulators but by a largely uncritical media happy to soak up industry spin. This award-winning film provides a welcome antidote to the hype of corporations and the willful blindness of governments and the media.
A film by Community Media Trust, Pastapur, and Deccan Development Society, Hyderabad, India Published February 2007
Price: GBP10.00 UK / $18.00 US